Analyze This!By Samuel Greengard Print
Business Intelligence and business analytics have become core tools to guide business decisions, develop strategies and create new opportunities.
BI and BA are evolving rapidly. For one thing, organizations are turning to these tools to incorporate larger and more diverse data sets, including unstructured data such as e-mail, audio files, video and documents. Evelson estimates that as much as 80 percent of the business intelligence residing in firms is held in spreadsheet files. “One of the biggest challenges organizations face is the amount of data sitting in silos,” he says.
“Too often, valuable data simply isn’t accessible or available.”
Part of the problem is that traditional BI tools aren’t all that flexible, and most databases aren’t designed for rapid change. Unfortunately, most mainstream BI vendors continue to produce products that don’t interface particularly well with unconventional sources of data, including social media.
“These tools are function-rich, robust, scalable and stable,” Evelson says, adding that most aren’t designed for today’s complex computing environment. In addition, many organizations lack the business processes, standards and governance procedures to develop a comprehensive BI/BA strategy.
Unfortunately, the situation isn’t getting any easier. As organizations interconnect data with business partners and outside sources, there’s a growing need to use mashups and Web 2.0 tools—as well as mobile solutions that push BI and BA into the field. Likewise, some enterprises are turning to clouds for data storage and cleansing—as well as to boost the flexibility and reach of their initiatives. And Burton Group’s Bugajski says younger workers are demanding more powerful Internet-based tools that extend far beyond OLAP and relational OLAP.
Plugging in diverse data sources and building a framework for effective BI is something the Kent County Council in the United Kingdom has grappled with over the last few years. Representing approximately 1.4 million citizens in southeastern England, the agency has looked for ways to make data more accessible to workers, citizens and other agencies—all while trimming costs.
“There is a lot of valuable information available,” says project manager Paula Rixon. “Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find it and put it to use.”
The council’s goal is to build an information-age distribution model for publicly available data. In 2009, it deployed IBM Mashup Center to connect to data residing in various spreadsheets and databases. It uses RSS to pull data into the BI application.
“We want to put citizens in control of information,” Rixon explains. An initial pilot project offers two dozen of the approximately 570 data sets available. The statistical data covers everything from auto accident and arrest statistics to the availability of medical doctors and clinics, and it’s accessible via a standard Web browser.
So far, the mashups have received favorable reviews from various constituents, Rixon says. As a result, the council plans to expand the use of the system significantly over the next few years and eventually put most of its data online and available for mashups.
“We are able to provide data at a lower cost, make it available more quickly and to a larger segment of users, and generate greater community interaction and involvement,” she explains.
Burton Group’s Bugajski says that new and better tools are ratcheting up the sophistication level for both BI and BA. “Organizations are looking to assemble data in new, more powerful ways in order to have a better understanding of events and conduct predictive analysis and what-if modeling.”
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