I thought I might have been too far in front of the curve with my last column, "BI for the Real Masses," which talked about the potential of turning elements of business intelligence and analytics back to the consumer. By the consumer, I meant looking past the four walls into the channel and beyond, figuring there was a good deal of scrutable processed and unprocessed corporate information of value to both. I did receive a fair amount of feedback, which is why we'll have one more look at the topic before moving on. As it turns out, only one person wrote to say the column was irrelevant to the current state of the market. Another other four or so readers commented specifically on efforts in their companies to turn certain databases of information and attendant tools back to the channel or consumer directly. I can't quote the specifics readers passed along because I didn't have time to get permission, but I hope to follow up on them.

The efforts described to me by readers are all over the map, but directed at cost containment and revenue generation and I think a couple of factors are driving the effort. The first is the notion of centralized repositories of information, which is a tenet of business intelligence. Just five or six years ago when topics such as BI and even customer relationship management (CRM) were still on the fringe of the mainstream, we talked and wrote a good bit about "buy-side" and "sell-side" applications. The former tended to draw on supply chain technologies for planning and optimization, the latter on CRM for sales force automation, service management and the like. Each was coupled to its own database and possibly to electronic data interchange (EDI) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

These applications are still mission critical of course, updated versions of the originals, but today we'd be more likely to lump these functions in the realm of business intelligence for users in and beyond the realm of business analysts. Whether it's financial advisory or services or spend management, the goal is informed use in a role-sensitive context which naturally extends internally and then via self-service to the channel and the consumer.

Another factor is the rise of analytics, which now seem to be embedded in every application of critical use. Beyond analytic applications is a separate notion of central analytic engines which draw on information in different structures and contexts and as such need to address BI-related issues of data integration, cleansing, quality etc. As it is with access to data, the degree to which analytics extend outside the firewall is likely a function of time.

One of our DM Review contributing columnists, Lyndsay Wise, a senior analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers, also pinged me about the column, having just written a related piece for her September DM Review.com column. Lyndsay's take is a more mainstream (and probably more relevant) take on the spread of BI to the ends of the organization. She points out that BI search, mobile and portal-based solutions allow more end users access to more information faster to increase the reach of BI within the organization. The same could be said of reaching outside the organization she told me, though she points out that the contextual and decision process issues are is the same.

"No matter how you spread information around, it's about both processes and roles," says Wise. "Vendors especially are talking a lot about getting information to more and more users, but not so much about how they're accessing the information and what they're going to do with it." As she points out, it's one thing to increase the user population, and another to provide data that reflects and provides the answers to business issues, meaning that access by itself is meaningless.

And though it's just an observation or a fringe topic now, Wise says maybe it won't be in a few years. Just as our industry has morphed away from static reporting, as newer versions of portals and mobile devices proliferate, we'll likely to see many more customized uses for BI and analytics. There are plenty of other things to address in the meantime, but we'll keep you posted.

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