BALTIMORE -- The average enterprise's business intelligence tools are like discordant family members that need counseling, says Gartner analyst Kevin Strange.
The scene is common, he said: There are four or five applications in place, each having been brought in by business users to address an isolated problem. These tools rely on different technologies. They can't necessarily adapt with the organization as it changes, but they have legacy users who demand support. And it's the IT department that plays the harried parent to this group of apps.
"It's really BI chaos," said Strange, who spoke Tuesday at the
A better approach, Strange said, is to develop a scalable strategy that serves the entire enterprise and, ideally, produces knowledge that helps guide the enterprise. Though few companies are doing that now, Strange predicted that the future will bring better BI practices. His session, titled "Business Intelligence: Analytics for CRM Success," offered an overview of some of the changes he sees on the horizon.
Specifically, Strange sees more-comprehensive tools coming: Vendor suites increasingly will integrate functionality, combining features such as reporting, ad hoc querying and OLAP capabilities. These suites will be designed for use on a large scale, and they'll reach more of an organization's users than the limited-fix solutions common now, Strange said. He added that the sweet spot for vendors will be Global 2000 companies.
Users should also expect more BI platforms that let them build custom apps. Strange noted that the platforms market hasn't really hit its stride yet, but he predicted growth there, and he said that the industry will start to see convergence among the suites and the platforms. He added that some BI suite vendors are already blurring the lines by offering application programming interfaces (APIs) with their products.
Vendors are converging, too, Strange said, noting the acquisitions of Crystal Decisions Inc. by Business Objects SA and Hyperion Solutions Corp. by Brio Software Inc. Consolidation won't stop there, he said.
"There are other vendors in this space that are under the acquisition eye," he said. "I think you'll see continued consolidation through the rest of this year and into 2005. It's a dynamic market, and you need to be very careful as to which vendors you're selecting."
But as companies move forward, perhaps the most important planning they can do is internal. Strange noted that BI strategies should be created jointly by IT and business leaders. This team should understand not only the technology needed for the BI system, but the company data that goes into it, so they can see the best opportunities for analysis. And the team must come up with a flexible architecture, said Strange, who described several possible system designs.
He warned also that firms should make an honest assessment of their company culture. A successful BI strategy depends upon the pooling of data, and that data pool may be doomed if fiefdoms exist within a company.
Strange described a packaged-goods company he once worked with, at which the IT department wanted to build a BI strategy -- but the effort was being thwarted by department heads who didn't want to share their data. At the same time, the company's CEO didn't want to communicate with anyone but the non-tech-savvy CFO, who thought that a PowerPoint spreadsheet package offered a sufficient snapshot of the company's data.
Gartner's advice to the firm was to bring in a third party to assess the situation, said Strange, noting that a BI initiative there "was probably going to be less than fruitful."
"Take a realistic view," Strange said. "A lot of politics is involved. If you can't be successful, you don't want to beat your head against the wall."
To attendee Anantharaman Iyer, CTO of Bellevue, Wash.-based Talisma Corp., Strange's ideas made a lot of sense. Saying that people can get overwhelmed with BI, Iyer said that Strange did a good job laying out the key points that companies should consider.
"He wasn't solving world peace, if you know what I mean, in this particular one-hour session," said Iyer, who's in the midst of trying to perfect a BI strategy at his own company. "But what he was trying to point out was some of the key decisions which organizations would have to make if they start thinking about data warehousing."