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BI: Shaping The Desktop

Seemingly basic but key BI advances such as Web delivery, portals and personalization are influencing such mainline vendors as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in what they offer on the desktop.
New Players

So what is now becoming compelling is the competitive pressure Apple, Microsoft and the proprietary Unix's are seeing in the down-to-the-desktop invasion coming from major Web players like AOL, Google, Yahoo and the like. For example, consider the following services:

  • flickr.com - Highly interactive photo albums from Yahoo that use AJAX-based JavaScript
  • My Yahoo - Another customized user Web portal offering from Yahoo that's also Web based
  • Google Desktop - Google's new desktop 2 application

Each of these is Web-delivered and based on Web Services. Two are complete "desktop" apps in a browser. Each uses Web portals and portlets customizable by end users very similar to classic early BI apps. Two use Web GUI components already proven in other products like Cognos ReportNet, SAS Viewer or Google Mail. Google Desktop 2 offers extensive stand-alone offline services as well as online operations.

But what's most compelling about each is that hard-won BI desktop lessons have been heeded. Portlets are user-controlled: sizing, placement, and the ability to recall and restore the desktop layout of portlets' last customization on next start-up are controlled by the user. Also, real-time connections through basic Web Services -- as can be seen in Flickr.com and Google Desktop 2 -- have great customer appeal. Finally, interaction-based personalization, which is the state of the art in new BI desktops, also gets notable play in Flickr.com and especially Google Desktop 2. So what users do in the portal determines how the portal adapts to their usage. Users set the parameters and can easily turn off the "personalization" services.

In sum, BI desktop innovations on how to manage the GUI presentation layer are influencing other vendors. The hard-earned knowledge of how to deliver information effectively to an ever broadening set of players -- from top executives through to on-the-line operators -- is increasingly not just a BI preoccupation but now part of the overall fabric of enterprise IT development. For example, the increased commitment to a Web- based interface seen in the new SAS BI Enterprise Suite and the newly announced Cognos BI Suite 8 has been echoed in recent developments from Documentum, Oracle and SAP.

What BI on the desktop has shown is that IT GUIs in general do not have to reside exclusively on the desktop. They can be based on whichever device, network connection or media most effectively delivers information, what-if processing power, and critical capabilities for consensus-building and action initiation. The desktop interface does not dominate, but becomes just one potential solution in a much broader array of presentation layer approaches. Once again, the short ROI feedback loop to which BI tools must strive to conform has a silver lining: BI must stay on top of IT needs and requirements closer and sooner, rather than later.

Jacques Surveyer is an independent technology writer who practices getting the Big Picture at thephotofinishes.com.