Q&A: BI Visionary Howard Dresner - InformationWeek

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Q&A: BI Visionary Howard Dresner

Confused about how to make business performance management work? Stumped by what people mean when they talk about operational BI? The man who invented the term "business intelligence" has some answers.

Formerly of Gartner, Howard Dresner left the research firm after more than 12 years to take the title of chief strategy officer at Hyperion last October. The business intelligence guru recently shared his thoughts on "operational" BI and performance management, and elaborated on his new role at Hyperion.

In describing business performance management, you've often used the phrase "BI with a purpose." Could you explain that concept?

I coined the term "business intelligence" back in 1989. And it was not intended to have a technological-only focus. Much to my chagrin, however, that's what it's become. But the reality is, if organizations really want to be successful, the focus has to be on business, not technology. That's what it's all about -- trying to bring together all the people and the processes and getting them aligned with the purpose of the organization. Much of this has nothing to do with technology whatsoever. You leverage the technology, yes, but more importantly, you've got to figure out what your business is doing, what your business is all about. The technology discussion comes much later.

I came out of IT myself, and we have a certain way of looking at things. We get mired in technology -- and of course that's what we're trained to do. But it's not unusual to see IT off doing their own thing, off building a data warehouse, and often disconnected from business users. And, as IT sees it, business users are off doing their practical, myopic and parochial things, while IT is boiling the ocean trying to create just the right architecture --and never the twain shall meet. Fundamentally, though, neither one of them can respond to a senior manager's question: "How's the business doing?" Not in a timely and precise way, at least.

Operational BI has become a trendy term in its own right; it's been billed for a long time now as the new wave. Is this hype, or are companies effectively instituting operational BI?

When you look at performance management, a lot of it already is operational. A lot of it gets focused on finance -- that's true. But when you look at planning and measuring and analysis, well, a lot of our customers are delivering performance management operationally. You want to focus performance management broadly, not just on finance. For instance, processes like "order to cash" or "lifetime value of customers" are enhanced by performance management.

So operational BI isn't just a cute name; organizations have been doing it forever. The trick is getting everything aligned. We need to look at this from a financial perspective, from a customer perspective, and also from an operational perspective. Fundamentally --and this is my own philosophy -- everything that every one of us does effects everything else that we do across the enterprise. There is a relationship between operations and finance, between operations and sales, operations and marketing, operations and HR. We need to understand those relationships concurrently.

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