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Rafting Into the Business Intelligence Future, Part 1

  • Scott Humphrey, William McKnight
  • October 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

William wishes to thank Scott Humphrey for his contribution to this month's column.

The steelhead, trout and salmon didn't have a chance. Neither did the class IV rapids. Nor did the direction of the business intelligence (BI) industry have a chance on a hot July weekend in southern Oregon as some colleagues and I laid our claim to fish, fun and the fortune that lies ahead for BI at the Humphrey Strategic Communications' 3rd Annual Pacific Northwest Business Intelligence Summit.

I shared a panel with Claudia Imhoff, Jill Dyché and Colin White for two complete mornings as we discussed most facets, especially the hot ones, of BI today. The audience/extended panel consisted of key members of BI-related start-ups, prominent members of leading BI and IT organizations and the press.

There was consensus and there was divergence of opinion; therefore, what I present here are some of the more consensual opinions. Our brains were likely to be skewed a bit by thinking about the Rogue River and what lay ahead throughout the sessions, but we think we hooked some trends.

Business intelligence has become essential in most organizations. BI is not constrained to individual departments in organizations, but rather is viewed as essential at the corporate level with many organizations now focusing on growing their BI maturity vis-à-vis prior states as well as peer organizations. Maturity would seemingly be important in a 12 to 15-year-old successful industry such as BI, and it surely is.

However, during the conference, the point was made several times that although the maturity concept may be interesting, many - likely most - BI implementations are achieving nothing more than basic reporting capabilities. This is despite the vendor advances and hype, published information to the contrary, consultant tendency to toss around buzzwords (real-time, BPM, EPM) and company pronouncements about the importance of data. The feeling was more of being at the infancy rather than the maturity of BI.

Many are still facing the same challenges as were common 20 years ago -- specifically data integration, data quality and architecture. While the fundamental problems persist, the marketplace is polarizing. There are, to be sure, the mature, best practice, trailblazing organizations. However, the vast majority, especially in small and medium-sized businesses, are still at the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Indeed, small and medium-sized businesses seem to be held back from BI advancement, waiting for a silver bullet to come along.

One thing is certain. The definition and application of BI is undergoing a dramatic change. The wall between (so-called) strategic and tactical decision making is eroding. BI is becoming part of business processes. It is being integrated with workflow, business automation and proactive systems, and is not constrained by any measure to post-operational processes alone. This has serious consequences for vendor development direction, as will be discussed later.

Participants in the BI Summit (from left to right). Back: Jeff Dandridge, Mark Madsen, Val Rayzman, Scott Humphrey, David Koch, Frank Dravis, William McKnight. Middle: Mike Leach, Peter Galvin, Claudia Imhoff, Karen Steele, Brian Staff, Kim Stanick, Jill Dyché. Front: Colin White, David Stodder, Mike Keilen. (Photo courtesy of Humphrey Strategic Communications.)

There was a call for a new meaning for "BI." The new BI should stand for business integration, not business intelligence. Although many are taking inventory of their disparate BI environments and incrementally trying to make them more efficient, there is not an overwhelming trend to physically centralize everything.

These consolidations for efficiency are more logical and are not taking control away from departments. The idea of the one physical data warehouse for the organization is increasingly seen as an unachievable nirvana. It's an evolving pragmatism that is sinking in. It was suggested that the new "single version of the truth" is the enterprise data model, not the data warehouse.

This data model is increasingly managed by meta data. Meta data management, as a discipline, is reawakening due to the convergence of the trends of acceptance of heterogeneity in the BI environment and continued high integration requirements.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about corporate attitudes and who in the corporation gets to implement BI. The "central group" job seems to be data integration. It's really a master data management application, which is a high area of growth. Central IT has always tried to stifle other IT; however, upper management is not dying on that hill anymore. Ivory tower corporate standards bodies are rapidly reducing their involvement to procurement issues alone.

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