A New Power in Business Intelligence

Pervasive BI enables organizations to make better decisions faster.

Business intelligence (BI) has been around for some time. People have always been working with various forms of data, and management reporting is not a new concept. What is new is that companies are beginning to gain competitive advantage by deploying a more pervasive form of business intelligence in near-real-time to all key decision makers throughout the organization, from senior- and middle-management to frontline employees.

This represents a significant development in how enterprises can continue to derive enhanced value from BI solutions. To appreciate this new power in business intelligence, let’s briefly look at the current landscape and consider how it is already changing before our eyes.

Current BI Solutions

Today’s crop of BI solutions generally revolves around OLAP (online analytical processing) technologies and provides Web-based interfaces to the data. They provide rich functionality and allow proficient users to perform sophisticated analysis relatively quickly and easily. Additionally, there are dashboard tools available that allow less-proficient users to benefit from the analysis of these experts through simpler views of the analysis.

These standard BI solutions benefit users in many ways. For example, data from multiple disparate systems can be integrated into a single view of organization performance. Users do not have to try to manually cross-reference multiple reports to get the information they need. The most sought-after numbers can be made more readily accessible—pre-calculated and presented in context with historical data and extrapolated trend-lines. Also, the data will be recent and accurate, updated on a periodic basis as new data becomes available so users always have the best possible data available.

Generally, today’s BI systems provide these capabilities more easily and cost-effectively than any manual reporting processes they replace. One result is that people who may have spent a week of every month generating management reports can spend more time on creative work that improves the bottom line.

Common Limitations

For all the benefits these BI systems provide, they also share common limitations that make them less than optimal at meeting their primary goal: enabling users to make decisions that enhance the company’s competitiveness. One problem is that their use is generally confined to a small audience. At most businesses, the users most able to take the actions suggested by the data in a BI solution do not have access to the data. The systems are deployed to strategic users, but tactical users who could benefit from actionable data do not have the tools, and have to wait until upper management brings a problem to their attention.

Another limitation is that many BI systems’ interfaces tend to be too complex or too simplistic. They either are complex enough that only a small subset of potential users actually masters the tools and gain benefits from the system, or so simple that they provide some immediate benefit in the form of at-a-glance metrics but no ability to dig deeper to discover root causes.

Finally, in most BI systems the key performance indicators (KPI’s) are not clear to the users. It’s hard to determine when an action that has been taken in response to a KPI has had an effect on the KPI—either because of time lag in the response or because of latency in the data.

A New Paradigm

To address these issues, organizations are turning to what is being called pervasive business intelligence—pervasive BI—which has a broader distribution and a more tactical focus within the organization. Pervasive BI represents a new paradigm in that it takes the functionality and analysis capabilities available to executive management and pushes these capabilities throughout the rest of the organization to support tactical decision making.

Pervasive BI is more than just a BI solution more widely disseminated, though that is part of the picture. A pervasive BI system has to be designed to provide the right data to the right people at the correct level of detail. Management defines the KPI’s and data that will be available to business users by group throughout the organization. Group membership determines what data can be seen so that access to sensitive data is controlled. KPI’s and drill-paths are initially defined by management so that the right actionable data is presented to each user.

For the system to work as intended, users must be able to affect their KPI’s through actions they control, and their performance in this area must be evaluated by management—otherwise the system will not be used. Also, different users will require different interfaces to the data. Most employees will benefit from a dashboard-like interface with pre-defined drill-paths to obtain the data they need quickly and easily. Other users will need more complex tools to explore undefined relationships in the data or develop ad hoc reports.

Pervasive BI in Action

At a major international financial services organization, a pervasive BI repository was created to help monitor trade processing operations worldwide. Through dashboard interfaces with specific color-coded charts, employees can access key metrics for their particular tasks. For example, each person in the trade processing operations group can see how many letters of credit they are handling, the average processing time, and which letters of credit fall outside the average service level agreements or need special attention. Individuals can also see how their colleagues in the same department are doing and how their department stacks up against counterparts.

At the next level, department managers can track the relative performance of individuals on a daily basis and react quickly to any changes (positive or negative) with appropriate management action. The pervasive BI solution also gives them the opportunity to track trends in banking centers worldwide, understand different situations, and explore how more successful workflow processes might be leveraged in their own departments.

At the executive level, company leaders can see individual and departmental performance summarized and compared to corporate-performance goals, and have the ability to drill down as necessary on the underlying data. Because the data is gathered and analyzed in near-real-time to the lowest level of the organization, executives have gained an unprecedented ability to more quickly affect change on an enterprise-wide basis. Instead of implementing a policy and waiting for coordinated communications and feedback throughout the organization, they can track the immediate effects of a decision and make changes proactively.

To bring all this full circle—which is what pervasive BI does—individual contributors at this financial institution now have many of the same capabilities as managers and senior executives, except that these capabilities are bounded by their job responsibilities. Like executives, they can track the immediate effects of their decisions and make changes quickly. And like mid-level managers, they can see changes in their performance and make self-management decisions about improvements. They can manage themselves, instead of waiting to be managed from above.

Pervasive BI represents a new power in business intelligence; a power that enables organizations to make better decisions faster. Those enterprises dedicated to maintaining a competitive edge are already using this new power.

Ken Neal is vice president of marketing at Citigate Hudson, a New York City-based provider of custom database solutions and business intelligence systems. You can reach the author at ken.neal@citigatehudson.com

About the Author

Ken Neal is vice president of marketing at Citigate Hudson, a New York City-based provider of custom database solutions and business intelligence systems.