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Solving the problem of fragmented information

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Reg Technology Panel report In a recent Reg Panel study into the state of play with regard to business intelligence, a whole range of issues were highlighted by respondents that were standing in the way of business users getting their hands on the information they need.

We heard that users commonly complain about having to access multiple systems when trying to figure out what's going on in the business, and that difficulties exist in bringing different and sometimes conflicting data sets together in a coherent way.

This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone working in a large company environment, in which it is normal for literally hundreds of business applications to have accumulated over the years, often with significant redundancy but little integration between them. We found in our study, however, that even smaller organisations suffer from the consequences of information fragmentation, so it's a problem that is endemic in pretty much any organisation that has invested in automation over an extended period of time.

While application rationalisation and/or integration is a way of addressing the issues, and is an ongoing process in many IT departments, we have to be realistic about the pace with which such activity can progress, as it is very resource and budget intensive.

There is also the Forth Bridge problem - as soon as you fixed one set of fragmentation and redundancy issues, others are created as new applications are added into the mix. As we look forward, the introduction of service oriented architecture (SOA) will ease the problem over time, but business users are hungry for information now, and getting hungrier.

The obvious way of solving this problem is through business intelligence solutions. Using a combination of data warehousing, analytics, and reporting tools, information can be extracted, cleaned, managed, and aggregated to produce the kinds of views of business performance that users are after.

There is, of course, nothing new about this in principle, but technology developments and the commercial terms under which business intelligence solutions are delivered nowadays means comprehensive information access and analytical capability can be placed in the hands of a much broader audience, rather than the small number of analysts and senior managers traditionally catered for. Some refer to this as the "democratisation of business intelligence", and certainly our study confirms that this is something which is very much in demand.

To properly solve the problem, however, it takes a coordinated approach across applications and departments. And here's the rub. While the research tells us that spending on business intelligence solutions is on the up, it also suggests that the relevant budgets are typically tied to application level investments.

To put it another way, it is very rare to find any money allocated to the kind of overarching initiatives that are really required. As things stand, beyond IT departments sneakily stealing a slice of individual project budgets to fund central business intelligence programmes, there is generally little commitment and support from senior business management to act at a higher level.

Faced with this situation, we can only encourage IT departments to strike up the relevant conversations with executives within the business in order to get this problem out on the table and the necessary funds allocated to fixing it. Perhaps one of the other findings from our research might help with this process.

When analysing the data, we found a clear link between investment in business intelligence at a strategic level and business performance. A strong correlation was observed, for example, between the degree to which business intelligence is taken seriously and whether an organisation is growing, static, or shrinking.

If you would like to check this out more, or grab a copy of the report to use as internal ammunition when shooting for some additional funding in the area, you can download the PDF. ®

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