Gartner's annual business intelligence conference takes place in Chicago next week, and by many accounts looks to be the biggest ever. Ahead of the show, I sat down with Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Betsy Burton, who will be among the many Gartner presenters.Burton's presentation, which she kindly shared with me, is a bit different than the others, a forecast of a climate of increasing tension between information workers and IT, based on a few issues. The thesis of her presentation is that the entire market and world about how we deal with information and applications that are giving us information is radically changing, driven by at least three factors.

"Business environments are becoming much more complex and much more interrelated, Burton says. "The second factor I think is amazing is that users are driving [the creation of new] applications, and you'll notice I said 'users,' not analysts or managers." Both points have been made widely, but Burton is correct: the average 25-year old probably doesn't know the world very well before the Internet. This person is used to having information at their fingertips and will bring that demand to the workplace.

The third factor is that information and applications are becoming much more fine grained, and so organizations are not dealing with massive databases and massive applications. Instead, there is complex data all over the place. I like this observation, it's a good way of saying we cannot control the boundaries of information in the control sense that IT has traditionally sought. Rather, it is the online environment that IT needs to embrace, customize and optimize lest it become - to dig up that old HBR argument - irrelevant.

We have taken issue with Gartner in the past for compartmentalizing issues into conferences that tend to draw different "evangelists," which we worry perpetuates old, nagging problems. Our beef has always been that, attending different shows, organizations were pitched to build competency centers for process, for integration, for business intelligence and so on (depending on the topical area), and no business would - or could afford to - do such a thing.. It's more a criticism of Gartner's conference business model than a criticism of the individuals at Gartner. Like the rest of the industry I hold many of these analysts in high regard.

Still, this time around I'll be very interested to see how Gartner merges the vision of its integration, business process and other initiatives into the Chicago BI message. As regular readers know, our contention is that BI, having long grown past traditional notions of reporting and data warehousing, needs to be addressed contextually against other initiatives within companies that span the broader category of what we're now calling Information Management, (and we don't care if you choose to call it something else. We're not out to define product sets in three-letter acronyms). We'd be happier if end users would define the market for the market researchers.

A recent chat with Gartner VP Andreas Bitterer, who headlined at Gartner's London conference, defused some of my issues. It may be true that we were just thinking ahead of real time, as journalists are prone to do. In any case, Burton's definition of business intelligence strikes a broader chord that is meaningful to companies tackling several of the above-named issues above all at once.

The new definition of business intelligence, in Burton's words is, "the use of information that enables people in your organization to lead, discover, innovate, manage and optimize in order to get financial and performance benefit." It is a broad definition by design, and though it evokes "analyst speak," I would commend Ms. Burton's communication skills and enthusiasm to attendees, based in part on anecdotal references she was happy to share.

"I was meeting with senior staff at a large construction organization, and I started talking about the user, the worker driving access to information," Burton relates. "The head of the IT organization said, 'our hard hat people don't need that, they're heads-down.' But then the head of HR said, 'Wait, we're losing people and having a hard time recruiting people because everybody knows we're not supporting leading edge ways of getting to information.' The worker side of the picture is really impacting businesses and they're starting to feel the pressure."

Burton will address the ways users are driving for tools that are more simplistic, straightforward, visual and graphical. At the same time she says, the complexity of the business models and the data underneath the covers is increasing dramatically. "So the entire role of the IT leader, the role of how people are using IT as a competitive differentiation is changing dramatically."

Gartner is developing new Web properties specifically for IT leaders, and Burton will be driving research and creating specialized presentations to support and deliver her thesis. Burton is planning to expand even further, look at the relationship between search and information access, the relationship between email and how we managing data and content. "I'm also expanding to look at how teams are collaborating and working with each other and how they share information in this environment. What's the relationship between that and performance management? I see this as a much broader topic."

All we can say is, amen to that, Gartner.

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