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8/1/2007
09:28 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
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Business Objects' Web 2.0 Features Nice, but Inadequate

You can't solve BI infoglut with mashups. If you're going to spend time threshing through unstructured data, you should build a useful semantic model to use it. Instead of building features for developers to use to rearrange data in preparation of analysis, why not just make the data smarter so it can rearrange itself? And finally, if you accept the idea that BI 1.0 is inadequate (though still useful), why build 2.0 capabilities on top of an aging 1.0 model?

Business Objects Labs is continually releasing new prototypes that can be downloaded and evaluated. You have to applaud this sort of approach, and some of these widgets are interesting and, as prototypes, indicate that there is a lot of creative thinking going on there. I think that Business Objects "gets it" sometimes, but then at other times, they have me scratching my head. They claim on the Labs Web site to deliver on, "the vision of 'ambient business intelligence (BI)' by allowing end users to access lightweight, secure, and personalized BI widgets at all times."

That isn't ambient BI, that's mobile BI. Ambient BI, according to my definition in January, 2006, should advise and drive businesses with embedded analytics, real-time decision tools and vastly improved capabilities for people and unattended processes in every corner of the organization, and beyond it. I suppose it's encouraging that Business Objects is investing in Web 2.0 capabilities, but their product offering as a whole feels a little like a strip mall - lots of things to offer, but no coherent thread running through it.Take for example the BI Annotator. Multidimensional database vendors developed features to "decorate" their spartan dimension elements, which was useful to a point, but it never really allowed much manipulation beyond filtering and report labels. Hanging some data culled from so-called unstructured documents to a star schema isn't that interesting. I think these data mashup capabilities are entertaining, but I don't really see that they have any enduring value. If you accept the notion that BI needs to address the exploding volumes of data and increased disparity of that data as a result of the externalization of business, BI vendors need to turn their attention away from analyst-friendly parlor tricks and focus on the real problem at hand - streamlining operations with better return from the information available. You can't solve BI infoglut with mashups. If you're going to spend time threshing through unstructured data, you should build a useful semantic model to use it. Instead of building features for developers to use to rearrange data in preparation of analysis, why not just make the data smarter so it can rearrange itself? And finally, if you accept the idea that BI 1.0 is inadequate (though still useful), why build 2.0 capabilities on top of an aging 1.0 model?

BI has to be real-time, pervasive and automatic. It has to develop "process intelligence" so it can be part of the business flow, not an after-the-fact reporting tool, no matter how slick. Sure, there will always be a need for analysts to work interactively with data. Making their work a little richer and a little more attractive is fine, but there is a big problem lying out there like a killer in the sun; let's figure that one out. The reason we need analysts looking at screens, with or without mashups, is because we still haven't gotten our arms around the data problem. No matter how neatly we arrange it, it still takes a lot of effort to understand it. Most of that effort is on an individual level, and a lot of it is duplicated. Web 2.0 is all about knowledge, meaning and collaboration. That means taking information, structured and unstructured, and imbuing it with enough smarts that it can mash itself up, present itself and inform decision-makers, human or machines.

So I'm okay with these features; they're nice, and I appreciate Business Objects' process of presenting them to the public as prototypes. But I'm getting more and more impatient with the BI industry to produce what we really need.

Neil Raden is the founder of Hired Brains, providers of consulting, research and analysis in Business Intelligence, Performance Management, real-time analytics and information/semantic integration. Neil is co-author of the just-released book "Smart Enough Systems," with business rules expert James Taylor.You can't solve BI infoglut with mashups. If you're going to spend time threshing through unstructured data, you should build a useful semantic model to use it. Instead of building features for developers to use to rearrange data in preparation of analysis, why not just make the data smarter so it can rearrange itself? And finally, if you accept the idea that BI 1.0 is inadequate (though still useful), why build 2.0 capabilities on top of an aging 1.0 model?

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