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Business Intelligence Automation

  • August 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

To operate successfully, companies are beginning to realize that business objectives, responsibilities and performance requirements must be articulated throughout the organization and must be managed not only at the executive and senior management level, but also at the grass roots line-of-business (LOB) user level. Business intelligence (BI) is a key enabling technology that can help support this corporate need, and its capabilities must, therefore, be extended to LOB users. This is not a simple task. Although BI usage continues to grow, large numbers of LOB users are still not able to exploit the benefits offered by BI technology. This is because many LOB managers and business users simply do not have the time or skills to use BI applications and tools effectively. The solution to this problem is to make BI event-driven and more automated.

Today's BI products can be examined from two key dimensions - the kinds of BI processing they provide and the types of business users they support. From a processing perspective, the three main types of BI processing to consider are strategic planning, tactical analysis and operational decision making. Within each of these three types of processing, there are additional levels of granularity, including reporting, reactive analysis (OLAP), predictive analysis, and planning and budgeting. From a BI user perspective, the four kinds of business users that need to be considered are executives, business analysts, operational LOB managers and operational LOB users.

If we look at BI product capabilities at the intersection of the BI processing and business user dimensions, we find that the bulk of BI products are still targeted at tactical reporting and analysis by business analysts (see Figure 1). The move toward adding business performance management (BPM) capabilities to BI products is, however, beginning to improve executive management support across the complete BI processing dimension from strategic planning to operational decision making. Another area that is receiving the close attention of vendors is the addition of BI strategic planning and operational decision-making features to the tactical BI processing capabilities currently provided to business analysts. There is, however, still a dearth of BI capabilities for LOB users.

Figure 1: Level of BI Support for BI Users

Most BI products and applications today are demand-driven in that they require the user to walk up to a computer and run an application to obtain information about business operations and performance. Furthermore, to analyze specific business problems and to look for new business opportunities, most BI applications and tools require users to employ their business and technical expertise to manipulate both the BI application and the information provided by the application. Most LOB users and managers do not have the time or expertise to do this.

The key to solving BI support for LOB users is to capture the expertise of experienced business users and to use it to simplify and automate BI processing for LOB staff. Business expertise can be documented in terms of best business practices which, in turn, can be defined as a set of business rules. If these rules could be supported in a BI application, the application could be used to monitor business events to determine if any business action needs to be taken. LOB managers or users could then be informed about situations that require their action. These LOB users could also be supplied with detailed information that could help them in making decisions and taking actions. This event- and rules-driven BI approach is simpler than traditional BI approaches and frees LOB users from having to employ BI tools to constantly monitor and analyze business operations.

BI vendors have begun to add some level of rules-based automation to their products. Examples include rules-driven report bursting and delivery, the highlighting of exceptions on management dashboards, cause-and-effect diagrams in scorecards, and alerts to mobile and e-mail users. Most of these capabilities, however, involve applying simple rules to specific business events or metrics. Little has been done to help organizations document, capture and automate the complex business rules that control how information flows between business processes and how this information is used to make business decisions. Such capabilities would enable organizations to implement features such as guided analysis and BI pattern technology which, in turn, would help less experienced LOB users make more informed and better decisions.

The likely direction of the BI industry here is to learn from the experience gained using workflow, process management and business rules technologies in the business transaction-processing world. Some IT organizations have already begun to apply this technology in their BI projects. Vendors such as Fair Isaac, with their decision management product set, are also moving in this direction. Over the next year, we are likely see increasing momentum in this area, and, as support improves for BI automation, I will discuss this topic in more detail.

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