Toward the Personal Work Space

Moving beyond conventional portals -- with their chaos of directories and portlets to disparate applications -- organizations are starting to deliver information in the context of user roles and processes. The challenge is selecting technologies that will create a single, cohesive environment that supports both Web-and thick-client interfaces.

Integrating BI

Many BI tool vendors have recognized that their proprietary apps aren't well-suited to inexperienced users. The latest releases of many BI products have emphasized integration with Microsoft Office, particularly Excel.

These products also offer tools for building business user dashboards that bring together analytics, reports and scorecards for easy access and analysis by executives, managers and less-experienced users (read our cover story on dashboards and scorecards on page 24). Dashboards are powerful tools for opening up BI environments, but the real business benefit comes when they are aligned with your portal and workspace strategy. Similarly, it's important that alert mechanisms provided by these dashboards work with your IT alert infrastructure.

Several BI vendors are also adding knowledge management capabilities, including support for collaboration and access to unstructured content. Vendors are integrating tools such as IM, for example, with their underlying BI tools through bundled portals. Beware, as some of these capabilities are proprietary and conflict with the concept of creating a consistent personal workspace. Before using BI-product-specific tools, determine whether they're consistent with your strategy.

The Personal Workspace

Users need personal workspaces that provide a single access point to information presented in the context of the applications and processes they use in their jobs. Going beyond the capabilities of conventional portals, personal workspaces should embrace both Web- and client-based interfaces. These environments also should support the gamut of user roles, from an employee accessing his or her own payroll or human resources data, to a business process participant handling a business transaction or doing analytical processing, to an external project participant joining a virtual team.

The essential ingredients of emerging personal workspaces are portals, content management, collaboration, business process management and BI tools. The key to success is forging a strategy that will make these technologies work together to provide a seamless user workspace.

Colin White is the founder of BI Research, a consultancy that helps companies understand and deploy leading-edge business intelligence and integration technologies. Write to him at [email protected].