I am in the habit of not typing Web addresses into the address bar of my Web browser. Instead, I type the address, spelling errors and all, into the search box on my browser's extended menu bar. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the target site comes up in the top two or three links of the search results. This is quicker than finding a link in my long list of favorites. Search is my starting point for "all things Web."
The simplicity of finding things across the Internet in this fashion has not yet permeated business intelligence (BI) software. However, it is crucially important that it does. While BI vendors continue to come up with innovative analysis tools such as ad hoc query, online analytical processing (OLAP) and predictive analytics, it is the simplicity of search which BI users crave.
In many companies, the lack of content in BI reports on the corporate intranet is not the problem. The dilemma is knowledge workers' inability to find the correct report from the appropriate database in the myriad folders and Web pages containing business intelligence.
Part of the problem is that search engines index and track pre-existing content. However, BI often creates its content at runtime. For example, if I run the quarter-to-date sales report now, the report does not exist until I press the submit button and the BI engine creates it from the latest data in the warehouse. Search engines can't necessarily index something that doesn't yet exist.
BI and search need to reach a middle ground in order to reach the next level of utility. Search will be more comprehensive when it includes database records and real-time BI content in its results. BI will reach the next level of simplicity, which it desperately needs, when you can find and operate BI from the search box. This includes the need to:
1. Find reports that contain a specific column . As a knowledge worker, I want to find all the BI reports that tell me more about a specific item, such as revenues. I should be able to name revenue, a database column, whether it is a dimension or a measure in a report, and get back the name of the database(s) where it exists and a list of reports that tell me more about it.
2. Find a specific report based on a key word in the name or description . I should be able to locate specific reports by entering keywords in the name or description. For example, if I type "January 2006 P&L," I expect to get the profit and loss report for that month or, possibly, a link to a report parameter page that allows me to refine my search with more options.
3. Generate a simple ad hoc query based on a search for table name . Finally, I need to generate an ad hoc query from a database or table with a search. For example, if I enter "orders table" into the search engine, it should immediately retrieve the first hundred rows from that table so I can determine if the data store contains the information that I am seeking.
Each of these examples comes from the perspective of the educated BI user who is aware of the existence of certain columns, tables and reports. In this context, the process can be made simpler through customization of the search box, letting you direct your search to business intelligence in much the same way as you tell the browser to look for images, video, music or text.
The observations stated in this column are not revelations. Most BI vendors recognize the advantage of search combined with business intelligence. Many already have announced products or intend to create products in this area. What we need now is user adoption and the formation of new habits.
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