Sunday, June 1

BI eclipsed by another technology

After reading an article on BI 2.0 thoughts came to mind that Business Intelligence has essentially become a fancy way to do organizational reporting. Nothing more. BI is simply -- reporting.

Don't confuse my simplification of BI with lack of value. BI can provide value when implemented correctly. However if you consider at a basic level, reporting displays information -- whether it's from one or more sources.

Now if I parking lot the "methods" used to bring information to the forefront (i.e. ETL) and focus on the ways customers use the results, I can consolidate this down to:
  • reports (including prompted, charts and KPI reports)
  • OLAP/cubes
I would even strongly challenge that OLAP is simply a navigable report (the answers are fixed and finite). So on the visualization side, the vendors and tools are essentially reporting tools with more features than say, 10 years ago.

In fact, looking at it that way, the acquisitions of BO, Hyperion and Cognos make sense. The acquirers (IBM, Oracle, SAP) simply needed a suite of reporting tools for their ERP applications. Because why would Oracle want their customers using IBM Cognos or SAP BO as the reporting tool on top of Oracle Financials?

Now let's be honest about the backend, ETL. This is data warehousing and DW has had a troubled history of failures. I would guess there are recent failures too. The question to customers is how much are you willing to spend to provide a finite set of inflexible answers based on today's business?

Plus the costs to maintain a data warehouse can be tremendous. In my opinion, a DW loses value a few months after go-live. I remember doing cost/benefit analysis for a government client to determine the value of paying $1m annually to maintain their DW/BI.

There was value in the information but not enough to warrant the cost. Although it was a System Integrators dream project. They didn't want to finish until every system was in the DW. The customer had a feeling of diminishing returns but waited years to do anything about it.

So is there a better way of integrating information? Well there are many techniques that are becoming mainstream, none of which would consider DW/ETL competition. These new technologies share information in real-time or near real-time (no nightly loads or checking the error log in the morning for failed batches).

And where's the new thinking for such things as integrating with information outside of the organization. Integrating and sharing information with partners. I hope BI can become more like Google. New websites are created daily and it only takes a few days before that information can be searched. And probably mostly done through automation. How long does it take for new data and reports to be provided in your BI/DW?