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CEO Visions: The Unquenchable Thirst For Information

Companies always need business-intelligence tools, Gerry Cohen of Information Builders says, though the way they're used varies over time.

In the midst of one of the longest economic recessions since World War II, the business-intelligence sector has done comparatively well. The reason is simple: Organizations always need information. Whether the emphasis is on reducing costs or building a more competitive company, there's a perennial need for analysis and reporting. You can't run an organization unless you monitor where you're going. Otherwise, you'll hit an iceberg.

Business-intelligence tools are always important, but the way organizations use the tools varies over time. Today's IT professionals are primarily concerned with cost-reduction projects. Once the economic slump ends, the floodgates will open, and there will be an emphasis on launching new business ventures, building market share, and delivering a competitive edge. In many cases, companies plan to use business-intelligence tools to streamline the process of sharing information with customers, dealers, partners, citizens--any third party or stakeholder that has a vested interest in the business. These external constituents are increasingly being brought into the "information now" world.

The infrastructure is already in place, thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet. Users help themselves to information using Web-based portals for query and reporting. What's my 401(k) balance? What were our sales last month? How many product returns did we have? The average participant is skilled at using a browser to search for these answers. But when people request information from Google, they don't want the information next week. They want it now. These expectations have fostered the notion of the real-time organization, a drive that continues irrespective of the health of the economy.

Real-time analysis doesn't imply data from real-time transactions. It simply means you can get information immediately, but it can come from a data warehouse that was refreshed a day, week, or month before. Of course, sometimes there's a need to analyze real-time data from production systems. For example, a quality-assurance inspector might need to check for defects as products come off an assembly line. This doesn't change the central idea of real-time business intelligence: Whether the data was stored two weeks ago or two seconds ago, I can see it right now, analyze it, report on it, and deliver it to whomever I please in whatever format makes the best sense.

While I can't predict when the economic slump will end, I can say that in good times and bad, there's a need for information. As the economy improves, IT organizations will spend less time helping their companies cut costs and more time helping them channel their insights in new and innovative ways.

Gerry Cohen is president and CEO of Information Builders Inc.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Hardware Company CEOs
Craig Barrett, Intel Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. Sam Palmisano, IBM
Michael Dell, Dell Computer Joe Tucci, EMC Corp.
Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard Dan Warmenhoven, Network Applicance Inc.

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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