The nature of business information is changing. An evolving constellation of technologies ­ spanning improved data warehousing, the World Wide Web and exciting new messaging capabilities ­ is rapidly changing the way companies manage and access key enterprise data.

This new paradigm promises to vastly simplify the task of organizing and disseminating corporate information. It allows managers to personalize the reports they receive, avoid unwanted information and use Web-driven connectivity to enjoy true anywhere/anytime access to key information. By examining the use of Web-enabled corporate data, we can gain a glimpse of the future of business information.

Today's data warehouse is designed to accept enterprise data from financial, POS, manufacturing or other production systems, to gather that information into a common area and then to restructure that data to provide optimal reporting access. Managers can then use sophisticated software tools to analyze that data by time, geography, SICs or any other dimension.

But while data warehouses represent a tremendous advance in information management, the resulting reports are typically large, difficult-to-read documents that contain far more information than managers want or need. These are the hundred-plus page, hard-copy reports that many of us in the technology business call the "tree killers."

Fortunately, the IT community is refining an elegant and practical new approach to enterprise reporting. An increasingly popular concept called "exception-based reporting" now lets companies and managers determine precisely what information they want, when they want it and the form in which that data will be presented. Using this technology, reports can be generated in response to specific events, trends, breakpoints and deviations from a norm at scheduled intervals or based on virtually any other variable.

An exception-driven reporting system allows a vice president of sales, for example, to receive a compact, easy-to-read report only when sales drop below a predetermined level for a particular product line in a selected region of the country. A day trader might use exception reporting to be notified when a stock goes above or below a certain price. The beauty of this type of flexible reporting is that each organization, and indeed each decision-maker, can customize a reporting environment precisely to meet a specific need.

The third leg of this emerging information environment is an advanced, new broadcast technology capable of delivering event-triggered messages directly to decision-makers. These customized systems can send messages to one or many recipients via pager, e-mail, fax, mobile phone or other devices. By also using a growing array of Web-enabled database reporting tools, this system creates a very powerful and flexible means of alerting recipients and then providing them with custom-tailored business reports.

When an exception-based event occurs, the system automatically generates the correct report, then a voice- or text-based message is broadcast instantly to the appropriate personnel. The recipient might then plug a laptop into the World Wide Web to access an e-mail containing an URL linked to a customized report on the company's data warehouse. A simple mouse click launches a powerful, Web-enabled reporting environment that lets the recipient slice, dice and drill down on the data warehouse to get any additional needed information.

A number of vendors now offer reporting-linked messaging technologies including Information Advantage, SQRIBE (now Brio) and others. One notable entry is DSS Broadcaster from MicroStrategy, a broadcast server that uses exception conditions or recurring schedules to transmit personalized business information. As part of an integrated decision support solution, DSS Broadcaster supports multiple databases and data sources, dynamic recipient lists and highly personalized, exception-triggered business reports.

This approach gives business managers the freedom to choose what information they will receive, as well as when and how they will get it. That's the new paradigm of business information and the promise of the Web-enabled data warehouse. It is truly a productivity enabler of the first magnitude (and a nice way to save a few trees).

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