Organizations are becoming increasingly more disparate and geographically dispersed than ever before. Vertical integration is still a key strategy for some companies, but most are content to focus on their core strengths and rely on various elements of their extended enterprise in order to deliver value to their customer base.

The challenge of effective decision making is compounded by this type of disparate environment.

Rarely is a decision made in any company that isn't impacted by multiple stakeholders, inside and outside the organization.

To combat this challenge, companies are increasingly seeking ways to merge decision support technology and strategy development by using Business Intelligence (BI), performance management and other analytical tools — with the collaborative techniques needed to incorporate multiple viewpoints into the analysis of business data.

Findings from Aberdeen's September 2011 benchmark report, Collaborative BI: Harnessing the Extended Enterprise to Boost Productivity, reveal that the top business pressure driving the need for effective analytics is the concept that critical decisions rely too much on gut feel and aren't supported with timely data.

Like many other types of technology and business methodology, BI is subject to the concept of positive network effects, where the more members that make up a particular network, the more value each member stands to gain.

One business analyst plugging away at a statistical model can generate substantial visibility and insight into what drives the business, but without domain specific knowledge about what metrics matter, and what constitutes high performance, the analysis may never reach its full potential.

Best-in-Class companies understand this concept and have taken steps to expand the reach of BI both internally to more departments and stakeholders within the company, but also to several pieces of their extended enterprise as well (See Figure 1 below).

From a technology perspective, in addition to some of the key BI analytical tools in use, Best-in-Class companies are adopting a variety of tools and techniques for knowledge sharing and collaboration that supports their enhanced performance, many of these already integrated with their BI platform, others intended for future integration with BI ( See Figure 2 below).

Adoption levels are still relatively low but companies are increasingly looking to integrate social and collaborative tools, such as social media and microblogging, into their analytical environment.

Microblogging in particular, accelerates the value provided by email alerts into a real-time environment that can aggregate alerts from multiple sources and individuals into one mission-critical alert feed.

More than simply connecting people in a web-based atmosphere, social networking tools combined with business applications like BI enable users to understand patterns of thinking, behavioral attributes, and decision context previously unavailable.

With access to the mindset of users across the organization, companies can generate an environment of combined knowledge that supports faster and more informed decisions, ultimately leading to enhanced business performance as a result.

Effective and widespread business analytics promises cross-functional business visibility, faster transformation of raw data into usable insight, and a more confident decision-making environment.

However, achieving this efficiency and pervasiveness is no simple task and has become elusive for many organizations that still struggle with informational, technological, and cultural barriers.

For organizations seeking a more internally and externally widespread usage of analytical methodology and to achieve a collaborative decision environment, the following recommendations should be brought into consideration:

 - Create stronger "analytical linkages" with suppliers and customers
 - Enable business users to engage in BI without IT involvement
 - Start tracking the adoption / utilization of BI
 - Consider integrating collaborative / social tools with BI

Michael Lock is senior research analyst at Aberdeen Group

Pic: breahn cc2.0