Business Intelligence Begins to Boom

By John Moore  |  Print this article Print


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Opinion: BI is finally becoming more popular, and this shift may open up business opportunities for resellers and integrators.

Business intelligence is breaking out of its niche, and that's good news for resellers and integrators.

Over the years, BI applications have been the province of power users in the corporate finance department. Tools for pulling reports out of various data stores rarely saw the light of day elsewhere. Now, a number of organizations are pushing BI to the operational level.

Labatt Breweries of Canada, for example, has made sales and marketing the focal point for its BI project. The company's sales people can use the system to track sales and distribution patterns. This broader usage of BI is an emerging trend.

"Organizations are looking to 'operationalize' information as part of their day-to-day operations across sales, marketing, service, manufacturing, call center" and other areas, noted Mark Smith, chief executive officer and senior vice president of research at Ventana Research, a performance management research and advisory firm in San Mateo, Calif.

Ventana and vendors such as Cognos Inc. view BI as a component of a broader area: performance management. Ventana defines performance management as the "strategy, methodologies and processes" for managing the organization and its business network. The focus is on the "empowerment of all individuals across the business network," enabling cooperation across all operational levels, according to Ventana.

The upshot for integrators: wider corporate involvement means bigger deals. "The projects are much larger because more people are impacted," Smith said. As BI becomes elevated in importance, "Large management consulting organizations are definitely spending more cycles moving forward on this as it has strategic value to the organization."

One illustration of this move is BearingPoint Inc., which was involved in Labatt's BI/corporate management project. BearingPoint teamed with Cognos on that deal and is one of the BI vendor's five Global Strategic Consulting Partners. The others are Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte, and IBM Global Services.

Ventana's "Business Intelligence for Operational Performance" study sheds light on the nature of the projects those and other integrators are beginning to pursue.

According to the study, the leading benefits of performance measurement projects include, in order of importance, better access to data, improved efficiency, improved customer service, reduced cost and improved communication of management goals.

Forty-six percent of the survey respondents reported using their applications on a daily, hourly or more frequent basis. In contrast, 28 percent said they used their applications on a weekly basis. In addition, two-thirds of the respondents said their organizations planned to add "more data or more applications" in the next 12 months.

To tackle the broadening scope of business intelligence, integrators need to follow their customers out of the finance-centric mindset. Projects may call for expertise in a variety of business functions (sales, marketing, manufacturing, etc.) Also important is the ability to tap a range of data sources: enterprise resource management, human resources and customer relationship management, among others.

To read more about Labatt's BI implementation, click here.

From a cultural perspective, integrators should also be prepared to make BI easy to digest. One of the reasons BI tends to stall beyond its traditional adherents is that users in the wider corporate setting balk at what they perceive as complex applications.

As BI becomes embedded in various enterprise operations, simplicity may well prove a key success factor.

"We've done a lot of learning as we've gone through this," said Michael Ali, who is responsible for change management at Labatt. "These sorts of solutions have got to be really simple for the end user," he said. "You can't be technically complex."

Business process expertise, broad platform knowledge and attention to human factors could spell success in the new BI market.

John writes the Contract Watch column and his own column for the Channel Insider.

John has covered the information-technology industry for 15 years, focusing on government issues, systems integrators, resellers and channel activities. Prior to working with Channel Insider, he was an editor at Smart Partner, and a department editor at Federal Computer Week, a newspaper covering federal information technology. At Federal Computer Week, John covered federal contractors and compiled the publication's annual ranking of the market's top 25 integrators. John also was a senior editor in the Washington, D.C., bureau of Computer Systems News.


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