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Information Management
Commentary

Get Real About Operational BI

There is a lot of conflicting information about the term "Operational BI." We need some research to sort out the jargon and propose a clear definition for the term... Operational BI is an oxymoron because BI is the discipline of gathering, transforming and integrating data from diverse systems, cleansing it and storing it for long-term analytical and reporting purposes with tools.
There is a lot of conflicting information about the term "Operational BI." We need some research to sort out the jargon and propose a clear definition for the term (I'm willing). All of the following are being positioned as Operational BI (not a complete list): • Data warehousing of operational data for reporting, with or without integration • Replication of operational data for reporting • Direct reporting from operational systems • Federated reporting from operational systems • Process Intelligence • Inline integration • Sensing applications • Decision services • Real-time BIOperational BI is an oxymoron because BI is the discipline of gathering, transforming and integrating data from diverse systems, cleansing it and storing it for long-term analytical and reporting purposes with tools. That's "BI tools," that are designed for report development and distribution, interactive data analysis and automated visual alerts and displays. This process lacks three essential characteristics to be termed "operational" - Real-time capabilities - Direct, programmatic links to the operational systems that initiate actions - Process Intelligence, understanding the steps in a process, not just the data it generates A serious drawback to most data integration approaches is the inability to unwind the process and follow the thread back to the source systems. Once data is extracted, transformed and loaded into a data warehouse or mart, that lineage, though perhaps documented in the metadata, is essentially dead. It can't be operational if it can't interact with the operational systems. Data warehouse/BI industry figures are scampering to align their stories with this topic, but in protecting their turf, they risk diluting and obfuscating the idea completely. Front-end BI vendors are actively pursuing the operational BI opportunity, but most of them are poorly positioned to exploit it. Their product architectures are based on a certain degree of latency, on the existence of a read-only data warehouse and on a great deal of interactivity, so much so that a significant portion of their engine functionality is geared toward the User Interface. Operational decision-making deemphasizes the UI and focuses instead on speed, intelligence and cooperation with other systems through automation. Database and middleware vendors are more properly positioned for operational BI, including incumbent vendors and a promising batch of newcomers, both standalone databases and appliances. Integration technology that can cross the barrier between operational and analytical processes is already in place, with real-time capabilities. Of course, the recurring issue of what does the data mean and how do we integrate it is still looming, with CDI/MDM solutions only offering a partial solution, and not a particularly original or appealing one at that, but more on that later. Neil Raden is the founder of Hired Brains, providers of consulting, research and analysis in Business Intelligence, Performance Management, real-time analytics and information/semantic integration. Neil is co-author of the just-released book "Smart Enough Systems," with business rules expert James Taylor.There is a lot of conflicting information about the term "Operational BI." We need some research to sort out the jargon and propose a clear definition for the term... Operational BI is an oxymoron because BI is the discipline of gathering, transforming and integrating data from diverse systems, cleansing it and storing it for long-term analytical and reporting purposes with tools.