Meeting the Challenges

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Business Intelligence and business analytics have become core tools to guide business decisions, develop strategies and create new opportunities.

Meeting the Challenges

The road to BI and BA success is paved with plenty of potholes. One significant challenge is building the right IT infrastructure to manage data and ensure that it’s available and accessible throughout an enterprise. In many organizations, a veritable goldmine of data resides in software, systems and storage devices that simply aren’t accessible.

Worse, data may be stored and used differently in various organizational silos. If and when it’s reassembled, the data may wind up distorted or misinterpreted. Even tiny errors can result in drastically different results.

Another challenge lies in the design of these systems. An enterprise must create an interface that allows the individuals who are using reporting and analytics tools to navigate through systems and data. In some cases, it’s essential to mix and match traditional reporting tools with complex analytical functionality, while simultaneously providing an interface and environment that are simple enough for a wide range of businesspeople to use. What makes this task especially difficult is that different departments may have developed different tools and interfaces—in some cases, pulling data from disparate ERP and CRM systems and databases.

Knocking down the silos and combining all the data increasingly require an organization to adopt what Burton Group refers to as a data services platform. These middleware tools help connect a scattered BI infrastructure within a single interface and environment. Vendors such as Oracle (through its acquisition of BEA and its AquaLogic solutions) and Composite Software have begun to address the need for a more integrated environment and more sophisticated management capabilities.

In addition, as organizations adopt virtualization and cloud environments and use them to store and manage data, the ability to integrate disparate environments becomes even more vital. A big advantage of storing data in the cloud, Bugajski says, is that it reduces the demand on IT resources. In some cases, organizations can trim the number of servers required for BI and BA. There’s also the ability to quickly grab test data from several sources. “Oftentimes, when you do this kind of analytics, it beats up hardware and disk requirements for a one-time sort of use,” he adds.

Governance is an equally important factor in achieving success with BI and BA, notes PwC’s Cranford. “An organization must have an effective governance model and have policies and practices in place to ensure that technology is applied appropriately and that it enables the best possible results,” he says.

What’s more, executive sponsorship is a must, and a strategic road map is paramount. “These initiatives require more than technology,” Cranford points out. ”They require a focused approach.”

Hallmark’s Dittmann knows that very well. When the company amped up its BA strategy, it turned to SAS Analytics to mine data and spot patterns that could lead to improved sales. It runs the platform on a Teradata database that’s connected to a mainframe, with data updated nightly. “We have huge amounts of data to sift through, and understanding customer behavior and communicating with loyalty program members in a targeted way are vital to our success,” he says.

Hallmark turned to predictive modeling so it could adapt and adjust promotions on the fly. Today, it can determine which customer segments are most swayed by direct mail, which segments should be approached through e-mail and what specific messages to send to each group. The company is now able to assemble customer insights in 10 minutes rather than the two days or longer it used to take. Even more important, Hallmark has boosted sales to its loyalty program members by 5 percent to 10 percent.

“Picking the right customer to talk to at the right time is crucial,” Dittmann explains. “Understanding trends and the general health of the business is essential.”

The way Forrester’s Evelson sees it, the task of managing BI and BA isn’t getting any easier. Yet, as organizations seek to understand complex factors and variables in a more holistic and strategic way, putting data to maximum use will continue to grow in importance.

Evelson sums it up this way: “BI and BA aren’t routine applications; they are major differentiators in terms of frontline competitiveness. Real-time monitoring, split-second reporting and predictive modeling are both the present and the future of business.”

This article was originally published on 2010-02-04
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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