Editor’s note: The following transcript of Jim Ericson’s interview previewing the upcoming Gartner BI Summit, set for March 9-11 near Washington, D.C. is an edited excerpt of an 18-minute MP3 audio interview which can be downloaded in full from this link. The interview features BI Summit co-chairmen and Gartner Research VPs John Van Decker and Kurt Schlegel. More information on the Gartner BI Summit is available here.

Most companies are in a far different place than they were one year ago. What is the theme and the thinking behind this year’s Gartner BI Summit?

John Van Decker: The conference is called The BIg, the big discrepancy, which is really all about priorities versus realities in business intelligence. We’ve heard in our CIO surveys over the past two years that business intelligence is a real priority that will be invested in. But when we look at the value side, we’re not seeing the level of achievement we should be seeing. A lot of this gets back to the fact that people have been using BI in point areas to improve decision-making, but really haven’t used it within an overall business intelligence and performance management strategy. Some also question whether they have made the right investments in business intelligence. This becomes even more important when organizations are in cost-cutting mode, because they need to understand how costs are generated in the organization, where the costs are, and they need transparency into their results. That will also be a theme at the conference where we’ll have a virtual track focusing on how organizations can better leverage their business intelligence investment and make effective decisions around cost optimization.

Kurt Schlegel: Gartner surveys about 1,400 CIOs around the world and every year, business intelligence is consistently ranked as the top CIO priority from a technology perspective. We’re talking to a lot of the leaders of these BI initiatives and there clearly are success stories. But as John says, overall, most people feel we haven’t reached the potential of business intelligence, particularly where it’s combined with a performance management initiative and strategic goals. We’ve got a great program of people from inside and outside Gartner that are coming in with presentations and some how-to workshops that can help us fill in this discrepancy.

John Van Decker: A lot of this work starts with identifying what the right metrics are to cut costs without jeopardizing growth. We think this has to be built into a BI strategy. I also have to say that not every organization is looking at this [purely] from a cost-cutting standpoint because we do see a number of clients investing in business intelligence and performance management. We have customers engaging with service providers to help them reduce cost and optimize their current platform, but at the same time, [they’re looking at] how to get at the right information and develop the right performance metrics. So there will be a focus at the conference on performance metrics.

We see a lot of research this year showing there is even more pressure on IT folks and the businesspeople aligned with them to deliver business value quickly, even where budgets are frozen.

John Van Decker: Absolutely, the heat has really been turned up on IT to work with the business areas and become more of a strategic partner. Many companies have implemented their ERP systems, their CRM systems and taken more of a one-off approach to analytics and business intelligence. I cover a lot of finance management inquiries, where a common cry is, "we put out a reporting solution for finance but it doesn’t tie to our other reporting solutions." There’s a need for creating an environment where there is more consistency. That’s why we’ll be talking about things like the business intelligence competency center, which requires that IT and business areas develop this rich partnership that helps position business intelligence and information in the right hands.

Kurt Schlegel: When it comes to linking financial metrics with more operational metrics and connecting the leading and lagging indicators, we’re very excited to have Bob Kaplan, the co-author [along with David Norton] of the balanced scorecard methodology delivering a keynote on his most recent book, The Execution Premium. It’s a great read [about] how we can tie our overall strategy to lower level operations and the link is where you get this execution premium.

I also noticed you’re having a keynote from Garth Sundem who’s written the Geek Logik series of books. It sounds like that would provide the other end of the spectrum as it applies to information consumption.

Kurt Schlegel: We wanted to lighten things up a bit but not get off track. Garth Sundem has some interesting approaches to everyday problems but it gets back to understanding what the variables are, what the expected performance should be and trying to use algorithms that predict outcomes. It does relate to what organizations are trying to do with huge amounts of information, trying to predict and forecast performance and it does fit into our corporate performance management message. It’s a more light-hearted approach but it is on topic with what we’re trying to achieve.

Gartner has always tightly defined its coverage areas to help clients, but do you think we’re now looking at more related topics at once, such as process management or collaboration and other things that go along with BI and the way people consume information? Do you find that more requirements are creeping into this discussion of BI as we’ve known it?

John Van Decker: Oh, absolutely. Many people think of BI as query and reporting tools but it’s clearly much more than that.. Eight years ago I was talking about business performance management, and that was a very different paradigm than what was traditionally thought of as business intelligence. But we’ve been expanding our coverage and in many cases performance management and business intelligence are coming together. We call it the Business Intelligence Summit, but we will be covering performance management topics.

Kurt Schlegel: The traditional business intelligence practitioner could live in their own little world where all this data is thrown over the wall from their application systems and land in your data warehouse and as long as you were producing the right reports and getting the right information to the right people, you were doing your job. In 2009, expectations have changed dramatically so if you’re the leader of a BI initiative, you need to be doing much more [toward] connecting business intelligence to your business processes and applications than you ever did in the past. We’re starting to talk more about the overall goal and strategy of business intelligence. That still includes the right measures and information, but beyond that, toward making decision-making a core competency in your company. BI leaders are going to have a dramatic impact on the performance of their company. Just like we’ve identified key performance indicators we need to identify key decisions, have BI and analytics come in so we can start looking at that conflict that’s inherent in any business decision. It’s just like a Hollywood screenplay, any good business decision is fraught with some kind of conflict between cost and quality or risk. The reward and the role business intelligence plays is to enable that decision-maker with some insight and understanding on the appropriate balance.

You’re predicting collaborative decision-making will emerge as a new product category that combines social software and BI platforms, which speaks volumes to me about information consumption habits.

John Van Decker: We want our predictions to be grounded in some kind of plausibility and there’s an understanding that these are tough economic times. You’re not necessarily going to fund multi-million dollar projects and we may not be blazing new territory as we have before. So the collaborative decision-making prediction was grounded in the idea that "we can do this." In a Thomas Friedman, "World is Flat" kind of model, it’s possible to connect the systems we have with business intelligence and things teenagers are doing today with social networking. We can establish an environment using social software where people can come together, discuss a decision, outline options, discuss the pro and con, and then tag it to our BI system. If we’re going to make the decision to put more marketing dollars into a product, we can tie that to the information coming out of our BI systems. How great would it be to get a notification or alert saying, "you based this decision on this information and now the information has changed." Do you want to revisit the decision? If we could bring in some intellectual rigor and apply it at all levels of the company with transparency of how decisions are made, I think the cumulative impact is going to be very positive for businesses.

It’s pretty clear that business is getting more involved and taking more control in terms of resources and infrastructure. You’re predicting that by 2012 businesses will control 40 percent of BI budgets. How do you predict this will play out?

John Van Decker: It’s leading us to where IT really needs to understand how they’re going to play in this be a partner in business areas. Covering financial management and corporate performance management as I do, I frequently speak to IT organizations trying to rein in control in terms of what arrangements finance is making [on its own] with particular vendors. I see software as a service becoming more of a reality in the budgeting and planning space. The challenge here is that this has to be viewed as an enterprise project and that all of IT needs to be managed in a portfolio. The danger is, if IT doesn’t jump in and help steer the technology direction, the business units will put together funding once the economy comes back and will be making decisions and handling their own engagements. That clearly is going to create a situation where you’ll have multiple reporting tools, multiple performance management tools that don’t speak to each other and don’t integrate. The important thing is that you need to be pragmatic and gain value relatively quickly, but you need to follow a structured approach. That gets back to the theme of the conference, because your BI strategy is incredibly key to performance and the ability to move forward on any project.

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