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Friday, April 20, 2007

Business Intelligence Software

In an earlier post describing how Eastern Mountain Sports is using Web 2.0 tools to facilitate collaboration among employees and with suppliers and customers, I touched on how such tools fit into a larger framework that includes corporate scorecards and dashboards.

Now I'd like to call attention to a relatively technical article by David Stodder in the April 2 issue of Network Computing that provides illuminating detail concerning the state of the art in business intelligence (BI) software, a type of application that facilitates pulling data from various sources and displaying it on a dashboard.

Stodder explains that
Enterprise BI platforms consolidate what was once a vast array of disparate tools for data access, analysis and reporting with data integration infrastructure technology, including administration, BI modeling, metadata management, portal integration and security. Operational BI pressures are pushing leading vendors to expand their technologies to support performance and [business] process management; activity monitoring; and faster, more real-time information delivery. Vendors also are trying to keep pace with changing Web 2.0 trends in the user community that will favor BI services inside component mash-up applications, search and collaborative networks.1
As is true at Eastern Mountain Sports, a big advantage of a company-level BI platform is that all departments have "a 'single version of the truth' about customers, products and other objects of interest." All departments are using the same tools to tap into the same data (which, needless to say, should be high-quality data). This facilitates cross-departmental planning, monitoring, and decision-making if ...

... employees are trained to use the tools. For instance, when the dashboard shows a change in inventories in a particular region, employees with inventory-related responsibilities need to be trained on how to drill down into the detailed data to uncover the cause of the change. With this type of analytical capability broadly developed in the ranks of employees, a company expands its ability to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and to pursue continuous improvement of its business processes.

1 A mash-up is an application created by combining content from two or more sources. For example, a retailer could combine a mapping application (e.g., Google Maps) with data from an online weather service in order to monitor how weather is affecting sales in various locations. (Source: Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technology at IBM, quoted here.)


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