Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2007: Redefining BI

The opening keynote at the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit outlined major shifts in the BI industry -- along with advice for those trying to keep pace.

CHICAGO — The term "business intelligence" (BI) isn't, or shouldn't be, shorthand for query and reporting tools, according to a keynote speaker at the Gartner BI Summit. That's so 2004.

The industry is rapidly moving away from thinking about BI as a set of technology tools, according to the event's opening keynote speaker, Bill Hostmann, research vice president of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. While BI in 2004 focused on querying, reporting and multi-dimensional analysis on top of a data warehouse, today's dynamic and competitive business environment demands a different approach, he said.

"We want to really start to look at BI as an umbrella term that includes the analytic applications, the infrastructure and platforms, as well as the best practices," Hostmann said.

Now, BI is becoming the term to describe the enterprise-wide discipline of using data, analyzing information, making decisions and managing performance, he said. Rather than measure the success of BI initiatives by information improvements, organizations should measure BI success by overall performance improvements. But this broad definition of BI has implications for the supporting technology stack -- and for organizations.

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"It's a very dramatic shift," Hostmann said. "It's not just about building a data warehouse and putting some reporting tools on top of it. It's about putting a much larger framework together that includes a much larger piece of the organization, and delivering more of these different kinds of analysis capabilities than you've had in the past."

With that, Hostmann unveiled a BI and performance management framework that he said will help organizations better plan how they will use BI to improve overall performance. The framework was arranged as a vertical stack of layers:

  • Business strategy. Since BI is about making better decisions, BI initiatives must be aligned and linked to overall business objectives.

  • Performance management. BI teams must have a good handle on how their organization measures performance, through key performance indicators (KPIs) or other metrics.

  • People and process. It's critical that organizations consider how information is being used enterprise-wide. BI can't be an IT initiative or project. Rather, it must be a business competency, Hostmann said. Since politics often make their way into BI projects, this can be a challenge -- but things like a BI competency center will help.

  • Analytic applications. If BI is to be effectively linked to performance metrics, companies must link their analytic applications, Hostmann said. A BI application portfolio needs to have tools that are consistent, collaborative and connected to overall strategy.

  • BI platform. Organizations must consider how platform capabilities integrate with other BI applications. One increasingly important feature is metadata management, which enables information consistency.

  • Information management infrastructure. Perhaps the most difficult level, the information management layer, will soon reach beyond structured data in a data warehouse. Hostmann said that organizations ultimately want information management systems that marry unstructured data with structured data, include search functions, and integrate content-management systems, in addition to handling integration, data quality and other data management challenges.

Most companies probably won't be able to implement BI programs by starting at the top layer of the framework and methodically progressing down, Hostmann said. But that's OK -- by carefully considering each layer, organizations can identify the largest gaps in their BI strategy.

Some key technology trends could also play a part in BI strategies, Hostmann said. There is increased competition between BI software makers, which means that organizations will start hearing more about pricing, advanced features and integration with analytic applications, he said. Another trend is consolidation, neatly demonstrated by the recent announcement of Oracle's plans to buy Hyperion. And finally, hosted, or Software-as-a-Service, BI is gaining traction.

Other technology trends that Hostmann discussed included in-memory analytics, service-oriented architecture (SOA) enabled BI, text mining, metadata repositories, integrated search, real-time performance management, master data management, enterprise information management, business activity monitoring, and open-source BI.

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