Business intelligence (BI) could be the killer app of the decade that helps businesses compete in the tough economy. Yet few companies have embraced BI, and those that do report mixed success.


In the book Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App (McGraw-Hill, 2008), author and industry analyst Cindi Howson includes exclusive survey results and insights from visionary companies that have experienced success with BI to beat the competition in revenues, customer service and operating efficiencies. Government agencies and nonprofits share their stories on how they use BI to make the world a better place.


Some of the key findings include:


While data warehousing and BI have existed for over 15 years, BI adoption remains low at only about 25 percent of employees, mainly in the hands of power users and business analysts. Some of the case study companies use BI pervasively at closer to 100 percent of their workforce to include front-line workers and customers and suppliers. This huge untapped market is what has made it attractive for software giants Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and IBM to enter with a spate of acquisitions and new products in the last year.


Much of the focus on BI in the industry is about the technology, and yet survey respondents cited organization factors as more critical to success than technology. The partnership between IT and the business was ranked as most important.


Executive-level sponsorship was ranked as the second most important success factor. Although the CIO is often the sponsor of BI projects, this executive sponsor experienced lower success rates than other executives.


The success rate was almost double for companies that approached BI from an enterprise perspective versus companies that treated BI as a departmental initiative. Similarly, those that had largely standardized on a single BI platform also reported slightly higher success rates. That’s good news for software vendors who are looking for a larger share of wallet from BI buyers.


An interesting characteristic of the more successful companies a combination of luck, opportunity, frustration and threat. The economy is certainly a threat for many companies today, but even so, opportunity in the form of exploiting data to enter new markets and develop unique products is also something some of the visionary companies described.

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