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BI vendor taps fantasy baseball to kick-start pervasive BI market

Business Intelligence (BI) vendors like Information Builders are turning to innovative marketing campaigns to help spur pervasive BI.

With its latest marketing campaign, Information Builders is hoping that some of the enormous and growing popularity of fantasy baseball will rub off on the business intelligence (BI) industry.

Information Builders has released a set of interactive reports, available free to fantasy baseball players or anyone interested in the sport, that lets users sort, filter, chart and otherwise manipulate last year's Major League Baseball statistics to compare players and teams in preparation for opening day next week.

The New York-based company is betting that fantasy baseball players, duly impressed with the vendor's interactive reporting application to analyze on-base percentages and walks-to-hits ratios, will sing its praises back at the office and kick-start the nascent pervasive business intelligence (BI) market.

"There's literally, I think, 30 or 40 million people that play fantasy sports on a regular basis, and we figure some of those people are probably in large companies," said Kevin Quinn, vice president of product marketing at Information Builders.

Quinn hopes fantasy players will "understand that this type of technology, even though it's being used for baseball statistics and fun, can be used to send bills out to utilities customers, credit card bills, or any report that you use internally on a regular basis."

Information Builders' new marketing campaign is hardly the first aimed at expanding the adoption of BI by everyday business users throughout the enterprise (often called pervasive BI) by showcasing the technology in a non-business setting, said Cindi Howson, founder of the BI Scorecard and author of the book "Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App."

QlikTech, for example, released a free Web-based version of its analytics tool for soccer fans prior to the 2006 World Cup, while TIBCO Spotfire unveiled an online BI application to help overwhelmed holiday shoppers find just the right Christmas gifts in December 2007. And IBM offers a free statistical analysis tool for sportswriters covering the NFL.

But despite these and other innovative efforts, pervasive BI has yet to take hold at most organizations. Howson estimates adoption of BI technology by non-power users at around 25%, but other surveys put that figure significantly lower. A recent poll by the U.K.-based Business Application Research Center found that just 8% of workers at organizations that have deployed BI tools actually make use of them.

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 The barriers to wider BI adoption are both technical and people-related, Howson said, and a number of steps must be taken to overcome them. Among them, BI vendors need to develop tools and technologies that are easier for non-power users to understand and use; BI search capabilities must improve; and the tools must be designed so that their analytic capabilities work without having to be connected to the Internet or a corporate network.

"Having access to data in a disconnected way is important to front-line users [who are often on the road, at customer sites or otherwise without network connectivity]" Howson said. On that front, she said, Information Builders is indeed a stand-out, if not unique.

The vendor's WebFOCUS Active Reports, which is the basis of its fantasy baseball marketing campaign, is just as effective offline as on, as its analytic capabilities are built directly into the reports themselves, according to Information Builders' Quinn. Once created, the interactive reports can live autonomously, disconnected from the data sources that populated them, so they can be emailed and shared with virtually unlimited users.

"It's breaking down the barriers for pervasive business intelligence," Quinn said. "[Users are] able to get interactive information out to people through email so that they don't have to be connected to use it, and it doesn't utilize resources on my central computer because all the interactions happen on my laptop or wherever you get your email."

A few other vendors, including SAP Business Objects and Microstrategy, also offer untethered BI tools, including interactive dashboards. But as important as such features are, technological advances alone will not be enough to get pervasive BI over the proverbial adoption hump, Howson said.

For that, she said, BI evangelists – users, vendors, consultants and journalists -- have to do a better job of communicating the power of BI technology to the executives who ultimately control the IT purse strings, be it through imaginative marketing campaigns or other methods.

"The biggest thing that we as an industry need to do is to get the businesspeople to see all the ways that BI can be applied," Howson said. "That has nothing to do with technology. It has everything to do with creativity and business problem solving."

With its fantasy baseball marketing campaign under way, Information Builders is trying to do just that, Quinn said. "As the baseball season is about to begin now, and a lot of people are getting involved in fantasy sports, this might be a way of bringing [BI] to people's attention."

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