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Beyond Rows and Columns, Part 4 – Collaboration

Published
  • March 07 2003, 1:00am EST

While being interviewed for another publication, I found myself reviewing data warehouse success examples with the other writer.  This writer was sharp but new to the information management realm. (As opposed to me, who has done this information stuff for a long time and whose writing skills are constantly in question.) We both concluded that regardless of technology, the most interesting common trait among these examples was that the data warehouse moved these businesses away from old processes and models. The companies did things differently.

This affirmation ties in nicely to this month’s column. Previous columns touched on the content aspect of extended business intelligence. We covered managing the information and using unstructured data. Other columns in the past few months have addressed structured information subjects. This column will review using the content vs. the content itself. Cross-functional collaboration and newly minted business processes are the norm to sustain and grow a contemporary BI environment. Really successful shops end up doing revised or new processes.

The extended intelligence vision of how organizations can be more efficient, productive and experience a greater return on their IT dollar is based on the evolving application of new business intelligence capability. This capability goes beyond the information content and the mechanisms to create and deliver quality data and information (Corporate Information Factories, etc.) This more complete application requires an organization to view itself as an entity that is constantly collaborating, changing and adapting to its competitive environment. The efficient mechanisms for delivery (CIF, etc.) become the lubricant and catalyst for collaboration.

Collaborative business intelligence (CBI) formalizes the process of capturing and using organizational intelligence and knowledge assets as the organization interacts and responds to new information. The distinguishing point from traditional BI is there is an emphasis on actionable use of information. Besides emphasizing refined business processes, CBI also develops the processes and infrastructure to enable people to interact with each other, with new and old information, and tap into past knowledge.

 For example, a collaborative BI environment would utilize a portal wrapped around the various sources of information. While many organizations have a portal, a CBI organization will make sure that any decision made from a report or query occurs within the portal environment. A business analyst using a query tool to review CRM information would, perhaps, view the segmentation analysis produced by a CRM tool. Without CBI, the analyst will call a meeting, present the results to marketing and develop some sort of new campaign or response to the analysis.

With CBI, the meeting may occur dynamically via instant messaging, a group chat or groupware meeting. Alternatively, an e-mail with the recommendations would go out. All responses and further analysis would also occur within the portal environment.

This environment would resemble the screen shot shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Collaborative Work Environment

Where is the Value?

Remember that this processing and reacting and planning of information is occurring in a Web-enabled environment. This provides several profound benefits.

First, all usage and actions of data and information are happening in a controlled environment. More than controlled, the application can maintain the context of the decision processes by presenting what is required and not revealing information that is not necessary. (This is a tremendous benefit for privacy concerns as well.)  Policy can be enforced via security and rule applications.

Second, as the new processes continue in this environment, a wealth of experience and history is collected. In addition to the company benefiting from the newly delivered information, there is an opportunity to collect how the decisions are made, how people interact and what process idiosyncrasies develop over time.  (See Figures 2 and 3.)


Figure 2: How the Decisions are Made


Figure 3: How People Interact

The hard dollar benefits arise from:

  • Improved and new business processes through increased use of accurate information. “Paving the cow path” will not sustain a DW or ODS, there must be a conscious effort made to alter the business or permit the business to act differently now that the information so long desired is available. Status quo processes will constrain success.
  • Reduced costs through increased efficiency in high-value, collaborative business processes. Things will happen more quickly. When used for processes such as planning and product development, CBI can shorten cycle times.
  • Reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) of a data warehouse through increased longevity. TCO is a significant component of data warehouse and content management. By spreading usage across more and different functions, the costs are absorbed more quickly, and per unit costs decrease.
  • Higher productivity via increased information sharing through a more fully engaged workforce. There have been many studies in management theory about the benefits of sharing, team building and even colocating widely variant departments (for example, placing the marketing department next to the finance group). A deliberate effort to extend intelligence through collaboration creates a virtual colocation of any function with access to this information.
  • Higher efficiency. The Web-based facility collects how decisions are made. This inward- facing click analysis provides something new to organization – a means to measure work. In this manner, the accumulated experience and action of all the professional knowledge workers are available to measure and manage.

Summary

Linking people, reworking business processes and enabling work through virtual workspaces enables coherence and continuity to the workforce and their work product. Extending the value of your organization’s information infrastructure is an imperative. This extension is done through the interactions of people and information within the business processes supported by information management. This extension is CBI in practice. Moving to the next level of BI requires an understanding of collaboration and how to successfully apply CBI in your business setting.

The bottom line then is to sustain/increase BI value business processes that must be adjusted and documented to create effective context. The traditional operational and BI applications must be “wrapped” in a contextual (meta) layer that governs, manages and gives meaning to the collaborative actions stemming from information use.

At that point, information can be shared, knowledge can be measured and organizations can not only improve responsiveness and lower costs, they can begin to retain their experiences.

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