Gartner's Business Intelligence (BI) Summit took place in Chicago this past March and, judging by the attendance and many of the standing-room only presentations, it looks like BI is still a very hot topic. In fact, Gartner called business intelligence "white hot." Though the topics varied, there was a pretty specific theme from the Gartner presenters: business process-based BI.

I have written about the marriage of operational customer relationship management (CRM) and analytical CRM (see "Worlds Collide" in the November 2005 issue of DM Review), and Gartner is seeing the same trend across all corporate functions. The analysts often pick a speculative, super-strategic trend, but in this case, I think Gartner's comments are very practical. Based on the mega-theme, some subtopics surfaced:

  1. Use corporate performance management (CPM) as a strategic alignment tool;
  2. Embed analytics into your automated business processes; and
  3. Good cookies will make the conference memorable.

CPM was definitely an overall hot topic at the BI Summit. Leveraging CPM technology to align corporate behavior struck a chord with me. Using scorecards and metrics to help track strategy and align employees' activities is not that new. But typically this is a yearly process where metrics are reviewed, the new strategy is committed and employees get a new version of the dashboard.
The interesting conversation at the BI Summit was much more tactical and spoke to helping an organization become more nimble and adaptable to change. SAP gave one of the best descriptions of this concept by example, which showed the executive management team making a decision to increase ROI. The hypothesis is that your average employee does not understand how he can personally influence ROI. The idea of a cascading set of customized metrics, scorecards and dashboards that communicates individually to each function, team and person what the necessary levers are for them to positively impact the strategy, changes in strategy or changes in tactics is ideal. Through a hierarchy of metrics, corporate behavior and goals can be consistently aligned.

SAP talked about their strategy to leverage their strategic enterprise management (SEM) planning application to drive the process and metrics hierarchy and leverage their up-and-coming composite analytic application assembly product to create functionality that merges operations and analytics. Other vendors also have technology that clearly aligns strategic goals (even intangible ones) to corporate dashboards.

Several terms were used for the idea of tying analytics more closely to the average employee's daily routine, including pervasive BI, active data warehousing, operational BI and process-oriented BI. However, the message was loud and clear.

Data warehousing and BI have matured to the point that most strategic decision-makers can leverage information to understand major trends such as sales spikes, product analysis, customer analysis and retention. However, the adoption of BI seems to have stopped with the ultra-power user and the management report. Gartner pointed to analytical skill sets in most organizations as one of the major obstacles. The typical employee does not think about leveraging intelligence into his normal course of business nor has the data or application knowledge to leave the familiar routine for a query tool to run some numbers before making a decision.

Using business processes to uncover BI requirements is not new. However, this type of requirements gathering was a siloed effort from the operational applications. The new concepts are that information, metrics and analytics should appear at the right time in the operational application, not in a siloed report over in data warehouse land.

For example, consider a regional sales manager who wants to make sure that he has matched the right accounts with the right salespeople, typically called "territory management." The sales manager realizes that one of his sales reps has only three accounts. However, when clicking on that sales rep, the manager sees that the volume from those three accounts is huge, and this sales rep probably has all that he can handle. When noticing another rep with a low amount of accounts, the click produces a recent win/loss scorecard that shows the representative is below average in closing deals. This implies a different issue.

The point is that the intelligence is built into territory management, and the sales manager does not need to call IT for a special report to perform one of the most routine activities. This does not imply that analytically oriented managers may not need to task deep-dive analysts with strategic research projects to explain trends and best practices. What it means is that it is easy to make fact-based decisions when the facts are right in front of you.

Worlds are colliding, and the days of designing and developing operational applications independently from BI are dying quickly. Really sophisticated organizations will even start embedding business rules to automate the decision itself. The number of BI users will exponentially increase over the next five years, opening many architectural discussions.

There was definitely some disappointment that Gartner was lacking details and examples. Attendees seemed to be well aware of the possibilities and were looking for tactical methodologies and architectural choices. However, any disappointment was quickly washed away when the afternoon cookies were delivered. In my many years of conference going, I can definitely tell you that Gartner is well entrenched in the dessert magic quadrant based on size, chocolate chip per square inch and overall volume. 

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