BI Blues

Business Intelligence. This seemingly oxymoronic verbalism, which sounds as if it'sbeen brought to you by the same guys and gals who gave us Secretary's and Grandparents'Day, is actually the latest techno lingo describing still another attempt at gleaning cashfrom bits and bytes.

Just what is Business Intelligence, or BI? Fortunately for many, it's still in a stagewhere it can be anything you want ­ hardware, software, strategy or mere theory. And mostanyone who has a computer product or service, from modems to ERP packages, will gladlysell you their BI Solutions.

We at ESJ, however, define BI simply as "The Working Stiff'sEnterprise." That's right, another high-tech cultural locution has been coined rightbefore your eyes. BI ­ it's where that myriad data gets transformed into useableinformation, and not by the techno-savvy elite. BI gives everyone their own Ginsu-maticaccess, that slices and dices data in as many ways as there are users, and then some.

The idea of leveraging recorded information has existed since the dawn of time. Whenman first painted that image on a cave wall of a mastodon stepping on his cave mate, hewas reminded, each time he left for the hunt ­ attack from behind.

And I'm sure the original idea behind the meager database wasn't simply a place to dumpa bunch of entries. Nor was the data repository. Nor, finally, the data warehouse. But alltoo often that's what they became. Until today, when BI sets your data free. Unlike OLAPapplications or data mining concepts, BI promises to let everyday end users access,manipulate and exploit data, within guidelines of course.

But BI is much more than queries, report generation and warehousing. Rather, BI is theculmination of all these technologies. On top of the reports, traditional users becomepower users, with the ability to take a proactive stance rather than passive, or at bestreactive, approach to the company's data.

At first glance, your role as IT manager in the BI model basically remains the same. ITis still responsible for the collection, storage, management and distribution of the data.This may involve creating new infrastructures and certainly new rules as far as access andprivileges, as well as new methods of communicating information.

This is where it gets good. Oh, you may want to take two aspirins, because, as you'veprobably already guessed, this is where that security mastodon rears its big fat footabove your head. That's right. Not only are you asked to open this vast treasure-trove ofinformation up to the masses, you're responsible for its safety and security.

By the way, the second aspirin is for the cost. Because guess what? Despite hardwareprice declines, it ain't getting any cheaper to do e-business. While e-commerce and thenet promise to streamline the how and when we do transactions, it hasn't necessarily madethe "how much" of doing business that much less. Especially for those companiesthat are just now adopting and adapting to the New World order. Because, when it costs asmuch as ­ if not more than ­ a new hardware solution to simply upgrade, not replace,existing applications ... well, as an IS manager you've got some real soul, and budgetsearching to do.

This past September, IBM got the message when it standardized two pricing models forthe OS/390 platform ­ S/390 usage pricing and Parallel Sysplex capacity pricing.Customers became eligible for combinations of these pricing models, which are availablefor both stand-alone S/390 servers and Parallel Sysplex cluster environments. And over thenext 12 months or so, IBM plans to replace nine other software-pricing options with thesetwo enhanced models.

Is this a good thing? Yes. Is this enough? Hardly. Other divisions, along with numerousother providers need to follow and adhere to this type of pricing scheme in order for itto have a real impact on today's e-community.

For before BI can deliver us all to the promised land of PC-QVC, the software andapplications must be made available. Then, maybe, when future generations look back on ourcave walls Business Intelligence won't be listed with "Jumbo Shrimp" and"Virtual Reality."

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