Monday, September 21, 2009

Part 1 of 4: Web data services extend business intelligence depth and breadth across social, mobile, web domains

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.

See popular event speaker Howard Dresner's latest book, Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change, or visit his website.

The latest BriefingsDirect podcast discussion on the future of business intelligence (BI) -- and on bringing more information from more sources into an analytic process, and thereby getting more actionable intelligence out.

The explosion of information from across the Web, from mobile devices, inside of social networks, and from the extended business processes that organizations are now employing all provide an opportunity, but they also provide a challenge.

This information can play a critical role in allowing organizations to gather and refine analytics into new market strategies, better buying decisions, and to be the first into new business development opportunities. The challenge is in getting at these Web data services and bringing them into play with existing BI tools and traditional data sets.

This is the first in a series of podcasts, looking at the future of BI and how Web data services can be brought to bear on better business outcomes.

So, what are Web data services and how can they be acquired? Furthermore, what is the future of BI when these extended data sources are made into strong components of the forecasts and analytics that enterprises need to survive the recession and also to best exploit the growth that follows?

Here to help us explain the benefits of Web data services and BI is Howard Dresner, president and founder of Dresner Advisory Services, and Ron Yu, vice president of marketing at Kapow Technologies. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:
Dresner: BI is really about empowering end users, as well as their respective organizations, with insight, the ability to develop perspective. In a downturn, what better time is there to have some understanding of some of the forces that are driving the business?

Of course, it's always useful to have the benefit of insight and perspective, even in good times. But, it tends to go from being more outward-focused during good times, focused on markets and acquiring customers and so forth, to being more introspective or internally focused during the bad times, understanding efficiencies and how one can be more productive.

So, BI always has merit and in a downturn it's even more relevant, because we are really less tolerant of being able to make mistakes. We have to execute with even greater precision, and that's really what BI helps us do.

... The future is about focusing on the information and those insights that can empower the individuals, their respective departments, and the enterprise to stay aligned with the mission of that organization.

... If you're trying to develop [such] perspective, bringing as much relevant data or information to bear is a valuable thing to do. A lot of organizations focus just on lots of information. I think that you need to focus on the right information to help the organization and individuals carry out the mission of that organization.

There are lots of information sources. When I first started covering this beat 20 years ago, the available information was largely just internal stores, corporate stores, or databases of information. Now, a lot of the information that ought to be used, and in many cases, is being used, is not just internal information, but is external as well.

There are syndicated sources, but also the entire World Wide Web, where we can learn about our customers and our competitors, as well as a whole host of sources that ought to considered, if we want to be effective in pursuing new markets or even serving our existing customers.

Yu: I fully agree with Howard. It's all about the right data and, given the current global and market conditions, enterprises have cut really deep -- from the line of business, but also into the IT organizations. However, they're still challenged with ways to drive more efficiencies, while also trying to innovate.

The challenges that are being presented are monumental where traditional BI methods and tools are really providing powerful analytical capabilities. At the same time, they're increasingly constrained by limited access to not only relevant data, but how to get timely access to data.

What we see are pockets of departmental use cases, where marketing departments and product managers are starting to look outside in public data sources to bring in valuable information, so they can find out how the products and services are doing in the market.

... Inclusive BI essentially includes new and external data sources for departmental applications, but that's only the beginning. Inclusive BI is a completely new mindset. For every application that IT or line of business develops, it just creates another data silo and another information silo. You have another place that information is disconnected from others.

... There is effectively a new class of BI applications as we have been discussing, that depends on a completely different set of data sources. Web data services is about this agile access and delivery of the right data at the right time.

With different business pressures that are surfacing everyday, this leads to a continuous need for more and more data sources.

... Critical decision-making requires, as Howard was saying earlier, that all business information is easily leveraged whenever it's needed. But today, each application is separate and not joined. This makes the line of business and decision- making very difficult, and it's not in real time.

An easier way

As this dynamic business environment continues to grow, it’s completely infeasible for IT to update their existing data warehouses or to build a new data mart. That can't be the solution. There has to be an easier way to access and extract data exactly where it resides, without having to move data back and forth from data bases, data marts, and data warehouses, which effectively becomes snapshot.

... Web data services provides immediate access to the delivery of this critical data into the business user's BI environment, so that the right timely decisions can be made. It effectively takes these dashboards, reporting, and analytics to the next level for critical decision-making. So when we look deeper into this and how is this actually playing out, it's all about early and precise predictions.

Dresner: ... Some IT organizations have become pretty inflexible. They are focused myopically on some internal sources and are not being responsive to the end user.

To the extent that they can find new tools like Web data services to help them be more effective and more efficient, they are totally open to giving line of business self-service capabilities.

You need to be careful not to suffer from what I call BI myopia, where we are focused just on our internal corporate systems or our financial systems. We need to be responsive. We need to be inclusive of information that can respond to the user's needs as quickly as possible, and sometimes the competency center is the right approach.

I have instances where the users do wrest control and, in my latest book, I have four very interesting case studies. Some are focused on organizations, where it was more IT driven. In other instances, it was business operations or finance driven.

Yu: ... For example, in leading financial services companies, what they're looking for is on this theme of early and precise predictions. How can you leverage information sources that are publicly available, like weather information, to be able to assess the precipitation and rainfall and even the water levels of lakes that directly contribute to hydroelectricity?

If we can gather all that information, and develop a BI system that can aggregate all this information and provide the analytical capabilities, then you can make very important decisions about trading on energy commodities and investment decisions.

Web data services effectively automates this access and extraction of the data and metadata so that IT doesn't have to.

Web data services effectively automates this access and extraction of the data and metadata and things of that nature, so that IT doesn't have to go and build a brand new separate BI system every time line of business comes up with a new business scenario.

... It's about the preciseness of the data source that the line of business already understands. They want to access it, because they're working with that data, they're viewing that data, and they're seeing it through their own applications every single day.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.

See popular event speaker Howard Dresner's latest book, Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change, or visit his website.

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