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Towards a Collaborative Approach
The Convergence of BI with Social Media

by Lyndsay WiseMonday, March 17, 2008

Business Intelligence (BI) is not immune to changes within the environment it operates in. Market shifts, vendor consolidations and the adoption of social networking on a wider scale are a few examples of factors that will influence not only how BI is used, but also how it is perceived within organizations. From the identification of trends and patterns to embedding BI into organizational processes, BI use has evolved to new heights.  Although shifts in marketing and industry coverage on the topic help shape the way BI is used and perceived, the potential for collaboration and making BI a partner in day-to-day activities is becoming more possible as organizations begin to mirror their use of information systems with that of the Internet.

Web 2.0, loosely defined, refers to a shift in how the World Wide Web is used. Previously the web was considered a storehouse of sorts – with static or fixed content and no real feedback mechanism. Now it has become more interactive and the content is dynamic, increasing the potential for BI as a partner in an organization’s day-to-day activities. For business, this shift toward interactivity acknowledges that users add value and that the ability to interact with customers, use their feedback, and share ideas may drive future profits and brand success.
The shift towards a more interactive environment will gradually change the way organizations apply and use business intelligence. Small shifts, such as the use of portals to enable centralized access to BI information and mass distribution via email are the first steps toward taking advantage of social networking concepts to drive business intelligence.  In addition, collaboration and monitoring tools facilitate interaction and the sharing of information between teams regardless of their geographical location.

Link to BI

Although there is constant talk about the use of social media, Web 2.0 and how it relates to the organizational use of IT, actual applications within BI that match online collaboration are progressing slowly at best. New technological advances and vendor solutions enable organizations to implement collaboration tools and to use BI in a way that matches the conventions of social media.  

The reality is that many organizations use internal spreadsheet applications and identify trends based on a collection of data across time (backward looking) as opposed to taking advantage of what is available and merging historical data with what is going on now.  The latter approach,  coupled with an emphasis on using collaboration between employees and customers, can help drive the creation of better products and services.  Whether this involves leveraging a customer or employee community to with decision making and match feedback to sales figures, or identifying interactions between pharmaceutical use and the development of new products based on feedback, trend information, and customer profiles, the important link becomes the use of BI as a part of an overall process.  This differs from the use of BI as an end in itself.

Traditional BI use (as an end in itself) is likely to end up leaving organizations out in the cold.  Unless new applications are adopted, organizations are unlikely to get the best out of their applications.  What can corporations do to enhance their use of BI to encompass smart business decisions?  One way would be to include the use of portals and business activity monitoring (BAM) tools to interact between business units.  Alternatively, using a portal as a central access point for customers to move from beyond simply emailing feedback or complaints, to the development of an online community whose members interact, share ideas with each other, etc.  By turning toward portals, the open source business model, and Software as a Service (SaaS), organizations can gain additional insight into the options available to bring their use of BI to the next level. 

BI Portals

From personalizing Web content to interacting in various forums and online communities, the Internet enables users to access multiple points from a single portal. More recently, businesses have adopted the same method, as seen through corporate intranets which create a centralized access point where end users can access human resources, departmental, and process-centered information to help them do their jobs more efficiently. They can also post items for sale or comment on various forums. 

The ability to centralize BI access and create an interactive environment for end users, thereby allowing them to have personalized access to their reporting and analysis environment increases the broad usage of BI within the organization.  With a focus on BI for the masses, using centralized portals enables organizations to widely distribute BI tools to many decision makers and allow the decision makers to customize what they see and how they interact with their BI. 

Open Source

Open source software represents an ideal way to apply social media concepts.  Vendors who choose this model go against the grain of a revenue-based business model and toward a service-oriented one.  By using customer feedback to develop products and services, customers get exactly what they pay for.  Vendors, in turn, gain insight into what is going on in the market and what organizations really want.  This highlights the advantages of social media and large-scale collaboration. 

Within BI, this goes beyond open source offerings and software selection to modeling this type of approach within one’s organization.  The goal may not mimic a free product offer yet the concept of using an organization’s customer base or its employees to drive development and to incorporate feedback into the organization’s daily decision making may provide the edge required to develop additional competitive advantage. 

Software as a Service (SaaS)

The expansion of service-oriented offerings is nowhere more pertinent than within SaaS offerings.  After a few years of wide adoption of SaaS-based models within ERP and CRM environments, a natural expansion toward BI seemed inevitable. The key link in relation to social media concepts is the ability for organizations to choose the way they interact with their BI environment.  Not only can organizations mimic social media concepts within their own organizations to empower end users and gain better insight into their customers, but they can also choose their deployment method as well.  This means expanding options of how organizations access data and interact with their data providers.

The overall connection

Different methods of communication and collaboration within organizations enable new and varied applications of BI.  Gone are the days of using BI to merely consolidate and report on historical data.  Now dashboards and scorecards can be used to create an interactive environment where real-time data can be analyzed to make up-to-date decisions.  Add to this a new level of interaction with one’s environment and organizations can use customer feedback to improve products, develop new services and integrate this into their BI environment.  By using an open source business model as a guide, organizations can use their customer base in addition to their own in-house BI use to make informed decisions about how to grow their business. 

In general, the ability to centralize data access, vary the ways in which information is delivered and stored, and the creation of more dynamic interactions within a BI environment are the first steps towards the convergence of BI and social media to drive better business.

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