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Business Intelligence now in the Operational Trenches

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, December 20, 2010

The awareness of Business Intelligence (BI) has moved far beyond the borders of the boardroom. The most junior of employees and low-level workers now interact with operational dashboards that contain built-in quality management or decision support (DSS) functionality. This functional mix of operational capability and DSS is empowering human resources on the front line of business operations. With “just in time BI”, employees that function in high-touch customer facing roles (such as a customer service representative in a call center) have in many cases become just as empowered as senior executives!

Business Intelligence ManLet’s consider the call center example further. Over the last few years call center practices have evolved and matured to where the CSRs (customer service representatives) now function as company ambassadors and brand evangelists. Thanks to huge improvements in dynamic data integration and delivery, the CSR has access to information that not only allows customers to make changes to their accounts, they also have the background intelligence necessary to suggest new products or packages of products and services that will improve the customer’s brand experiences and save them money as well. When properly empowered with BI the CSR can issue real-time customer upgrades based on previous buying habits, or project future customer purchases by taking into account the aggregated purchasing trends of other customers. Integration between call center dashboards and various types of CRM packages (such as Salesforce.com) has brought a whole new level of value to business intelligence. Call centers are also mining information from sites such as LinkedIn.com so that they have a better idea of who they are talking to when dispensing service over the phone.

For many people  BI is quickly approaching a self service delivery model, where an ever increasing number of knowledge workers can mine data and run reports in real-time in order to make instantaneous decisions. The focus of control for BI is shifting to more of an “outsourced” model. In this streamlined self service model, the user community not only has access to terabytes of data from data marts, data warehouses, and operational data stores, but they also have access to data mining and reporting toolsets and have the proficiency to create and run reports without extra help from IT resources. While the BI applications stack remains complex for many enterprises, the query service tier is becoming wider and more readily available to more people throughout the organization. Many companies are using Microsoft SharePoint as way to segue a larger number of users into self service BI. In this approach SharePoint serves as a portal, hosting a BI dashboard and providing for a multitude of collaborative features by leveraging out-of-the-box SharePoint services. Once this architecture is in place SQL Server Reporting Services can be phased in, making for a fluid, dynamic, simple yet effective platform for self service BI.

With advances in cloud computing and the growing acceptance of cloud technologies, the trend towards self service analytical capabilities is about to take off on a steeper upward curve. The cloud removes many of the traditional barriers to BI; it lends itself to a more collaborative and democratic experience for data users, whether they be mining data for analytics or engaged in complex event processing tasks. For many front-line workers such as call center representatives, the push into cloud-enabled BI can’t come soon enough, as call center dashboards will be heavily reliant on cutting-edge data visualization and data mashup technology.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices—across all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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