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8/15/2006
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Mission Intelligence: BI Beyond the Big Dipper

An expanding data universe, intelligent systems and analytical power have the BI community on the spot to redevelop the mnemonics that enable business users to understand and share what they've learned from their galaxy of information resources.

Dave Stodder
One of the pleasures of traveling far from the city lights is that you can see the night sky full of stars. Driving to this year's Pacific Northwest BI Summit (July 28 to 30) in Grants Pass, Ore., it was hard to keep my eyes on the road as I craned my head out the window to see the twinkling heavens. I don't know enough about astronomy and have a bad memory for constellations, but I am not blind to the wonder of what lies beyond planet Earth.

Fortunately, Colin White, longtime business intelligence expert and panelist for the summit's discussions, is a dedicated stargazer. In the darkness by the Rogue River, he set up a powerful telescope so that we could tour around the summer sky. Planets, galaxies and clusters came into view. It was fantastic, except that when I'd pull away and look up with my naked eyes, the constellations still mostly eluded me. "Constellations are totally imaginary things," says the University of Wisconsin's astronomy Web site. Breaking the sky into "more manageable bits," the site says, constellations "are used as mnemonics, or memory aids."

As the BI community consolidates its gains and tries to locate the next strategic information advantage, unlike constellations, some of the "imaginary things"--views, reports and more--that have aided data travelers thus far are going to change. Powerful servers will enable more organizations to apply the "telescope" of data mining to a wider range of business decisions. As Neil Raden discusses in our cover package ("BI Megatrends,"), guided search and semantics will meld BI with analysis of unstructured content sources. Analytics and reporting will become further embedded in applications and business processes.

An expanding data universe, intelligent systems and analytical power have the BI community on the spot to redevelop the mnemonics, so to speak, that enable business users to understand and share what they've learned from their galaxy of information resources. Dashboards are the rage, with performance metrics and role-based preferences filtering the flow of information. But to what extent does any of this help users gain insight? Shouldn't the BI "stack" do more than just shovel data into the right buckets?

The Pacific Northwest BI Summit's passionate debates and the tenor of our coverage in this annual assessment of BI reveal a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. At the summit, I moderated a panel that featured particularly intense discussions among consultants Jill Dyché, Claudia Imhoff, William McKnight and Colin about the role of master data management (MDM); you can get a taste of this in Letter Drop. Fortunately, river outings and William's yoga sessions returned everyone to tranquility. Attendees included strategists from Business Objects, Microsoft and StrataVia, as well as other members of the BI community.

Why would sparks fly over such a seemingly mundane topic? Neil writes that "a single, common set of master data is too important to an organization to bury in the murky processes of a data warehouse." Under both compliance and competitive pressures, users need BI to give them the whole truth, including what the data means so that they can decide and act without blinders. MDM is the key to delivering new "imaginary things," especially single, contextual views of customers or other objects of interest as they leave data trails across the enterprise and beyond. Elevated by a modernized information strategy, BI could take users where they've never gone before.

Elevated by modernized information strategy, BI could take users where they've never gone before.

David Stodder is the Editorial Director And Editor In Chief of Intelligent Enterprise. Write to him at dstodder@cmp.com.

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