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Are You Feeling All Pent Up?

  • May 02 2003, 1:00am EDT

The good news is that companies are finally loosening the IT purse strings somewhat, and most leading research firms predict that global IT spending will rise by at least 2.3 percent compared to last year. It means that some much needed upgrading is likely to take place.

The better news is that these same folks foresee a more considerable boost in spending on business intelligence, as much as 10 percent over last year. They perceive quite a bit of pent up demand as projects that have been long delayed through tough economic times are finally getting the go ahead. Appfluent’s own research shows that almost one in 10 companies is planning to spend more than $1 million on BI and reporting systems over the next 12 months.

It begs the question, why now? The reason is clear. Demand for access to timely data is on the rise right across the enterprise, and BI systems are creaking under the pressure. Read on.

We recently conducted a survey to discover business intelligence trends, as we regularly do at Appfluent Technology. The majority of participants in our online questionnaires are in technology management or C-level technology positions. Almost half of the 140 participants in our most recent research are from large or very large organizations (more than 1,000 employees).

With this survey, our goal was to discover how various business intelligence and reporting applications are performing when it comes to ad hoc queries and real-time reporting. We wanted to get a feel for what measures companies are taking to ensure they are getting the best bang for their BI buck.

We found that there is growing demand for access to timely data right across the enterprise.

  • Sixty percent of respondents indicate a strong demand for real-time data to underpin sales activities.
  • Finance, production, logistics/operations and corporate strategy activities need fresh data for decision support in around 40 percent of companies.
  • Procurement departments use timely data in 20 percent of respondents’ organizations.

No wonder data systems are being crushed! As increasing volumes of ad hoc queries and reports contend for resources, the overall performance of databases and the supporting applications is degraded.

  • More than half of respondents to our survey, 55 percent, indicated that their application performance and reporting response times are negatively affected because reports are run off production systems.
  • 10 percent of respondents indicated that their organizations have taken no steps to correct or improve this situation.

One thing we found really interesting was what companies are doing to cope with dissatisfaction and problems that don’t stem from the reporting application at all. They are having to cope with performance pains because all these queries compete for the production system resources. Our research indicates that there are two main schools of thought. One is to build a solution in house to manage real-time reporting and ad hoc queries. The other is to just grin and bear it, and learn to live with the problem. Here is how the most popular solutions break down by users of software applications:

  • Brio Software – learn to live with the challenges.
  • Business Objects – build an in house solution, if they can afford it.
  • Cognos – build an in-house solution, if they can afford it.
  • Crystal Decisions – learn to live with the challenges.
  • MicroStrategy – build an in house solution, if they can afford it.
  • SAS – build an in house solution, if they can afford it.

The only nonconforming group was the Actuate users, who would seek to purchase a cost-effective solution, if there was one to be had.
Take a closer look at these alternatives.

Learning to live with the challenges usually means limiting how many reports are run off production systems, when they are run and by whom. All these steps can turn the data stale. Of course, allowing unbridled access to production databases and living with poor system performance is another choice, but at what cost?

Other companies are considering building an in-house solution, probably in the form of a report server or an operational data store (ODS). On the surface these seem like a great plan. They have their users run queries and reports exclusively off the ODS, freeing the production database for its normal workload. But, these days how many companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new database infrastructure, data replication and synchronization products? (Not to mention the add-on consulting and implementation costs.)

Even if they find the budget, they’ll have to think about which data to keep in the ODS. Does the sales manager really need access to data five years old or is he mostly focused on information from the past four to six weeks? Creating a complete database mirror is usually unnecessary, very expensive and labor-intensive, especially if few people need aged data in real time.

The Actuate users in our survey are onto the best alternative: purchasing a solution that is cost-effective, easy to install and that has low administration and management requirements. Luckily, recent advances in analytics and automation have given us the solutions we need: technology to reduce the cost and complexity of dedicated reporting environments for real-time data.

Now, companies can have all the benefits of real-time data and none of the headaches!

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