When you get a new PC, how do you spend your first few hours with it? If you're like me, you install the software you want and get modems, printers and other peripherals working. You set up shortcuts, arrange icons on the work space so you know where everything is, decide on a screen saver, wallpaper and audio properties. In short, you customize your environment to facilitate the way you want to work. We all work differently, and it is a personal computer, after all! I subscribe to a news service, where in my e-mail in basket every day is a customized listing of news articles relevant to my interests; I can read an article's summary and click on an icon to get the full text if I desire. When I initiated the service, I indicated what topics were of interest to me data warehousing, business intelligence, OLAP, data mining, and so forth. In effect, I customized my environment for receiving news. It makes me more efficient, and I receive notification of articles via a medium I am very comfortable with e-mail. In addition, my pager provides me with periodic stock quotes and weather reports for the locations to which I travel most often. Again, I have customized my information delivery environment.
I was recently delighted to find out that several business intelligence tool vendors are now incorporating the ability to customize not only what enterprise information you see but also how information is delivered to you. This represents a significant new trend for the BI tool market. Why? Because it extends the reach of business intelligence beyond the analyst or knowledge worker population. It makes BI obtainable by the masses. No longer is it necessary for everyone wanting data warehouse access to learn a query, reporting, EIS, OLAP or decision support system tool in order to obtain desired information. Instead of a pull of information via a query, report or analysis, this new generation of BI tools represents a push approach. Information is pushed, or delivered to you the way you want it on the Web, on e-mail, voice mail, even on a pager or PalmPilot.
This new breed of tool is not a replacement for power tools (tools used by power users). There will always be the need for tool varieties that satisfy the sophisticated analyst. What it does is move us toward the information broadcasting model, where we supplement power tools with information delivery for those who do not require more sophisticated pull mechanisms.
One company that has leaped into this market is MicroStrategy with a product called DSS Broadcaster. The product allows you to personalize what information you need and then allows you to choose how it is delivered by e-mail, voice mail, fax, pager, PalmPilot, personal digital assistant (PDA), etc. It can provide data warehouse or operational data store information on a recurring schedule, such as when it is updated (whether that is monthly, weekly, daily or real time). Or it can use exception conditions to trigger updates. Say you want to know when new orders hit a certain level, or when inventory levels are low or when a key business indicator ratio is reached. You can now receive an e-mail containing that information (where numerical data has been transformed into plain English sentences) or receive a digital pager message. DSS Broadcaster (currently generally available) is a tool that truly enables personalized BI information delivery.
Another company, Information Advantage, is utilizing Web portal technology to enable the customization of information delivery. With their announced product called DecisionSuite Eureka! (to be generally available in December, 1998), you set up a "My-Yahoo-like" view of the internal enterprise BI information you want to see, similar to external data customization on the Internet. DecisionSuite Eureka! uses navigation, agent, search, visualization and delivery principles within a "publish and subscribe" product strategy. This strategy involves providing a portal (subscription) to any and all BI content that is registered (published) data warehouses, OLAP databases, data marts and decision support systems and to help the enterprise build a knowledge base of intellectual capital.
Both of these companies are taking innovative approaches to BI information delivery. Their approaches meld delivery technologies with the world of business intelligence technologies, providing the personalization we all desire in our working environments. More vendors will undoubtedly jump on the bandwagon very soon with other creative solutions. We will all benefit from their creativity, as collectively they proclaim, "Information? Have it your way!"
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