||Billions of pieces of data, millions of potential customers and users: the open world today is complex and changing. How to master that complexity easily, to anticipate and respond better? As a first insight on Business Intelligence before Bull's next initiative of its 7i program – facilitate decision making – discover insights from a renowned expert, Philippe Nieuwbourg.
Philippe Nieuwbourg is an industry commentator, writer and consultant specializing in information technology. He has worked for nearly 20 years, analyzing the IT industry and advising his readers and clients in areas related to IT and communication. He is the founder and coordinator of the community www.decideo.fr.
How do you view the widespread use of Business Intelligence (BI) tools throughout the enterprise? What are the consequences for business?
Even though BI solutions are the descendents of Executive Information Systems (EIS) – decision-support systems designed expressly for senior management – we are now seeing a process of democratization, with BI being integrated into every kind of applications, and so becoming available to every type of user. Today, there is no such thing as a CRM, production or administration application that does not feature control panels or ‘dashboards’. BI is no longer the exclusive province of the marketing department analyzing the launch of a new model of car, or the finance team assessing the economic impact of factory closures. It can provide decision support for every member of staff: from the customer call center operator needing to know which new services can be offered to a customer, to the hotel receptionist wanting help with allocating hotel rooms to customers.
Because of this, BI is precipitating a fundamental change within enterprises and administrations as their employees extend their scope of their working responsibilities. For this to happen, BI has to be able to give personnel at every level the tools to help them tackle the full range of day-to-day micro-decisions that together make up the life of the enterprise. This is both stimulating for the employees –since it gives them more autonomy – and also a challenge, as it transforms staff used to simply carrying out repetitive tasks into real decision-makers: not always an easy transition. Hence, the importance of both support and training.
How do you see the BI market and its players developing?
Both the technology and the market are moving incredibly fast right now. You just have to go with the flow, just as you wouldn’t try to stand in the way of an avalanche but let it carry you along with it... these days, you can’t expect the tools you are using to still be there in ten years’ time. We’re in the classic technological spiral, perpetual motion, where a host of smaller companies have been coming up with innovations that the major players are now finally (and perhaps a little on the late side) taking on board and consolidating. That’s why the open approach is all-important, as it allows creative combinations of, for example, a platform from one of the major player with other external components integrated as required.
The ‘best of breed’/’integrated suite’ debate then becomes a false dichotomy. Today, it’s not really about choosing a precise solution as such, but rather an ecosystem. Except in the case of small to medium-sized businesses, a single supplier will rarely offer all the necessary functionality. There is no ‘ideal’ solution, i.e. one that responds to all needs. And this is especially true because these needs evolve rapidly, along with the technology, as take-over and mergers take place. And this happens, moreover, too quickly for most users, who would just like to be able to succeed in implementing the basic functionality before embarking on new investment. So the challenge is to position several tools within a compatible ecosystem, so that each entity within the enterprise can ‘shop around’ to meet their own needs.
What do you see as the upcoming trends?
From the technological point of view, the emergence of integrated hardware/software solutions (appliances) is an interesting trend. Just as the ‘Google Box’ provides a useful approach to indexing enterprise data, we can envisage significant development in BI appliances over the next ten years, and notably in the small to medium-sized business sector.
Open Source will probably also have a strong influence on market development. From the user’s point of view, the development of ‘Web 2.0’ type approaches should bring some important innovations. Over and above email, for example, RSS flows could be useful for delivering information in a way that makes it easy to integrate within the everyday desktop environment – or to a Web desktop like NetVibes.
They could also be used to handle flows between applications. ‘Tags’ also provide a useful way of attaching labels or pointers to a report, a column or a diagram... For example in this kind of desktop tool you might have a cluster of tags, with each person being able to download the information, linked to shared working tools, and add a comment-line or a note...
Finally, ‘mashups’ (composite applications) are a good way of getting applications to communicate with one another, for example to present report data on maps, integrate customer business intelligence and Skype-based auto-retry control tools for commercial services, etc. Ajax could also provide a useful way of enabling users to personalize their applications. We are beginning to see this in CRM. This would be an interesting development, as it would restore all the richness associated with client-server to applications, and put the user back at the center.
To sum up, let me just say that for many years now BI has been controlled by IT experts. Now it’s time the user took back the reins. Today more than 80% of all business reporting is done using Excel, which gives users very little flexibility to adapt to their own need. We need tools that are less structured. I think that the move towards ‘Business Intelligence 2.0’ will herald the grand return of the user to the center of the game.
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