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11/4/2010
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Business Intelligence: How To Get Agile

Trendy tools like mobile BI and cloud apps aren't that important to meet changing business needs, our research finds. Solid information management practices are.

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Business Intelligence: How To Get Agile What business leaders desperately want from IT is greater agility. They need systems that can be quickly adapted to support changing requirements--to get the most out of an acquisition, enter a new market, or find new customers. "Agile" has been a hot topic in software development for several years, and now it's the buzz in business intelligence.

You can see the need for agility in some of the most powerful trends shaping BI. The demand for quick access to new insights has spurred development of fast what-if planning tools and in-memory analysis capabilities. It has fueled interest in predictive analytics to get out ahead of emerging demand and risk. You might think mobile delivery, cloud computing, and Google-style querying also would figure heavily in the agility story, but our annual InformationWeek Analytics Business Intelligence and Information Management Survey shows that those are still emerging ideas, far short of widespread implementation.

While most businesspeople want BI agility, its foundation--sound information management--is something they don't want to hear about, much less spend money on. Information management includes data discovery, modeling, integration, and cleansing as well as database optimization--all tough, time-consuming challenges. And just when IT gets its arms around existing information, the company invariably hits the reset button by acquiring another company.

Looking at this year's survey, the wish lists of BI practitioners haven't changed all that much. Fast analysis, rapid deployment, and other attributes associated with agility are all in big demand. But there's a growing realization, or perhaps it's resigned acceptance, that better business intelligence goes hand in hand with the thankless task of better information management.

For the last two years, respondents to our survey have cited several information management-related problems among the top barriers to adopting BI tools company-wide. Data quality problems are cited most often, by 55% in both 2009 and this year, followed by ease-of-use challenges, and integration and compatibility with existing platforms. Among the people directly responsible for information management, the biggest impediments to success are accessing relevant, timely, reliable data (59%); cleansing, deduping, and ensuring consistent data (51%); and integrating data (49%).

Pfizer's Approach Passes M&A Test

Peter Green knows the agility problem well as director of business integration at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Green and his team have had a hand in executing Pfizer's acquisitions over the past decade, including blockbuster deals for Warner Lambert in 2001, Pharmacia in 2004, and Wyeth in 2009. The intellectual property behind these acquired companies exists as data, particularly about the drugs in their research pipelines. In each case, that data had to be quickly integrated to take advantage of the investment.

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