Today’s economic climate poses many challenges for organisations. To stay one step ahead of the game, organisations need the ability to make faster and better-informed decisions.
Information lies at the heart of good decision-making and organisations have turned to integration technologies and business intelligence (BI) tools to help access and make sense of this information.
Even though management has typically had access to BI reporting and analysis tools, the rest of the organisation has typically made decisions without access to all relevant data, in some cases basing decisions on gut instinct, or worse out-of-date information. However, BI is evolving and becoming more pervasive throughout the organisation.
One interesting trend in the BI market is its role in the development of enterprise information management (EIM), which according to Gartner, can be defined as “an integrated discipline for structuring, describing and governing information assets (both structured and unstructured), to improve operational efficiency, promote transparency and enable business insight”. Bearing this definition in mind, there are a number of key issues and challenges facing organisations today.
On the way towards EIM, organisations need to first recognise the strategic value of information by taking control of it and using it more effectively inside the enterprise as well as with suppliers, partners and customers. The first hurdle many organisations face is data access to reliable and timely information.
Businesses typically have data and important information in different systems – billing information in ERP systems, customer data in CRM systems or transactional systems, employee information in HR systems. In fact, we estimate that most organisations currently only access less than 20% of all their data and information. Moreover, less than a tenth of all employees can access that information. Clearly, getting more information to more people within the organisation is one of the key concerns of any BI initiative.
For information workers, however, the processes by which data is made available to them are typically invisible and take place behind the scenes. For these users, it is of more importance that they find what they are looking for; quickly and easily.
Accordingly, many organisations are reviewing enterprise search technologies in order to let their users and information workers find relevant information quickly. Using enterprise search applications that access, categorise and display structured and unstructured data greatly benefits organisations and leads to increased operational efficiency.
There are clear benefits in being able to search for a name, a product / product part or a fragment of an order number across multiple systems and databases using an enterprise search application that uses metadata to sort and categorise the results. In fact, whether information is stored in data warehouses or data marts, transactional systems or customer or product databases, enterprise search is vital in retrieving and displaying it.
Finally, in order for organisations to achieve transparency and allow business insight to as large a group of users as possible, it is advisable to deploy business intelligence applications throughout the organisation and at all levels.
Here in the UK , an example of how both BI and EIM have benefited a business is Corus, a major steel manufacturer. Wanting to empower users with timely, comprehensive information on customer-order and steel-production processes drawn from SAP, a variety of mainframe systems, and other disparate data sources, Corus deployed both BI and integration tools.
A multitude of end-user reporting and analysis requirements are satisfied by centralising reporting via an intranet using purpose-built, value-driven data warehouses. The business benefit of this approach is significantly increasing the speed of analysis, enabling higher manufacturing yields and faster response times for customer inquiries.
The traditional world of business intelligence has evolved over the last few years. BI tools and applications were once being used exclusively by management and business analysts. Now BI applications are becoming more pervasive and in use across all levels of the organisation and externally with suppliers and customers. But it has not stopped there. Now it incorporates a wider set of technologies to provide businesses with a strategic framework to manage and use their information assets more effectively. By combining integration and enterprise search with BI applications, organisations can start to use all of their data to make better decisions. That is the evolution of BI and the benefit of EIM.
Peter Walker is managing director, UK, Information Builders
This was first published in December 2008