Technology futures

Technology alchemists have been promising to turn base data into golden nuggets of information for the last 20 years. Granted they have had their successes but the path is littered with fool’s gold, alongside genuine gems of information that although beautifully formed, arrived too late and at too great a cost to be of much use.

But all that is changing. The technology is finally maturing enough to deliver on its promises just as business intelligence (BI) becomes CIOs’ number one priority. Reduced cost of ownership, aided and abetted by the ability to deliver over the web rather than over a client/server architecture, has also opened up BI’s prospects.

In fact, BI usage is accelerating and spreading so fast that Donald Feinburg, vice-president at Gartner, suggests: “By 2012, BI will be 85 per cent of every business application.”

The future of BI

BI 2.0, as some pundits are calling BI today, is characterised by a whole new vocabulary of promises: it is real-time, operational, pervasive, event-driven, self-service… but it can best be described as being BI for all.

Mark one BI was all about querying data to create reports, basically commenting on events that already happened. Techniques such as online analytical processing and data mining moved BI on further, enabling better analysis of this data to help companies decide future action. But ultimately BI 1.0 is all about analysing historical data and it requires specialist effort.

BI 2.0 allows general business people to make real-time decisions using personal analytical tools. They do not need to know how to query the datawarehouse, anything about data structures or indeed where the data comes from to help them make these decisions. And rather than send out reports to people as a matter of course, modern, event-driven BI will only alert users when something out of the ordinary happens.
The next step for BI then, is to become “more self-service, more self-serving”, says Bill Hostmann, research director at Gartner. In a way, BI is being ‘googleised’, and moving towards a situation where people make their own searches as and when they need to.

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Intelligence tests

Hostmann outlines the different levels of BI sophistication. Basic level companies use spreadsheets and produce one-off reports. Then companies may get a datawarehouse but BI is still on a project-by-project basis. Next level – and where many companies are today – is to begin to use BI for competitive advantage. But the ultimate aim and the vision of BI 2.0 is for “BI to be driving a business transaction, not analysing it”, he says.

"Time and time again I see organisations making significant investments in BI but they are still not addressing data quality"

Ian Charlesworth, senior analyst, Ovum

To do that it needs to be providing up-to-date information. According to a recent study commissioned by the Evaluation Centre, a website offering independent advice on vendor products, 16 per cent of firms are already using BI or corporate performance management tools to analyse data in real-time, one of the BI 2.0 buzzwords. But for companies like Inspired Broadcast Networks, real-time is overkill and ‘appropriate time’ would better describe what is needed.

Inspired Broadcast Networks provides networked gaming terminals to pubs, casinos and betting shops. Even though, in theory, information from terminals is updated every 15 minutes, next-day updates are sufficient. Betting company, William Hill, earns more than 30 per cent of its profits from their gaming terminals in betting shops. Using Cognos 8, Inspired can provide them with information on individual terminals’ performance. “Inspired is about operating pay-to-play terminals and BI helps to decide what content to run and informs sales about what’s working and what isn’t,” says Scott Kieh, head of BI at Inspired Broadcast Networks. William Hill can quickly tweak the content to appeal to local environments.