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.
AVOID SPREADSHEET OVERLOAD
To promote the sort of broad adoption that benefitted TSA, BI vendors have been talking up "pervasive BI" and "operational BI" in recent years. Yet these buzz phrases fly in the face of ongoing complaints about their software; in fact, "complexity of tools and interfaces" and "cost of software and user licenses" were ranked first and second by survey respondents as impediments to success.
Vendors have responded to demands to make BI more accessible and user-friendly with Web-based options, including visual dashboards and key performance indicators, that can be embedded within portals or applications. But when it comes to grassroots use of BI, no option has been more deployed than integration with desktop applications, with Microsoft Excel usually the tool of choice. More than half of all respondents, 57%, say they've implemented desktop integration, with 70% of "very successful" companies having done so.
Desktop integration projects are typically one-way, supporting automated and on-demand delivery of pre-set metrics, alerts, and reports. Those can even include raw data extracts from a central repository, generally a data mart or warehouse but sometimes an operational data store or system of record, such as ERP.
Truly interactive tools have been slow to come. Within the last year, vendors including Microsoft and SAP's Business Objects unit have added two-way integration functions that let authorized users edit or revise information in Excel and then update the central repository. The latest integration advances also allow for refreshing data in linked Excel-, Word-, and PowerPoint-based reports and presentations when they're opened, so users don't have to manually update their documents. Oracle became the latest to add this capability with a BI platform upgrade announced in July.
But the real art in exploiting desktop integration, as well as dashboards, is coming up with user-friendly presentations that help people make better decisions. At Esselte, a $1 billion-a-year manufacturer of office supplies, that meant creating visual, dashboard-like presentations formatted for Excel. "The last thing we wanted was for people to see spreadsheets with tons of data," says Luis Becerril, a director who oversees reporting at the company's plants and distribution centers.
Esselte pulls data from more than 300 legacy-system reports using mining software from DataWatch that then delivers, via e-mail and the Web, customized Excel-based charts and dashboards geared to specific roles. Becerril says standardization eliminates the problem of "people developing unique reports and coming up with different conclusions in different plants."
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