Using powerful analytic and delivery mechanisms, business intelligence (BI) is meant to deliver organized, coherent and correct information to businesspeople. However, in every company, the overwhelming majority of information requested occurs outside BI environments and lacks the benefits that come from information that has been synchronized, certified, aggregated and prepared for business use.

The quality of information is important to every person who requests information. With the advent of intranets and portals, people now expect information to be delivered outside of application systems and want to access data stores directly, including data contained in data marts and data warehouses. While BI data is worked over to produce high-quality data, data in most application data stores is not.

Enterprise information integration (EII) is meant to deliver organized, coherent and correct data for every information request that occurs throughout the company. The extension of the information availability and quality that is found in BI environments to every request for delivered information presents three categories of challenges: architectural, data management and technology management.

Architectural challenges originate from the fundamental premise of EII: access to all enterprise information shall be transparent. This means that every information request is:

  • Providing information that is equivalent to that found in the source system(s) of record for the information requested.
  • Independent from the technology of the physical data stores that are the source systems of record, and the information is delivered without using the software applications they support. (As Web services become more widespread, this characteristic may change.)
  • Delivered regardless of the device characteristics making the request (desktop, Internet-enabled phone, Pocket PC, etc.).

The technology challenge is daunting, yet products designed to provide EII are becoming available. Information delivery technology is separate from any presentation or application software, including BI. Architecturally, it is meant to sit between applications and their data stores.
In the most architecturally pure form, applications would also use the information delivery technology rather than access their data stores directly. This separates all applications from their physical data stores, creating a company-wide tiered architecture that manages data structures distinct from application processes. While this is a desirable goal, it is unclear whether it is practical with the current state of EII technology.

Data management presents its own challenges. EII can only be built on a solid foundation of knowledge about the data held in application data stores or used within the business. Each data element must have:

  • A specified source system of record with 24-hour availability for data access (this is essentially a key component of a data-certification process).
  • Meta data that describes the characteristics of the data, defines it for users of the data, and physical and logical models of the data.
  • Mappings from the source system of record to the target presentation vehicles that deliver the requested information.

Data management has additional challenges. As BI professionals know, integrating data from disparate sources is a challenge; and EII will need the ability to dynamically integrate data as information requests combine data elements differently. Additionally, unstructured data such as documents, e-mail and images are becoming data management problems as well.
These lead to the third category of challenges: the IT approach to managing technology. EII, like BI, portals and Web services, is an integrating technology – it operates across the entire IT infrastructure. Too often, IT manages technology and initiatives as individual projects meant for a particular business unit. To achieve the advantages of integrating technologies, IT organizations must:

  • Develop a technology strategy architecture and management approach to all the integrating technologies – EII, Web services (or enterprise application integration), portals and BI.
  • Ensure that individual project initiatives always incorporate these integrating technologies.
  • Work with business communities to help them understand the advantages of integrating technologies.

The challenge for IT is to put in place enterprise-wide technology planning and architectures, IT governance processes that keep all IT initiatives consistent with these plans and architectures, and funding mechanisms that support creating the integrated enterprise.
Too often, funding is managed to maximize the number of IT initiatives undertaken at once. This provides the most support to the current needs of the business, but the integrating technologies provide value over the long term because they maximize reusability of data and processes. Through planning, architectures, governance and funding, IT management must work to optimize the short- and long-term balance of IT efforts.

What does this have to do with BI? Simply this: EII can be a valuable addition to the IT infrastructure, but it does not replace BI. In fact, a sound enterprise BI environment should be the starting point for any EII initiative. When best practices are followed, data within the BI environment will have:

  • An identified source system of record for each data element.
  • Reusable information integration processes as part of ETL.
  • Aggregations, KPIs and other data not found in application source systems, especially for history and analyses over time.
  • Data organized to facilitate reporting and analysis. While application source systems contain sound data, data used for dimensions is not conformed in application source systems.

Because EII is focused on integrating access to application data stores, it is easy to think that BI data is redundant and can be replaced by EII. Companies successful with enterprise-wide BI will understand the importance of BI and its role in successfully implementing EII.

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