Editor's Note: For this special issue, we asked our columnists to cover a variety of e-business topics. Their insightful commentary provides a well- rounded outlook as to the benefits and challenges of the e-world. Regular column format will return next month.

While giving a series of e-BI keynotes over the last few months, I've noticed some striking similarities between today's e-BI market and the early data warehousing market: the audiences are dominated by business people rather than IT attendees; the educational component is very high ­ people are still learning what e-BI is all about; the gap between the hype and the reality is very large; and people who have actually designed and built sustainable e-BI systems are few and far between.

To provide some relief to these early growing pains, here are some pragmatic keys for e-BI success from the perspective of an implementer in the field.

  1. Develop and maintain a holistic system view. In order to avoid an implemenation and maintenance nightmare of patched- together silos of turnkey packaged systems, custom systems, etc., you must move beyond parochial views (i.e., Web centric, e-business centric, BI centric). This mandate extends to all aspects of the e-BI system including design, architecture, tool integration and culture. In the current nascent state of the market, it is easy to be drawn into what you think will be a natural center of gravity around a vendor/ product/capability, only to discover to your horror that you are on a one-way ride into a black hole.

    It is critical that you choose your partners carefully, demand that they are intimately familiar with all aspects of the e-business, e-CRM, e-supply chain and e-BI life cycle, and that you maintain a holistic system view across the entire e-BI architecture, system, data and process flow.

  2. Implement a federated BI architecture. A federated BI architecture that accommodates the differing performance demands, schemas and political realities of packaged, custom, third-party and ASP data, tools and systems is required. In the e-BI world, speed rules and only a federated architecture provides the flexibility and speed demanded by the market. To successfully implement and leverage e-BI, you need to move into data warehousing 2.0, where all the assumptions are questioned, all the rules have changed and all the varying demands of massive data sets, real-time data flow, real-time analysis and real- time closed-loop systems are met.

    As you make your choices of which segment of the e-BI federated architecture to build first, be careful of your first component(s), as they will establish de facto standards for data, meta data, APIs, business rules and semantics. To prevent your first phase from distorting your e-BI world, it is critical to establish a high-level architecture first and build politically meaningful iterations second.

  3. Prepare for extensive system integration. The current state of e-BI is that there are no complete end-to-end solutions. The short- to mid-term reality is that you are facing a massive systems integration project, probably the most daunting one that you will undertake in your career.

    One of our greatest challenges is that in the current and near- term state, meta data integration is nearly impossible. Difficult choices are required as we all wait for XML. In the meantime, look for de facto standards among the vendors. You will find that it is possible to build a system around a foundation of partners who are likely to be long- term players, while still integrating the exciting and innovative capabilities of young start-ups.

  4. Prepare for the long haul. You must choose your partners wisely. The demands of e-BI are much more challenging than data warehousing 1.0. Regardless of suitability, you can expect DW 1.0 companies to repackage and re- brand their products as "new and improved for e-BI."

    You must also be careful to avoid staking your future on vendors that may have a short- term advantage in the market today, but whose future is questionable as their much larger competitors promise to match and/or exceed their niche capabilities. And finally, you need partners who see the vision of e-BI and are unhindered by outmoded technologies.

In conclusion, while we're still in the gold rush phase of this market and there remains a significant gap between hype and reality in large segments of e-BI, there is no option. You will be required to deliver e-BI capability sooner rather than later for your organization. Keep these keys to e-BI success in mind, and your chances of delivering a powerful, high-impact system will be greatly increased.

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