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Software // Information Management

Casting for ROI

Pinning down BI's return on investment will never be easy, but it might be easier than fly fishing.

We swapped rod, bait, and tackle: no luck. Our fishing guide paddled the boat hard against currents, down rapids, and toward quiet eddies that brought us within casting distance of the shadows beneath overhanging trees. The atmosphere of summer in southern Oregon came into bloom: barbeque haze and heat along the Rogue River banks, beer-bellied locals balancing fishing poles, 10 year-olds chasing and splashing, boom boxes booming, dogs barking after Frisbees. All manner of watercraft filled with stripped-down passengers floated by. Word was that somewhere below the surface lived lots of fish. We were trying to catch them.

Jill Dyche, my fishing partner, whipped her pole outward and sent the bundle of bait, hook, and tackle on a line toward a promisingly dark patch of water. I copied, mustering talent and concentration to avoid snagging Jill and our guide with my fishhook in the process. Such small success made me glad. I sensed the same from Jill and our guide.

I wish I could say that we caught one "this big." In all honesty, it got away. We left the river with memories of a few spirited fights and a number of tugs, but no salmon, trout, old boots, or anything. Well, we hooked one or two that we threw back. But my record is clean; I've never caught a fish in my life. I hope Jill can forgive my karma; fish just see right through me — or my bait, that is. Fortunately, colleagues fishing in other boats on this relaxing July afternoon outing from our conference did catch some big ones. Cooked and served by the Weasku Inn's fine chefs, we enjoyed a fresh catch — and some spirited exchanges about the future of business intelligence (BI).

The year is almost in the books. All the fiery debates about who's on top in politics and baseball — no one remembers them now. It's all over. Discussions hither and yon about strategic business applications like BI have stuck with me, however. Which is a good thing: I meant to write my recap of Humphrey Strategic Communications' 2004 Pacific Northwest BI Summit (held over the weekend of July 31) some time ago, but other matters intervened. Of course, it is now nearly December; the Rogue and its environs are facing brisk mornings, snowy days, and frosty nights. However, the afterglow still burns bright from our panel discussions about the present and future of BI. Plus, as temperatures fall, it's kind of nice to think about summer anyway.

Consolidation Rules

If I had to choose one dominant theme in BI, "consolidation" wouldn't be a bad choice. The difference was that this year, the theme was prevalent in the user community. Sure, there were some vendor acquisitions: IBM acquired Alphablox, and several of the major tool players made smaller buys to fill out their product suites for financial performance management and data and application integration. However, 2004 was when concepts such as "single view of the customer" and better visibility, especially for regulatory compliance, dominated. For many organizations, this meant removing some software licenses, bringing data resources into centralized warehouses, and defining corporate BI standards.

Participants in the BI Summit's panel discussions, which I was honored to chair, put consolidation high the list of key trends. The panelists this year were Jill Dyche, Partner and Cofounder, Baseline Consulting Group; Claudia Imhoff, president and founder of Intelligent Solutions; William McKnight, president and founder of McKnight Associates; and Colin White, president and founder of BI Research. We also had great commentary from the Summit attendees, many of whom are industry veterans, which informed much of our discussions.

"Companies want to reduce redundancy," said Claudia Imhoff. "One thing that Kim [Stanick, an attendee from Data Allegro] and I have talked about over the years is the mitigation of chaos. Companies have multiple, redundant data marts and analytical systems. Now, they are taking a hard look at paring things down. The BI environment has become pretty complicated, with databases and tools all over the place that somebody has to manage. We're talking about a lot of moving parts." Looking dramatically around the room, Claudia concluded "I have yet to see 'the brain' that sits on top of this environment that can say, 'we can save a lot of money if we just drop that database,' or 'do this to take an inefficient system and make it automatically efficient.' So, the answer right now is to reduce the sheer amount of complexity and chaos."

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