Business intelligence (BI) remains one of the hottest enterprise technologies, but finding a BI solution that fits dependably into your organization remains a challenge for enterprise IT buyers.
Boris Evelson, a business intelligence analyst at Forrester Research, notes that business intelligence (BI) features prominently in Forrester's top technologies to watch survey.
"We continue to see unrelenting interest and ever-increasing adoption levels of BI platforms, applications, and processes," Evelson said.
But he added: "While BI maturity in enterprises continues to grow, and BI tools become more function-rich and robust, the promise of efficient and effective BI solutions remains quite challenging at best, and elusive at worst."
As business intelligence is all about best practices and lessons learned, Evelson said, technology is only one piece of the puzzle. But he nonetheless feels that traditional business intelligence technologies such as ETL, data warehousing, reporting and online analytical processing (OLAP) have not kept pace with business and regulatory requirements. Therefore, business intelligence is always a work in progress and a field that will gradually evolve.
Evelson stressed several areas as the "new BI," including emphasis on business ownership and data governance, the combination of top-down performance management with bottom-up approaches, alignment with change management, and differentiation between front-office and back-office users and applications.
Mobile business insight a must
The traditional definition of BI, of course, involves the viewing of past, current and predictive data. Primary activities included reporting, benchmarking, analytics and predictive analytics.
But Barry Cousins, an analyst for Info-Tech Research, says business intelligence is rapidly moving toward more of a view of what it contributes to the business as a whole. First, traditional reporting is losing its place in the business intelligence suite if it exists merely as a passive reference source. Increasingly, business intelligence is expected to deliver meaningful insight within the context of a business action. When an executive needs decision support, for instance, a sound business intelligence offering delivers insight to the mobile device.
"When a sales agent is challenged on pricing, a modern business intelligence offering delivers discretionary pricing tolerance on the spot," said Cousins. "When a support center is running out of capacity, it alerts management with real-time trending on volumes and call types."
The new reality, he said, is that reporting and dashboards should not be considered business intelligence unless they are incorporated into the job flow. Users, he said, continue to prove that they will not stop what they are doing in an enterprise software product to refer to a separate business intelligence product.
"Integration is king, and business intelligence isn't all that intelligent if it does not get used," said Cousins. "And mobile business intelligence has a tangible role in business because of its ability to deliver insight to any context."
SAP leads in mobile BI
Cousins notes that SAP has a compelling mobile business intelligence story in the wake of its 2010 acquisition of Sybase. Its solutions support all major mobile platforms, while competing solutions may be less usable or unusable on Symbian and webOS devices, he noted.
"Meaningful interactivity with the rest of the SAP suite has already been developed, with the ability to drill through a visualization and save changes on the server before regenerating the visualization," said Cousins. "The mobile device seems highly interoperable with the rest of the solution."
But SAP isn't the only game in mobile. He added that other major business intelligence vendors such as SAS, Oracle, and IBM Cognos have competitive offerings. For standalone mobile business intelligence front ends, on the other hand, he likes RoamBi's iPhone/iPad solution.
"The charts are interactive, allowing the user to inspect components for more detail," said Cousins. "However, the platform is still view-only, not supporting collaboration or transaction processing."
PushBI by Extended Results, too, gets high marks. It is a multi-device mobile business intelligence platform that holds up well in a side-by-side comparison to RoamBI despite a somewhat more industrial feel, he said.
"While enterprise software vendors will continue to drive integration with mobile devices, the mobile business intelligence market is in its early stages and the role of pure-play mobile business intelligence vendors is unclear," said Cousins. "Mobile business intelligence may well be delivered as optimized web applications because mobile devices are rapidly maturing as web clients with better browsers and faster network access."