Non-traditional Users Hold Key to BI ROI

Organizations should be feeding actionable insights to decision-makers further on down the line. That's where the ROI lies, according to Information Builders.

It's been a busy month for Information Builders Inc. (IBI), which recently concluded its annual user summit (held in Nashville), announced a new predictive analytic component for its ubiquitous WebFOCUS reporting tool, and touted a bevy of new customer success stories -- including a new BI-on-the-street case study in which Richmond, Va. cops use WebFOCUS to fight crime.

Not bad for a BI player that'll turn 35 in just a couple of years.

Information Builders isn't thinking like a 35 year-old BI veteran, either. For example, it has long been in the forefront of the pervasive BI push, touting -- years before it was fashionable -- an "operational BI" vision that centers on reporting and analysis in conjunction with operational systems.

At its Summit 2008 user conference and through other venues, IBI has outlined a new take on pervasive business intelligence: the ROI is out there.

Far from just empowering business analysts and C-level decision-makers -- with dashboards, hot new analytic tools, and the like -- organizations should be trying to get actionable insights to middle managers and other decision-makers further on down the line. That's where the ROI lies, says Michael Corcoran, chief marketing officer with IBI.

Call it BI for the rest of us.

"The non-traditional BI user is where the ROI has been hiding. These are [people] who can use a piece of information immediately. They can capitalize on something or prevent something [from happening] that could be extremely lucrative or damaging [for a company]," he argues.

It isn't just a pipedream, Corcoran insists -- and the business case is a slam dunk. "How do you take that level [of analytic insight] that's typically done by the back-office analyst and make it available to your users further on down [the line]? That's the issue, and organizations are struggling with the idea that [business analysts and C-level execs are] not the only decision-makers. Some of your best decisions -- the kinds of decisions that add up iteratively and [which collectively] have the potential to make or break a company -- are being made at the lowest levels of the organizational chart."

In this sense, Corcoran argues, IBI differs itself from its competitors, which he claims are more focused on business analysts, C-level executives, and other members of the power user aristocracy.

"The most effective management is not when management has better information, with all of these pretty dashboards. Everybody views this right now as progress, [where] we're taking BI out of the back office and bringing it up to the executives -- but that isn't progress. Progress is taking [BI] out of the back office and bringing it down to the operational layer."

It isn't so much about making BI "pervasive" -- a view which Corcoran insists is inextricably yoked to traditional, aristocratic thinking -- as about democratizing BI.

"The real value is when the field worker, or the sales people, or the truck driver, or the mechanics -- it's when they have the metrics to understand how what they're doing is making a difference [on the corporate bottom line]," he suggests. "We believe this is the smartest thing our customers can do: don't just show [these workers] how they're doing, show them how they compare to everybody else. Show how that agent is making his money, but he's selling low-margin products compared to everything else."

IBI's recent predictive analytic announcement is a case in point. WebFOCUS RStat -- which, as its name implies, is based on the open source RStat analytics environment -- helps developers and analysts collaborate to build predictive applications for field and operational employees -- the very user constituencies Corcoran claims are ill-served by existing analytic tools.

Corcoran uses the example of the City of Richmond. It's police department is using WebFOCUS not just to predict crimes but to help officers and other field personnel score their expectations (i.e., intuition or instinct) against actual demographic trends. The idea, Corcoran says, is that the City of Richmond can proactively blanket high-crime areas or areas of likely crime with police officers, who can in turn score their own crime-fighting instincts against what's actually happening on the ground.

"What's going on on those laptop screens [in the police cars] is you have a typical dashboard -- here's your incidence reports, arrests and crimes [and so on], and you're interacting with it and generating new information by pointing and clicking. You can get real-time alerts -- [for example, data from] court systems, warrants, etc. -- feeding transaction-level information," Corcoran comments.

There's also the historical tip. "You also have this visual map [view], where you're pulling [information] from historical sources -- so you can take, say, the historical arrest data [and] the crime data," he continues. "You can say, 'We know that on certain Friday nights in certain neighborhoods, we arrested X number of people for drinking too much.' Or you can look at the calendar schedule: is there a concert going on? If so, [the system is] going to be saying, 'Be here.' Or is it payday for certain communities? Again, the system can help proactively allocate [police resources] before these [crimes] actually take place.

The result, Corcoran claims, is that the City of Richmond reduced violent crime by 38 percent over the last two years and reduced overtime pay.

"That's real ROI. There's the intangible ROI -- which has an economic benefit for the community at large -- but then there's the real ROI, that reduction in overtime pay, which [the City of Richmond has] made possible by bringing this kind of [analytic capability] down to their police officers, their field workers, so to speak, at that operational level. This is where the real opportunity is."