Putting data to work

Putting data to work

Summary: It is not new technology, but business intelligence platforms are now understood well enough by customers to drive real business change. David Braue catches up with some BI trend-setters.

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Contents
Introduction
From upstart to cornerstone
Paradise by the dashboard
Towards the future
10 ways to better BI
Case study: NT Police put on the map

Towards the future
Tailoring dashboard-based views for many different types of users will provide relevant information, and nothing more, to the people that need it. In the long term, this customisation should finally turn BI from a tool of the analytical elite into something that is used to varying degrees by nearly everybody that is in the business.

To meet this goal, vendors are rushing to the concept of dashboards and the ease of use that it enables. To raise its profile against Cognos, Business Objects, Hyperion, SAS Institute, and other standalone BI vendors. For example, mid-market ERP supplier Epicor is bulking up its own offering to include dashboards that Charles Hamilton, ANZ regional director with Epicor Software, believes will deliver BI for the masses. "We're trying to get BI used by the entire business rather than just being used by key head office managers and a few analysts and accountants," Hamilton says.

Since all enterprise data that the BI tools need is already present in the system, utilising built-in analytics may be preferable for many customers to integrating a standalone BI tool -- particularly in the resource-constrained mid market.

Such customers may also benefit from new approaches to data warehousing and business intelligence. Upstart Netezza, for example, is marketing a BI "appliance", built on the open-source Postgres SQL database, that speeds up data queries by using a massively parallel computing architecture. Netezza's 1TB entry-level model runs on 28 RISC CPUs and scales up to a 27TB system with 672 CPUs, all of which work in concert to churn through massive volumes of data.

One US customer, says to Asia-Pacific director of marketing Mike Kearney, was able to cut its regular BI data processing runs from 23 hours to 50 minutes simply by adding such an appliance. Such speed improvements are extremely valuable in transforming BI from a retrospective tool into a real-time performance management tool.

Other firms have tried to add new value to BI by introducing new data sets in a meaningful way. Australian firm Integeo has bolstered conventional BI with Map Intelligence, a tool that automatically extrapolates spatial information such as addresses to present BI reports with a geographical context (see case study). Geographically based views can be invaluable in spotting clusters of other indicators that might otherwise go unnoticed, but such integration has previously required complex integration with specialised geographical information systems (GISes) that most companies do not have.

It may not always have looked that way, but the growing number of successful business intelligence deployments that can be seen suggests that BI is finally overdelivering and underpromising, rather than vice versa as in the past. Having climbed out of the trough of disillusionment -- both as a technology and as a management concept -- it's now time for managers to drive new uses for BI that will allow them to constrain costs and identify new business opportunities on an ongoing basis.

Topics: Big Data, Enterprise Software

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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