BI in 2007: For Some, The Year of Living Mundanely?
What’s on tap for 2007? Many rank and file BI pros say to forget MDM, BSO, or other such novel acronyms; they’re focusing on more mundane stuff.
What’s on tap for business intelligence (BI) pros in 2007? More of the same, it looks like. While CIOs and other C-level-types seem preoccupied with ambitious projects involving next-gen acronyms—business performance management (BPM), master data management (MDM), and business service optimization (BSO) , to name just a few—many rank and file DW and BI pros seem to be focusing on more mundane, but nevertheless crucial tasks, such as improving decision-support availability and service levels, rolling out new DW and BI solutions, and grappling with ever-expanding data volumes.
Take Topher Thiessen, a manager of metrics and analytics at a subsidiary of a prominent lending and mortgage firm. Thiessen says his employer expects to complete its SQL Server 2005 migration sometime this year, at which point it hopes to roll out its first data warehouse and greatly expand its usage of SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), too.
"Our company has grown from a small shop to a major player in the mortgage industry in a short time, and all of a sudden the demands on our data are becoming extreme," Thiessen comments. "I've been pushing for a DW for the last year, and finally our senior management has seen the light and approved a budget for a DW. Our parent company uses Cognos within their organization, so I imagine we will tie into that platform and work with their team to shorten our ‘time to market.’"
Once he’s finally got his DW ducks in a row, Thiessen says, he plans to dramatically expand his company’s use of SSRS. Thiessen’s employer mostly toyed with SSRS 2000, but—with the 2005 variant of that solution—he says he hopes to begin reaping real benefits. "[I want to] roll out SQL Server 2005 and Reporting Services 2005 to give end users better access to our transactional data. It may be a case where we start off with [Reporting Services] 2005 and keep SQL Server 2000 as the platform for our transactional databases," he indicates.
What won't be on Thiessen’s radar screen in 2007? Master data management (MDM), for one? Sorry, Thiessen says, but he isn’t buying that, at least not yet: "It’s not really something that has been on our radar yet, although now that I hear it may be the future of DW, I'll begin taking a closer look at the thought behind it."
Ditto for Jerome Poudou, an R&D director with Merkurium, a Montreal, Canada-based BI ISV, who says next-gen technology paradigms—such as MDM and, to a lesser extent, even business performance management (BPM)—aren’t high on Merkurium’s 2007 to-do list. "[Our] priorities [are] pushing the data to the next level," he comments.
In spite of near-constant improvement, Poudou explains, his company’s users—like users of most BI solutions—are still chasing after insights. What he hopes to focus on in 2007, he says, is proactive instead of reactive BI. "We already provide solutions for this, [but] our target is still a step behind the proactivity!" he indicates. "We have to become more proactive and less reactive; we really want to improve the student success [rate], and waiting for a course failure to say ‘this student is in trouble’ is not an option for a good education solution."
For this reason, Poudou says, Merkium is focusing on what works now, instead of what might work later. "Our initiatives are to help our customers to better understand what their data can do, so what are the questions they can answer. [Technologies such as] MDM [are] not a focus," he concludes.
On the other hand, an increasing number of industry watchers say it’s only a matter of time before MDM—like BI, BPM, and other game-changing technology paradigms—forces itself into focus.
"The movement from DW to BI to CPM [corporate performance management] was a logical progression [that added] new business and technical functionality and seems to have fared well," comments Tony Politano, author, lecturer, and partner with BI consultancy BusinessEdge Solutions Inc. "[But] MDM strikes at the heart of DW, causing a rethinking of the methods, tools and technologies that come into play. It is also my hope that if branded under MDM, that data quality will get an even greater adoption, as this is the Achilles Heel of any DW."
While there might be some truth to these and other projects, a lot of BI professionals say they just don’t see next-gen technologies—be them MDM, BSO, or others—affect them. "MDM is not on our BI radar, so I don't think [because of] our small-time integration [implementation] we’ll have much to say on the subject," says SQL Server pro Dave Bienstock, a systems specialist with Fleetwood Enterprises, a manufacturer of mobile homes.
What is on Bienstock’s radar? Like many other BI and DW pros, he says he’s struggling to do more with less: namely, to get the most out of his SQL Server-powered reporting infrastructure while juggling the requisite staffing, capacity, and budgetary woes. Grappling with an altogether new paradigm like MDM, he says, must take a back seat to workaday reality.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.