Next-Era BI: Proactive, Pervasive, Performance-Oriented - InformationWeek

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Next-Era BI: Proactive, Pervasive, Performance-Oriented

How do you differentiate your business when same-old BI and same-old automation are commodities? Cognos, SAP-Business Objects and independent vendors present visions and real-world examples of blended solutions.

If 2007 marked the end of business intelligence as we know it, 2008 is shaping up as a year in which we'll grope for new terminology and a new understanding of what leading-edge BI is all about. Or perhaps it's that we'll be looking beyond BI, forging a broader perspective in which business intelligence is combined with business process management, rules engines and more and then applied directly and immediately to business decisions.

At three separate events last week — Cognos' launch of the Cognos 8.3 platform, SAP's announcement of the close of the Business Objects acquisition, and Microstrategy's annual user conference — vendors seemed to spend as much time talking about the new BI as they did their own product directions. Whether the buzz words were "performance management" (Cognos), "business performance optimization" (SAP-Business Objects) or "pervasive BI" (Microstrategy), the common thread seemed to be that leading organizations are demanding (and that vendors are claiming leadership toward) something more proactive, engaged and impactful than conventional reports, dashboards and analyses.

The Next Stage of Maturity

Most organizations are still in the earliest stages of BI maturity, according to John Hagerty, a vice president at AMR Research. That means they're just starting to apply BI tools to problem areas, or they have progressed to stage two and they're spreading BI to different parts of the business. Discussing AMR's four-stage BI maturity model at last week's Cognos 8.3 launch, Hagerty said stage three is about collaborating and recognizing cause and affect among different parts of the business.

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Rob Ashe, Cognos
"The last stage of maturity is called orchestrating," said Hagerty. "As the name suggests, it's about having everyone singing from the same sheet of music. While most companies are still at the first or second stage, they all have aspirations to go much higher."

When companies do make it to the collaboration and orchestration stage, the conversation turns to performance management, asserted Cognos CEO Rob Ashe. "These are the companies that are asking, 'How do we coordinate activities for a common outcome? How do we coordinate decision making? How do we make sure that the CEO's objectives are shared four levels down within the organization?'"

At Southwestern Energy, a Houston-based natural gas supplier, BI has progressed to enterprisewide reporting and analysis. Roughly 1,000 out of the company's 1,300 employees consume reports while 250 use Cognos software more directly. So what does "performance management" mean to this company? "To me, BI is reactive and performance management is proactive," said Chad Erman, Business Intelligence Lead and a speaker at last week's Cognos event. "We're taking BI to the next level by integrating it with planning and matching [our planning numbers] with our actual numbers so we can see where we thought we would be, where we ended up and what we'll do in the future. We can start forecasting, whereas in the past it was just guesswork."

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Chad Erman, Southwestern Energy
Taking a swipe at the companies that acquired Business Objects and Hyperion, Ashe said the "center of gravity" for companies should be on business optimization and decision making, not transaction processing, "the domain of SAP and Oracle."

"Systems that help you automate your business don't necessarily make you any different than your competitors," Ashe explained. "Turning the transaction data into information and connecting it to strategic outcomes is really where the focus has to be to drive returns." Those returns might be impacted by decisions about which customers and suppliers you choose to do business with, where you put inventory, where you invest resources or "how to optimize the business and create a forward-looking view," he added.

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