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Vendors causing confusion on business intelligence

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Reg Reader Workshop The term “business intelligence”, “BI” for short, is one of those phrases that pretty much everyone working in IT will have heard of, and the concept is fundamentally very simple. It’s simple enough, in fact, that even Wikipedia is able to sum it up reasonably effectively as “a business management term which refers to applications and technologies which are used to gather, provide access to, and analyse data and information about their company operations”.

Of course this top level definition translates into a whole bunch of specific technologies and terminology as you drill into the topic, which was probably fine when it was all about hard core BI specialists serving the needs of a relatively small number of analysts and senior managers. As recent feedback from Reg readers has confirmed, however, the majority of organisations are now looking to push business intelligence out much more broadly across their user communities. The upshot is that many more people, on both the IT and the user side of the equation, are now having to familiarise themselves with the practicalities of BI delivery.

But here's the rub. The language of BI used by specialist hard core vendors that have been working in the area for years has been picked up and is now being aimed at a broader audience by others who are looking for a piece of the action in this space. Vendors of traditional transaction management packages such as SAP and Oracle now talk about things like “embedded analytics”, for example. Then we have players like Microsoft and IBM, whose desktop and portal technologies arguably represent the most pervasive touch points between IT systems and users, now commonly using terms such as “cockpit”, “dashboard”, “scorecard”, “mart”, etc.

At one level, most of us can have a pretty good guess of what a lot this stuff means, even if we don’t have any directly relevant experience or knowledge. The problem is, though, that all too often, marketing people take control of the vocabulary and, keen to focus on motivating senior managers and "business decision makers" on the vision and benefits, tend to forget that practitioners need a bit more precision and clarity to understand where and how solutions may potentially fit into their environment. It's a problem that Reg readers well recognise, with 40 per cent in a recent study saying that the language used by vendors can often be ambiguous or confused, and a further 44 per cent referring to vendors creating an unhelpful mire of marketing speak around BI (view chart).

This raises the general question of how well vendors are really tuned into customer requirements in this whole area. Do they get the realities of the kind of environment you are working in? Have you been on the receiving end of confused messaging or marketing gobbledygook? Conversely, are there any vendors that are doing a particularly good job of explaining how they can help their customers deal with the increasing demands in this area?

We'd like to hear your views below on any of these questions, and don't be afraid to offer advice back to the vendors. Having sat through or read the marketing messages and sales pitches, now's your chance to tell them what you think

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