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The democratization of information

Firms embracing the latest in Business Intelligence need to create an "information democracy" amidst the rapidly evolving BI market, according to speakers at the Gartner BI Summit.

CHICAGO -- Organizations seeking to truly capitalize on their Business Intelligence (BI) must create an information...

democracy.

That was the message of the keynote address of the annual Gartner Business Intelligence Summit, yesterday. Howard Dresner and Ted Friedman, analysts with the Stamford, Conn.-based research firm, told attendees that an information democracy provides broad access to corporate information. Companies must avoid an "information monarchy," where only senior management has access to information, and "information communism," where everyone gets the same information but it's not really that useful and they have to wait a long time to get it, Dresner said.

Business Intelligence is becoming increasingly important for organizations looking to drive insight into the massive amounts of data they are now collecting. A recent Gartner survey of 1,300 CIOs at global corporations revealed that Business Intelligence is their No. two priority. Yet, information democracies, which require a blend of technology, culture and process, remain a ways off.

"We've made great strides in the technology but we've been held back quite a bit culturally and in terms of the process," Dresner said in an address which offered a broad view of the overall BI market and the issues affecting it.

BI-driven companies are leaning toward creating BI competency centers which establish support for BI implementations, a common vocabulary and an analytics architecture. Competency centers offer a solution to divisions within an organization embarking on their own BI projects from their particular "island," such as finance or sales, according to Gartner. Currently, 20% of organizations surveyed by Gartner have existing competency centers with twice as many planning to establish one in the next 12 months, Dresner said.

Cole Taylor Bank, in Rosemont, Ill., would like to establish its own competency center, but is more like 24 months away from that point, said Doug Olson, senior vice president of IT and an attendee at the conference.

"We're still caught in the culture environment," Olson said. "[We're not an information democracy] by any means. We have many, many islands."

The need for competency centers will become greater in the coming years as organizations are forced to confront the overabundance of BI tools they have running within the company.

"Organizations need a more cohesive, effective portfolio," Friedman said. "With these overlapping applications there are extreme costs and the inability to collaborate undermines this idea of information democracy. Tools consolidation is going to be a major trend in the next few years."

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While internal development of BI tools is more feasible now than it was just a couple years ago, most organizations will have a mixture of packaged applications and self-developed, Dresner said. Additionally, companies will turn to outsourcers for many of their BI needs. In the next several years, more than half of BI initiatives will leverage external service providers, particularly with infrastructure tasks such as the development of extract, transform and load (ETL) tools, according to Friedman.

Additionally, data quality remains a vital part of any BI initiative. In fact, according to Gartner research, more than 25% of critical data will remain flawed through 2007.

"This is why your BI implementations do not succeed," Friedman said.

On the application side of the picture, vendors are beginning to add collaboration tools. Previously done external to BI applications, through e-mail or phone conversations, users can now collaborate within applications, providing an audit trail of changes and background information for other users. Additionally, a growing number of software vendors are entering the BI arena. While pure-play BI vendors now dominate the market and will continue to, vendors like Oracle Corp. and Microsoft are adding BI functionality, while database software companies and enterprise application vendors like SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc. are beginning to embed the technology, Dresner said. Eventually, enterprise application vendors are going to force customers to deploy their BI technology.

"They've been a little late to the party, but they're arriving," Dresner said.

Finally, the number of users of BI will continue to grow past the traditional IT "power user" and into more casual users like line of business people. Where once there were dozens, then hundreds and in some cases now thousands of users, there will eventually be millions, Dresner predicts.

"This is where we need to be when we think of the number of users out there -- the business users, customers, government regulators, the public at large," he said.

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