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Collaborative decision making software: The future of BI?

Newly emerging collaborative decision making software platforms should help ensure that BI deployments really do lead to better business decisions.

NEW ORLEANS -- Newly emerging collaborative decision making (CDM) software platforms could remedy the fact that -- despite heavy spending on business intelligence (BI) software and data warehouse technology -- many organizations are still making some pretty bad business decisions, according to one BI expert.

Speaking to attendees at the Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference, Rita Sallam, a research director and BI analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., said organizations have invested in BI software and data warehousing for years in the hope that better reporting capabilities would lead to more well-informed and successful business decisions. But things haven’t always worked out that way. 

While today’s BI tools generally do a great job of getting the right information to the right people, Sallam explained, a lack of accountability in typical decision making processes often leads organizations to poor choices.

“We see a real gap between the level of information in business intelligence and the quality and transparency of decision making,” she said.

The problem is getting so pervasive that Gartner has predicted an emerging market for what the analyst firm dubbed CDM software platforms, a new approach to making complex business decisions that closely links information and reports gleaned from BI software with the latest social media collaboration tools.

“Whether you’re a marketing executive trying to decide which campaign to run, or a finance executive trying to reforecast, or the president of the United States trying to decide on which healthcare policy to enact, pretty much all organizations make decisions at all levels,” Sallam said.

How will collaborative decision making be different?

Sallam said the main difference between CDM software and most of today’s collaboration tools – besides the fact that complete, out-of-the-box CDM platforms don’t quite exist yet – is that CDM platforms will give users easy access to relevant BI data sources as well as the ability to tag and search those sources for future reference and accountability. They’ll also provide data visualization tools, pattern detection monitoring and decision support capabilities such as simulation and optimization tools, predictive analytics, and mind mapping, to name a few.

On the collaboration front, Gartner predicts that CDM software will offer shared workspaces, instant messaging, email and Web conferencing.

The best CDM platforms will also be reliable and secure and easy to integrate with the organization’s systems of record, and they should offer workflow management features and the ability to capture, save and revisit best decision-making practices.

“The decision itself would be linked to the [BI software] inputs, collaboration tools and the methods and practices that were used to make that decision,” Sallam explained. “[Then] you could begin to identify best practices and successful decisions, reuse successful templates and maybe even begin to identify leading indicators that might [point to] the need to make future decisions.”

While there are currently no pure-play CDM vendors on the market, software firms like Microsoft, IBM, SAP and a host of startup companies all offer varying pieces of the CDM puzzle. If an end-user organization felt ambitious, Sallam said, it could conceivably build its own custom CDM platform using bits and pieces from different vendors.

Some BI software vendors, including SaaS BI provider PivotLink, have also made their applications available as widgets that users can add to collaboration software platforms like iGoogle and Microsoft SharePoint Server.

Microsoft is likely to focus on adding CDM-like features to future versions of SharePoint Server.

“I think people can expect to see decision science becoming part of the key motivations for new features and new integrations between applications over the next few [SharePoint] releases,” said Donald Farmer, Microsoft’s principal program manager, who accompanied Sallam onstage.

Collaborative decision making software could lead to cultural challenges

Decision makers in an organization may be resistant to CDM software at first, but Sallam says it’s nothing they haven’t been through before.

“I do think [collaborative decision making] will be a cultural change in organizations, much like we faced in the beginning of BI and data warehousing,” she said. “Managers really didn’t want to be measured. But nonetheless, the tools and the technologies are in place to begin to facilitate that change.”

Conference attendee Steve Kiene, one of the founders of Nebraska Global, a new firm that oversees a $30 million fund to help qualified college graduates start software companies, said he can see how the implementation of CDM software could lead to cultural differences.

“Inside your company, you may have a marketing department that makes decisions very differently than an engineering department, which makes decisions very differently than the finance department,” Kiene said. “And then you’ve got a bigger challenge when you [have] decisions that involve multiple departments. Wow!”

That challenge of getting different people within a company to come together on decision making is precisely why Kiene thinks there will be an emerging market for CDM software. But he added that companies interested in CDM should probably start small and expand it gradually over time.

“You should have a very loose framework initially,” he said – “a guidance framework.”

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