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Seeking out hidden savings
Why it pays to rationalize your BI infrastructure

by Mark Lorion, TIBCO SpotfireTuesday, December 1, 2009

Your IT budget is razor thin, your staff is ‘maxed out’, and management has ordered another round of cuts.  Meanwhile, three departments are clamoring for specialized applications to compete effectively against the market leader that’s eating your lunch.  Somehow you’re expected to shave more from the budget while funding new, powerful decision-making applications.

Enterprises are demanding that IT play an increasingly critical role in reducing enterprise costs by changing business processes, workforce practices, and information use. This includes data integration and the delivery of business intelligence (BI) tools that have a direct and positive impact on the business performance of the enterprise.  Challenged to cut costs and improve performance, IT leaders need to think strategically and creatively, especially when it comes to BI.

The truth is there’s money and opportunity hiding in pockets across the organization. Many departments have specialized data analysis applications that only serve specific employees. Replacing or augmenting these with a single platform that delivers flexible, in-context, decision-making applications to multiple departments across various business processes is the route to achieving true ROI, driving a much broader user adoption across the enterprise.

The BI ‘lock-out’ conundrum

In the 1990’s the collection of more data helped propel the widespread adoption of traditional BI software across enterprises.  BI vendors promised to empower users to query a repository of integrated data – such as a data warehouse or data mart – and create their own reports using solutions that would enhance and speed their ability to make decisions, create effective plans, and optimize business processes.

However, ‘self-service’ BI has proved overwhelming for all but the most sophisticated power users.  The reality is that many users find BI query, reporting and analysis tools just too complex or time consuming to use.  This has resulted in a disenfranchisement – or ‘lock out’ – of the every day business user that BI was most supposed to serve. As the recent BI Survey (2009) by the Business Application Research Center (BARC) reveals, just over eight percent of the employees in organizations employing BI are actually using BI tools.  Even in industries that have aggressively adopted BI tools – like wholesale, banking, and retail – usage barely exceeds 11 percent.

Aside from restricting access to information to a privileged few, traditional BI tools primarily report static information and therefore are rarely suited to supporting the real-time operational aspects of monitoring and controlling business processes.  What’s more, they are poorly suited to deliver what business users need today – direct and fast responses to questions on the fly.

Connecting the dots

The booming ‘90s created a costly IT legacy.  In the scramble to harness the benefits of BI, many organizations failed to deploy tools and solutions in a systematic or consistent manner. Instead, individual workgroups, departments and divisions – impatient to find a solution that delivered data in relevant context – built their own data warehouses and purchase their own BI tools and specialized applications.

As a result, many organizations are now riddled with ‘analytic silos’ generated by small and disconnected BI deployments, each supporting very different business processes and varied users.  Departments now have specialized data analysis applications that only serve specific employees, are often hard to administrate and are impossible to apply to other business processes in different organizational areas.

For many IT leaders today, technology rationalization is clearly the first step to lowering costs, reducing risk and complexity, and increasing productivity.

The future – enterprise analytics

Technology consolidation and standardization represents a huge opportunity for IT leaders. Enterprise analytics unlocks the full potential of information to enhance worker productivity by letting users do their own analysis and querying, delivering a common set of application services that can be customized to meet the information and analytical needs of large numbers of individuals and groups, and provides an opportunity to optimize processes to achieve strategic objectives and goals.

Consolidating multiple specialized applications, and creating a single enterprise-wide analytics architecture that delivers the best of BI – stats, data mining, and domain-specific applications – enables IT to give the broadest range of users new insights into their information while reducing the support burden associated with numerous custom and packaged applications.

Alongside reducing operational costs, a customizable enterprise analytics infrastructure improves scalability and enables the enterprise to augment and extend BI – both within the distributed organization and beyond the firewall to incorporate partners and customers – while providing IT with a centralized means to administer and deploy analytics across the enterprise.

Interactive analytics combine statistical analysis with data mining, ad hoc querying, and visualization techniques to enable true data exploration and the development of predictive models.  The use of flexible in-memory analysis results in fast queries and calculations that allow new ways to visualize and manipulate data.  Furthermore, an enterprise analytics platform meet the needs of any type of user – from a chemist to an operations manager, or marketer, or production controller – without dependency on an IT development cycle.  Process and decision-driven, a single, flexible platform enables everyone working in the value network to participate – not just power users.

With enterprise analytics, users can integrate data from multiple sources into one analytics environment and obtain real-time answers on-demand.  Intuitive and easy to use, sophisticated analytics enable users to review and analyze large volumes of data and to understand visually the hidden relationships between data.

Using a highly responsive drag-and-drop interface, users can get answers to new questions in just minutes from existing enterprise or local data sources without the intervention of IT. Users can view data from any perspective in order to conduct ad-hoc analysis, generate interactive reporting and dashboards, or create domain-specific applications complete with workflows which can be embedded into corporate portals - all without the need for programming, scripting or code development.

Moving BI into the enterprise

In the current economic downturn BI is fast becoming a critical corporate asset.  As organizations attempt to rationalize and merge a messy range of overlapping tools, they also need to expand the number of users who leverage BI tools to make decisions.  Enterprise analytics delivers the flexibility, ease of use and widest spectrum of functionality that helps drive much broader adoption of BI tools, opening the way to empowering knowledge workers with relevant and timely information to make quality decisions and improve performance.

About the Author

Mark Lorion joined TIBCO Software in 2007 through the company’s acquisition of Spotfire, Inc., a provider of analytics software.  Before joining Spotfire in 2004, Mr. Lorion led marketing at PeerDirect Corporation, where he helped to relaunch the company following its acquisition by Progress Software (NASDAQ: PRGS).  Earlier in his career his career, Mr. Lorion was a technology and strategy consultant with Accenture, where he worked with financial services organizations to select and implement new enterprise software systems.  He earned his MBA with honors from the Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College and a degree in Economics from Syracuse University.
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