Expert Perspective: What We Need to Get to Operational BI

Current technologies aren't suitable for embedding business intelligence within applications and Web interfaces. What's needed is a developer-friendly split between query and data access that will lead to more pervasive use of BI.
Program-Level Integration Challenges

Apart from the simple challenge of making a report or graph an integral part of an application interface, there are the complexities of program-level integration. Enterprise applications are most often built with Java. Web applications may be deployed with Java, .Net or with tools and languages like PHP and Ruby that are more common in the Web world. Then there are the Web widgets, whether from vendors, language toolkits or rich Internet application products like Adobe AIR.

Most BI vendors have stand-alone UIs that don't operate well in these environments, so it will be difficult for them to embed conventional reports or graphs. You can’t easily take a report from most tools and incorporate it seamlessly into an enterprise or web application. This is due to the differing authentication, security and interaction models as well as user interface requirements.

Expect Web 2.0 technology to drive changes in BI user interfaces, particularly for embedding. Web 2.0 might also accelerate the split between the UI and query engine layers. Native Web UI tools expect simple, callable interfaces for data access. Products like JackBe might point the way toward a new model for BI tools.

Open source BI tools also show promise in the operational BI space. Apart from the obvious advantage in cost of deployment, they have more exposure in the Web and Java application developer markets. As a result, they're generally easier to embed or integrate with applications.

With the acquisitions of Hyperion, Business Objects and Cognos, and Microsoft’s entry into the BI market, there are plenty of opportunities for companies to explore new architectures for operational business intelligence. Expect slow progress from these big vendors as they go through the acquisition process and figure out how to operate as part of a larger application or infrastructure vendor. That could open the door for fleet-footed rivals that can offer alternatives sooner rather than later.

The ongoing addition of data and application services in IT means you can gain experience with some of these new technologies today and put yourself ahead of the curve. When BI vendors finally begin to address these needs, you’ll be ready.

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Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
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