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Merrill Lynch Tech Executive Touts BI Shift to Analysis

Jay Morreale says next-generation business intelligence demands faster data integration, easier tools and big-picture analytics.

The next generation of business intelligence should focus on data analysis and discovery rather than reporting. And a prerequisite will be faster, easier integration of new data sources and better methods of data cleansing and validation. These were key points made by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch tech executive Jay Morreale during his keynote address at last week's IDC Business Intelligence and Analytics Forum in New York.

In what sounded like the understatement of the year coming on the heels of the financial industry meltdown, Morreale opened his May 21 keynote by saying it's a good time for the financial services industry to look at the problems that can be solved with BI technology. "The problem we have today is dealing with the situation when a major financial player like an AIG, a Lehman Brothers or a Bear Sterns starts to head into trouble," said Morreale, formerly CTO of Merrill Lynch and now first vice president, enterprise, credit and market risk technology Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

Merrill and others had plenty of risk technology before the crash, he acknowleged, but there was a gap in that the separate loan risk, market risk and counter-party risk systems that didn't add up the total financial peril. (Merrill, for one, was hastily acquired by Bank of America during the meltdown and subsequently reported more than $15 billion in losses.)

Morreale speculated that most information-intensive businesses have similar difficulty seeing the big picture when looking at disparate data sources -- be they spreadsheets, marts or warehouses -- strewn across the organization.

"What we need to be able to do is pull all that information together quickly, provide analytics on top of the data and come up with some level of understanding of what different scenarios and events might mean to us as an organization," he said.

Morreale envisioned a move toward more pervasive BI that trickles down not from IT to a handful of power users but from a wider base of power users to the broadest possible business-user base. To achieve this goal, Morreale said we need to give business users:

  • Easy-to-use ("like Excel easy") tools,
  • Reduced IT involvement,
  • The ability to publish data back into the system so it can be shared,
  • New data analysis capabilities including visualizations, what-if analyses and predictive models,
  • Fast, user accessible data integration, cleansing, augmentation and derivation capabilities.

That last capability is needed "because the number-one problem is always going to be sourcing good, clean data," he said. "Companies merge very quickly and there's never enough time to do things in an organized fashion." Morreale concluded with his view that BI should be about analysis rather than reporting, saying "it needs to be fast, it needs to be intuitive and it needs to facilitate decision making, not just providing interesting information for managers."

Considering that Morreale was in the belly of the beast during one of the most (if not the most) tumultuous times in the financial services industry, some might question his hindsight and foresight. But as a technology executive, Morreale's job was to provide the dials, gauges alerts and dashboards; the business leaders scanned this information and decided how to drive the company.

The technology can be faulted, Morreale admits, in that it's currenly Balkanized, lacking systemwide risk gauges (and, as he suggests, those guages are probably missing in other information-intensive industries). The question is, will it be left up to business leaders or regulators to set the red zones on those new, big-picture dials?

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