BI is neither a product nor a system. It is a collection of integrated strategic and operational applications, databases and best practices that should provide the business community with easy access to business data. This business data should enable faster decision-making that will achieve better performance for the business according to predetermined goals. The improvement in performance should be measurable and easily attributable to the BI implementation. These applications have to be built or supervised by IT. However, the business community users and not the IT staff are the ultimate judges of success or failure of the BI implementation. BI initiatives and implementations are expensive endeavors. Disparate business data must be extracted and merged from online transactional processing (OLTP) systems, batch systems, data warehouses and externally syndicated data sources. BI initiatives also call for new technologies to be considered, additional tasks to be performed, roles and responsibilities to be shifted and information to be delivered quickly and reliably so that the business community can perform their functions effectively. Only if the information provided by the BI systems turns into actionable and measurable performance improvements that adhere to or exceed the goals and the strategies determined at the outset of the implementation will it be considered a success. And that success has to be repeatable. The Internet has opened the entire global environment to organizations at a fraction of what it cost a couple of decades ago. This means that not only the employees and management should have access to the data and its derivative - the information, but it should also be available to the customers, shareholders, partners, suppliers and regulators - in short, anyone who needs to know it in order to improve the performance of the organization. In order to provide this wide variety of constituents with access to the information, the software must have capabilities to run outside of the firewall effectively. There should not be any restrictions regarding access to the information as long as the job function needs that information to perform the work. Need-to-know based strategy should be implemented. In order for information not to fall in the wrong hands, you must be able to open and close the firewall doors, and IT has to be in the drivers seat to perform this balancing act of data access. How can you make a BI implementation available to support many people? There are several issues to consider: Do you have the appropriate infrastructure? Do you have the appropriate software in place that supports intranet and extranet in one box? Can the software run outside of the firewall? What about the platform to support the applications? Does the software support standards that make the software interoperable and flexible that will run on various, disparate platforms? Extranet applications are typically built in house by IT, so the software must provide features to strongly support these application developers. And the applications must be developed so all users can easily adopt them for online self-service. Other considerations are: How open should BI be? Can the applications be built with open standards? Can open source, with its features of interoperability and portability, be used to its fullest capabilities? For the applications to be interoperable and portable to run on various, disparate platforms, open source is an outstanding candidate to be embraced. It is important to identify who the people are that will be using these applications.
- Do the users have uniform needs? Or are there vastly different needs for the information? What are the users profiles?
- What are the needs of management?
- What do various employees need?
- What about the shareholders?
- What do the partners need? Do these partners have different types of needs?
- What about suppliers? How do you make sure that competitors dont misuse the information? If they do, the information-providing organization is going to suffer financially on two fronts. Working with unethical suppliers could be costly, and there could be lawsuits for providing confidential information to wrong parties. What are the basic requirements for BI to be pervasive?
- Many types of users should have easy online access to the actionable information. Todays Web-savvy customers expect instant access to whatever information they desire. And that information has to be personalized.
- Actionable information has to increase the performance of the individual users, the departments, the divisions and the enterprises at large and makes measuring performance improvement easier.
- The performance has to be measurable and auditable at every level for the user community. Would key performance indicators (KPIs) provide the necessary measurability of the results? Do you need different KPIs for different audiences for dissemination of the information?
Other issues to take into account when embarking on a pervasive BI environment:
- Service-oriented architecture: Can information be provided as a service that cuts across multiple applications and a large number of users?
- Scalability: As more people start to use BI applications - especially in the online environment - increased scalability is a must. Customers expect near-perfect availability and high performance. If the appropriate bandwidth is not provided, inadequate scalability will doom the online site.
- Online customer account reporting is the more frequent interaction of the customers with the organizations. But high-volume outputs are still provided in batch. The software has to support the batch output reports feature, and these reports should not be static, but they should be living documents with changes happening in the business reflected as quickly as possible.
- Reliability: In the global environment of today, 24x7 availability is a must.
- Accurate, relevant and consistent information: As more people start to use the BI applications, vulnerability of unreliable information becomes greater. Information provided has to be consistent and repeatable. Once people realize that the information they are receiving is reliable, more people will start using it.
- Availability and serviceability: All types of users need access to the information in the pervasive BI world and have to be serviced well - not every group of users is made of technology wizards. Power users are an important constituency, but that is not the only one. The majority of users are using spreadsheets in some shape or form.
- Spreadsheet integration: Spreadsheets are pervasive. In order for BI to be pervasive, one of the criteria is extensive support of integrating spreadsheets into the BI implementations.
- Take advantage of new Internet application capabilities to deliver rich, personalized content to make every user into an organization of one to achieve the best performance individually as an entrepreneur as well as for the organization.
Can BI be pervasive if it doesnt have a solid architecture to support the growth? Definitely not. Pervasive BI means empowering everyone to win with a solid architecture as an anchor. To support all of these needs, the BI applications have to be enhancing, expanding and evolving, only then can the BI be pervasive. And it is doable.
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