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9/3/2008
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Smart Stuff: The State Of Business Intelligence 2008

Our special report highlights what top companies are doing right with their BI initiatives, and what you can learn from them.

"Start small." It's the standard advice offered for big IT initiatives, the assumption being that incremental successes will lead more business units to buy into technologies that have proved wise investments for other departments.

What these advisers often fail to mention is that enterprises may already have several groups running around making overlapping "small investments." That's how many business intelligence deployments gain steam: A competitor launches a loyalty campaign, so your sales group reacts by commencing a BI project to initiate its own program. Next, manufacturing catches wind of a competitor's supply-chain project, and before long it's purchased a data warehouse and optimization application. Toss in an acquisition or two, and the collection of "small" BI approaches and technologies can get really messy.

It's encouraging that more than one-quarter of the 358 business technology professionals we polled for this InformationWeek Special Report say they've managed to centralize BI planning and standardize practices, capabilities, and technologies. (Download the full report) However, a significant number of respondents, 48%, report their companies are just starting to centralize and standardize BI, and 20% say they're still stuck with "decentralized deployments with little or no coordination of practices and investments."

What's holding these companies back, and how can they mature toward strategic use of business intelligence? Our survey shows that better business performance goes hand in hand with pervasive use of BI. At the cutting edge, companies are getting more competitive with the aid of low-latency data access and near-real-time analysis, but today you need more than broad deployments or innovative technologies. Our survey showed what successful companies are doing differently (or more of). The consistent theme? BI must bring insight to the right people at the right time, but it can't overwhelm, it can't be too open to interpretation, and it has to help employees do the right thing.

BROADER IS BETTER
The most telling analysis from our survey takes the 19% of respondents who rank their companies as "very successful" in supporting improved business performance with BI and compares them with the 81% who report less success. Just under two-thirds of the successful respondents classify their BI deployments as "mature" or "centralized," whereas three-quarters of less-successful respondents report their deployments are either decentralized or just moving toward centralization. Successful companies are also far more likely to report "pervasive" or "fairly broad" BI adoption.

The differences are dramatic, but we weren't surprised to see success correlate with maturity and breadth of deployment. BI benefits compound as orgs gain experience and spread better decision-making enterprise-wide. That's been the experience at the Transportation Security Administration, a very distributed organization that's responsible for passenger screening and security operations at 450 airports.

If you traveled by air during the early days of TSA, which was quickly formed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, you likely experienced the long lines that led the agency to seek a better way to measure and manage passenger screening. The Performance Information Management System (PIMS) project, announced in late 2004, was TSA's plan to help thousands of airport managers anticipate passenger volumes while also tracking trends related to screeners (attrition, absenteeism, overtime, injuries), dangerous items, and total passenger throughput. Built on BI software from MicroStrategy, PIMS was rolled out in 2005 and gradually expanded to reach more than 12,000 employees.

DIG DEEPER
FIND OUT MORE
Get full survey results, information on building a BI competency center, tips for BI success, and more in our InformationWeek Special Report
Some 2,500 power users check Web-based dashboards every day, gauging key metrics and drilling down into detailed data in the PIMS warehouse. More than 9,500 casual users receive weekly reports in PDF, Microsoft Excel, or HTML formats sent by e-mail or downloaded from an internal Microsoft SharePoint site. PIMS tracks more than 1,000 metrics in total, but TSA has customized dashboards and reports for approximately 30 roles within the agency, including top executives, optimization teams (they're the BI power users), and front-line security personnel.

TSA puts the cost reductions and avoidance at $100 million for fiscal year 2007 and 2008, most of it coming from year-over-year decreases in overtime, severity of injuries, attrition, and unscheduled absences.

Passenger wait times also are down. There's even a public-facing Web site designed to let passengers check the latest statistic trends if they want to anticipate screening wait times by airport, day of the week, hour, and gate.

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