Thursday, 12 June 2008

Business Intelligence and the bolting horse

There appears to be a revival of interest in Business Intelligence (BI) among IT vendors at the moment. Some pretty big guns, the likes of Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft, are trying to position themselves more aggressively in this space following the spate of acquisitions.

So is this renewed vigour justified?

Well from a customer perspective it undoubtedly is. It is pretty clear when you research BI that the gap between business need and IT capability is as great as ever. When we interviewed a bunch of senior business managers from City of London financial institutions last year, for example, they were very clear about this gap:

And if you look at this chart closely, you will notice something quite interesting. While business information availability isn't that bad at an overall financial and arguably operational performance level, it is not very good when you look at more detailed measures and indicators.

Why is this interesting?

Well because it tells us that by the time those managing the business find out about something important, it is often too late to do anything about it. Stories of product, client or partner related issues only coming to light when someone starts investigating why a higher level number has been missed are quite common.

To put it another way, business managers usually have what they need to monitor the ‘effects’ of doing business, but are typically underserved when it comes to the information required to manage the underlying ‘causes’ of those effects. We discuss this more in the research report from the study if you are interested, but it does bring home the importance of incorporating continuous analytics capability into the business process itself, as well as having traditional retrospective BI operating off to one side.

The aforementioned vendors are therefore spot-on when it comes to making a big noise about the principle of integrating BI capability into applications in a more embedded fashion. Now, whether they have done a good of integrating their recent acquisitions into their broader solution set in practice is another question, but it is at least worth hearing them out.