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Ubiquitous BI
Worth the trouble or more trouble than its worth?

by John Kitchen, Sr. Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, www.datawatch.comTuesday, September 23, 2008

While IT executives strive to achieve ubiquitous Business Intelligence (BI) – which would provide everyone in the organization powerful BI Tools – another school of thought is beginning to take hold. Perhaps giving everyone access to these complex tools is more trouble than it’s worth – and a waste of valuable time and money. Leveraging the investment a company has made in existing reports is a smarter route for putting BI in the hands of those who need it most.

Currently many IT executives view ubiquitous BI as the ‘wave of the future.’ They paint a picture of a future where C-level executives are fully supported in all of their business decision-making by employees across the organization. These employees are using sophisticated BI solutions that connect multiple users in the organization to the appropriate database(s) and then allow them to analyze the data with powerful visualization tools.

But perhaps there’s a flaw in this vision of the future: Are most users really able to use all the capabilities of typical analytic tools and do they even need them? The belief that BI tools, with an over abundance of features and direct connections to databases or data warehouses for the end user, are the best way to achieve ubiquitous BI is a misguided one. In reality, ubiquitous BI may be more of a headache than it’s worth, and if achieved, may result in precious few incremental company benefits.

A Flawed Vision: Why Database-Centric BI Tools Aren’t the Answer:

  1. Burden on the IT Department
    With traditional BI tools, the IT department bears the burden of creating and maintaining the data management systems necessary to support the processes. Furthermore, extensive IT support is needed to train end users on the proper use of the BI solution.
  2. Scalability and Security
    When companies use data warehouses or transactional databases as the source for ubiquitous BI, there are potentially hundreds – if not thousands – of users banging against such data sources, not to mention the likely end-user missteps that may impact performance.
  3. Hampering Information Sharing
    A database-centric approach may hamper a company’s ability to share analyzable information with people outside the immediate enterprise, such as employees in distributed offices, customers, vendors or partners.
  4. Information Overload
    While allowing all end users to access information is logical in certain instances, traditional BI tools are overkill for many organizations. In most cases, the potential value of BI for rank and file staff does not warrant the time or the effort required to extract information out of a transactional database or data warehouse, nor the time and effort required to make the end user proficient with the BI tool itself.

Most of the information that users need already exists within their organization, but is of limited use because it is locked in static reports. Users are only able to view the data – they can’t analyze it, ask questions about it or see different data views. By more intelligently utilizing these reports – without the strain and complexity of a traditional ubiquitous BI infrastructure – the entire organization will benefit.

Achieving Ubiquitous BI: A Pragmatic Approach

What many organizations fail to recognize is that they’ve already done much of the hard work associated with achieving ubiquitous BI, such as extracting the appropriate data, cleansing it, applying business rules and so forth. The time has come to consider a more pragmatic method of achieving the aim of ubiquitous BI: Putting the right information in the hands of the right people in the right context and format. By innovatively bridging that gap between BI and enterprise content management, a slightly different approach to ubiquitous BI called Report Mining allows users to fully utilize the existing reports already produced by their enterprise information systems.

It’s important to note that Report Mining is not text mining. Text mining extracts key elements from large unstructured data sets, discovers relationships and summarizes the information. By contrast, Report Mining turns unstructured text documents into actual structured data (with Meta data intact) for analysis or for uploading to a data warehouse. Report Mining is the process of helping users easily access the vast amounts of critical data buried in reports and other static business documents.

Although traditional BI/text analytics and ECM solutions each take steps toward leveraging unstructured data, neither approach has the ability to extract value from the data locked in static business documents such as reports. Report Mining can take valuable business intelligence currently ‘hidden in plain sight’ and simply and rapidly turn it into live, analyzable data in formats such as Excel. In so doing, Report Mining allows users to join information from a multitude of transactional systems, outside service providers and analytic systems, to offer a quick and easy solution that addresses the immediate need for BI at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity of leading BI solutions.

Only Report Mining combines BI and ECM capabilities and bridges the gap between structured and unstructured data, turning the information in reports back into structured data so organizations can analyze and manipulate it.

The Benefits of Report Mining:

  1. Reports Are an Organization’s Greatest Asset
    Knowledge-workers already use reports for decision-making purposes; putting the reports to better use should be a top priority.
  2. Report Mining Unlocks the Static Nature of Reports
    Conventional wisdom still asserts that reports can’t be used as a source of BI because they are static and don’t allow the end user to ask questions about the data and see different data views, leaving critical information ‘hidden in plain sight.’ Report Mining software can unlock information in read-only documents and reports, turning it into live data that delivers on the promise of ubiquitous BI at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity of traditional BI solutions.
  3. Report Mining Provides Actionable Data
    With Report Mining, organizations can provide users with actionable information, ready to be sorted and filtered, combined in data tables, summarized into subtotals and grand totals and easily exported – exactly the way users need it.
  4. Report Mining Saves Time
    By pulling data out of reports, Report Mining speeds up the process of data acquisition as the information in reports has been cleansed, transformed and denormalized and contains business rules. Report Mining can also solve data integrity issues, as reports are constantly being verified and audited.
  5. Report Mining Leverages Existing Security Processes
    Report Mining allows organizations to leverage the security processes already built around their existing report distribution. With Report Mining, users still only receive the information they are entitled to view, but that information can be transformed into actionable data without IT intervention.
  6. Report Mining Allows Organizations Access to Information They Wouldn’t Otherwise have
    Reports are often the only logical way to get needed historical or current information from third-party providers (such as clearing houses or outsourced transaction processing) or legacy systems.
  7. Report Mining Saves Money
    By immediately delivering the actionable information organizations want without requiring expensive data warehouses or new BI/reporting infrastructures, Report Mining enables businesses to achieve increased ROI with significantly lower total cost of ownership than leading BI offerings. Even if decision-makers in an organization choose a data warehouse or traditional BI solution as a long-term approach, Report Mining can still deliver the information users want now until the business has resources to invest in a traditional data warehouse. Report Mining solutions also seamlessly integrate with more sophisticated BI tools or data warehouses that an organization may want to implement down the line, so there is literally nothing to lose.
  8. Report Mining Minimizes the Learning Curve
    By the common definition, ubiquitous BI provides widespread access to information across an enterprise. But what good is the information if it is not useful and actionable, or if security issues and a lack of end-user training mean staff can’t extract the value they’re seeking from BI? Report Mining allows users to review and manipulate data in formats that they already use and understand.

Report Mining offers a shortcut to giving users the information they need in the format they want and simply solves a very complex issue. If companies truly want to achieve ubiquitous BI, they should take advantage of the benefits of report mining and start leveraging the investment they’ve already made in their critical business data, i.e. reports.

About the Author

John Kitchen is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Datawatch Corporation, a leader in Enterprise Information Management (EIM). Prior to joining Datawatch, he served as a Marketing Consultant to a variety of companies in the high- technology sector including Datawatch and Thinking Machines Corporation. John also spent 15 years as Founder and Partner of Spiessl Kitchen Vosik Advertising, a marketing services agency specializing in the high-tech industry. For article feedback, contact John at john_kitchen@datawatch.com.

 

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