Companies get smart with their expanded base of knowledge
Crunching the numbers on the business is increasingly being seen as a real asset, reports Carolyn Boyd.
In what is being touted as a major attitude change, companies are beginning to use more of the data they spend so much money collecting, and use it more creatively.
Companies are beginning to think more extensively about where they can use the information compiled through a plethora of business intelligence systems, says Neil McMurchy, research director of information technology research and advisory company Gartner.
While software vendors think of the next phase of business intelligence, commonly referred to as BI2.0, from a technological viewpoint, McMurchy says, “It’s actually more about business, people really starting to understand the opportunities for a more effective use of information.”
Companies are looking to get much more aggressive and effective in terms of analysing data to identify opportunities and threats, rather than simply use it for historical reporting. “It’s really a use of information as an asset, as opposed to something that IT does,” McMurchy says. Smarter companies understand that data is not benign and does not maintain its value over time.
“It costs money to acquire it, it costs money to make sure it’s high quality, it costs money to maintain it, it costs money to store it, to extract it”, McMurchy says.
“So there’s a lot of sunk cost, as well as ongoing cost that enterprises have, simply in managing data and trying to turn it into information, so it makes sense if you put an accounting hat on at a very basic level, that you should work this thing a lot harder.”
McMurchy believes the majority of Australian organisations have more than enough technology to do highly sophisticated data mining, however, there’s plenty of businesses yet to realise it.
“They’re missing the business vision about what information can do for their business,” McMurchy says, adding that some organisations are doing it well and some are “still stuck in the last century.”
“I would think, generally speaking, we are probably three to five years behind where organisations are in North America and Europe. We’re catching up, but there’s definitely a lag there. The fact is, in the [business intelligence] space there’s more technology currently available than most organisations have the capacity to deal with.
“There’s a great deal of investment in current business intelligence technology that is nowhere near being exploited fully.” Emerging technologies that are much more user-friendly could help businesses capitalise on their data. “Current business intelligence technology is relatively expensive, it’s relatively complex and it’s by and large not practical to extend through the organisation,” McMurchy says.
“There are definitely technologies emerging that are really designed to say ‘OK, let’s identify in the broad workforce just the right amount of information that they need to do their job or to do their job more effectively, and deliver just that amount of information to them rather than delivering some complex analytical tool.”
Examples include research to understand what information is relevant to different job roles and the most appropriate ways of presenting data for a variety of people.
David Merchant, business development executive for business intelligence software company Cognos, which is owned by IBM, says his clients are seeking a product that can be integrated with their IT infrastructure, is easy to use and can be accessed over the internet rather than having to be installed and updated on each employee’s computer.
The one thing they’re not wanting, he says, is “something you’ve got to spend days teaching the thousands of users across your organisation to use.”
Executives want to be able to access an up-to-date “dashboard perspective” of how the business is performing, and they expect to be able to see it on devices such as a BlackBerry when they are away from their desk.
Glen Rabie, chief executive of business intelligence 2.0 company Yellowfin, says the recent trend of social networking sites has influenced the way companies want to see data presented. “The applications that people want to use on the web in a work setting are similar to what they expect when they’re using Facebook, so if the experience isn’t as rich as when they’re on Facebook or MySpace or Flicker or whatever, then they don’t treat that application as real,” Rabie says. “So there’s a huge demand by people who are far more net-savvy and businesses are trying to catch up to that.” Rabie says business intelligence “has been around for donkey’s years in a number of different guises…and the fundamentals, it’s tables and charts.” However, instead of highly skilled privileged gatekeepers guarding a company’s data, it is being opened up to all employees. “People are now expecting to do reporting online, it’s got to be instantaneous. In the old days you used to wait 20 minutes for a report to run and people were happy with that, but [now] I want to see that data instantly, I don’t want to have to wait for it, I don’t want to have to think about it.” They also want to be able to share information by viewing it online rather than printing it out.
The Australian Financial Review, Tuesday 9 September 2008