Have Business Found BI

By Darrell Dunn  |  Posted 2007-10-30 Print this article Print

Major acquisitions and increased deployments are pushying bsiness intelligence to the forefront of IT strategy. Here's a look at what works—and what hurdles remain.

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IT managers are grappling with the continued expansion of applications and, subsequently, the growing amount of data coming out of the applications.

In the past, businesses turned to Excel and other spreadsheet programs to gather and analyze all that information. But those options only went so far.

Enter business intelligence. The software tools under the BI umbrella have quickly become commonplace in enterprises.

Advances in capabilities and usability, as well as integration with other key components of the IT infrastructure, have led nearly three-fourths of businesses to make strategic implementations of the tools, according to Gartner.

Worldwide revenue for business intelligence software in 2006 was $4.3 billion, and the market is expected to grow to about $5 billion this year, Gartner research shows.

"Business intelligence holds the promise of being able to mobilize your people's minds with information as they are making their decisions," says Bill Hostmann, an analyst at Gartner.

"Businesses realize the big, long reports and complex sets of disparate information they've relied on for years can no longer get the job done."

But obstacles must be overcome for business intelligence to reach its full potential. For one, use of the software often remains challenging for those without specific analytical training.

Deployments need close scrutiny and, in many cases, outside assistance for companies to achieve maximum benefit. And widespread use across a broad set of users in any business can require significant tailoring to meet the requirements and skills sets of a diverse workforce.

While 72 percent of IT executives in a recent survey by CIO Insight, Baseline's sister publication, say their business intelligence efforts have had a major and measurable impact on their companies' bottom lines, almost six in 10 also say users don't know how to analyze or interpret the associated data. (See the CIOI survey data and analysis.)

In recent years, IT managers— and BI vendors—have looked to expand use of business intelligence tools, once privy to a select group of analysts and executives (aka "power users") to a much broader set of decision makers.

Still, even in many businesses that have deployed significant business intelligence platforms, hands-on use of the tools often remains a function of the IT department or specific data analysts. Research analysts told Baseline they believe as few as 20 percent of workers who could use the tools take advantage of them, and those who do only use the tools in a limited capacity.

But a shift is certainly under way as more users continue to use BI tools. That's because the software's let susers capitalize on massive amounts of data by making it easier to understand. As end users find relative information and manipulate it to provide insight, businesses can improve efficiencies, sales and customer service.

Next Page: Gaining Acceptance


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