Finding it increasingly difficult to get the right information to the right people at the right time?

You're not alone, but help is at hand.

Recent Aberdeen research indicates that a relatively new class of BI tool can be very effective at helping business managers to help themselves to the information they need.

Often, business intelligence (BI) has been implemented as managed reporting and delivers a regular stream of static reports to targeted business users.

This is a bit like the Ford Model T in style. You could have any colour you wanted, as long as it was black.

The same is true with managed reporting. If the business manager is lucky the information they need is in one of the reports provided.

If not, the only option is to raise a support request to have corporate IT provide the information, or to make management decisions without it.

When it takes IT too long to respond to a request for help, often through no fault of its own, uninformed decision-making prevails.

Unlike managed reporting, which provides relatively static views of data, visual discovery tools provide managers with a highly interactive graphical presentation that allows them to easily and freely explore data on-demand to discover new insights.

Aberdeen's research shows that when this style of BI tool is employed managers are 10 per cent more likely than their peers to be able to access the information they need in the time required to impact decision-making (Figure 1).

This is the definitive measure in determining the success of a BI project.

Any investment in business intelligence is worthless unless it enables the business users to access the information they need in the timeframe that supports business decisions.

Finding the required information too late is just the same as not finding it at all.

While managed reporting can provide routine information to a large population very efficiently, it is of little use in providing answers to unanticipated questions in a timely way.

Visual discovery fills that gap, often being used as a complement to traditional BI to provide a more complete business solution.

So, for example, while managed reporting can provide standard financial reports such as a cash flow statement or P&L report, visual discovery would be more suitable for understanding why actual revenue didn't meet expectations.

In a hospital, managed reporting could provide weekly reports on the patient census, while visual discovery would be the tool of choice for understanding why there is a spike in re-admissions of cardio patients.

Visual presentation makes information easy to digest and its meaning discerned.

Add to this a speed of interactivity that allows users to examine information from many different angles at a rate which keeps pace with their thinking and you have a powerful combination.

As it happens, not only are users with visual discovery tools more likely to find the information they need in the time required, but they dramatically improve the use of precious IT resources too (Figure 2).

Organisations deploying visual discovery tools support 65 per cent more BI users for every full-time equivalent (FTE) employee involved in the implementation and development of BI projects (726 users per FTE vs. 440 users per FTE).

With traditional BI implementations, requests from business users to see different information (or different views of information) can consume untold amounts of time for IT staff.

Visual discovery fosters a self-service approach to BI.

In essence, the burden for meeting these un-anticipated information requests shifts from corporate IT to the business users.

Ultimately, the role of corporate IT will provide a rich body of high quality data, provide the right tools and training, provide support where necessary, but then step aside and let the business users get on with it.

Not only do business users win with visual discovery, but corporate IT does too.

David White, Senior Research Analyst, Business Intelligence, Aberdeen Group

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