Collaborative business intelligence is a relatively new concept in which BI and collaboration technologies are beginning to merge in support of a new and improved decision-making environment.
BI software enables business users to report on and analyze business processes and associated activities, while collaboration tools enable the results of BI queries and reports as well as other related information to be accessed and shared by multiple users.
As a combination of the two, collaborative BI provides three primary capabilities:
- Collaborative interaction. Business managers and workers need to interact with one another to improve communication as part of BI initiatives. They must be able to share BI findings and discuss their meaning and possible options for improving business performance. Ease of discovery and documentation of ensuing discussions are key features of collaborative BI.
- Information enhancement. Users also must be able to add their own knowledge to BI results. Through collaborative processes, workers can share information about why events are unfolding the way they are to provide a business context to findings, and they can point to related data and content. Published BI results can be enhanced through feedback mechanisms such as ratings, comments and tagging as well as, in some cases, blogs and microblogs.
- Collaborative decision making. The ultimate goal of any BI program is to make timely and better business decisions. A collaborative BI environment supports team efforts to assess situations and make decisions. It also must enable organizations to track decisions and analyze their validity and business impact. Such analyses provide feedback that can help improve the decision process, allowing companies to document best practices and monitor the types of information that provide useful input for decision making.
Despite the benefits of collaborative BI, not all users need all of its capabilities, and it is important to determine which personnel require what features. For example, users who execute assigned tasks may simply require collaborative interaction, whereas business managers may require all three of the collaborative BI capabilities outlined above. Experience shows that attention to this aspect is a critical success factor. A collaborative BI environment that is designed for the wrong types of users will not be used and will not provide a good return on investment.
Organizations also need not implement a full collaborative business intelligence process in a single step. The collaborative framework described in the following paragraphs supports an evolutionary approach to enabling the capabilities of collaborative BI.
The BI environment consists of technology that supports the overall BI and data warehousing system. These products are used by the IT staff to create the repository of data that business workers then use to create reports and analytics. Many BI vendors provide support for both collaborative interaction and information enhancement in their software -- by enabling the distribution and annotation of reports and query results, for example.
Collaborative interaction is usually supported by integrated instant messaging and email interfaces to applications such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs and Lotus Notes, which are part of the office environment. Several BI vendors also enable BI results to be integrated into collaboration platforms; that extends the BI environment with content management, search and other collaborative features. In addition, BI vendors may interface to social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. That can indirectly add social computing capabilities, such as communities and user profiles, to BI systems.
The application suites in the office environment include email systems, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools and personal databases; in some cases, they also feature on-premises and cloud-based tools for social computing. These applications are most commonly used to share BI findings and communicate about them, including with users who don’t have direct access to BI systems. But Office and rival products can also be used to enhance the content and context of reports and query results through the addition of comments, external information and expert opinions.
The enterprise collaboration platform provides cross-departmental collaboration capabilities and is external to the BI environment. Examples of available products in this category include IBM WebSphere, Microsoft Share- Point, Oracle WebCenter and SAP NetWeaver. The technologies and collaborative and social computing features offered by the different vendors can vary considerably. For example, software for content management, search and process management might come standard with one platform and be sold as separate components or options with others. In addition, these platforms usually work with the vendor’s own BI tools. The products typically include support for user communities and teambased workspaces, but they often lack formal or informal decisionmaking procedures, collaborative connections to business processes and workflows, and the ability to record and track business decisions.
Products in the purpose-built collaborative decision-making system category are developed from the ground up for organizations looking to implement collaborative processes for making decisions. Both on-premises and cloud-based implementations are available; two examples of cloud-based offerings are Salesforce Chatter and SAP Stream- Work. Products in this category are at various levels of development but are evolving to support the three main features of collaborative BI. They are also being integrated with the BI and office environments, and in some cases with enterprise collaboration platforms.
Organizations can implement collaborative interaction and information enhancement features using the capabilities currently offered by, or being added to, BI tools. Supporting collaborative decision making, however, requires the use of a collaboration platform or a separate system designed specifically to meet the need for collaboration in the decision- making process.
For many companies, the collaborative BI journey is just beginning. But if implemented properly, the end result will significantly benefit an organization’s decision-making abilities.