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Issue Date: June 2007

Business intelligence needs to go Google

28 June 2007

Next generation business intelligence (BI) tools need to have the powerful search capabilities of the likes of Google to live-up to the demands and expectations of increasingly sophisticated BI users.
That is according to Paul Morgan, managing director at ASYST Intelligence, a focused provider of strategic business intelligence and data management solutions to South African companies.
Morgan says that companies are beginning to expect more from BI in terms of the type of data their BI tools enable them to access, retrieve and make sense of in order to gauge a true and thorough reflection of their business. People are familiar with using Google when searching for information that is only partially understood, so the new wave of BI tools need to be as user-friendly.
“All companies, even small ones, generate and store mountains of data that can provide them with vital intelligence to guide and facilitate more informed decision-making. However, much of the information that people look for is not typically stored in a data warehouse and lies trapped in working tools and applications, such as e-mail, network documents and process diagrams which BI software is unable to search or retrieve information from.”
“In order to truly deliver on its promise to provide companies with a single, comprehensive and accurate view of what is happening in their business, BI tools must have the ability to search, and enable ad hoc querying, of both structured and unstructured data across the entire IT network infrastructure,” says Morgan.
He believes that BI should allow companies to find the information they want – no matter where it may be stored.
“Data warehouses, whether physical or federated, are still an absolute necessity for any business wanting to implement BI. But it is still a laborious process to load data from new systems into an existing warehouse, sometimes taking months to collate, transform and load the new information,” explains Morgan.
BI tools should be able to search and report on traditional data in warehouses and transactional systems, as well as new layers of metadata and unstructured data, and they need to locate, tag and index all that data as quickly as Google search engines do with web documents.
Software vendors have long recognised the need to be able to search and drill-down for unstructured information contained in documents of varying formats, and new standards such as Office 2007 XML documents, already allow users to turn unstructured data into structured data.
“BI will ultimately move in the same direction,” comments Morgan.
“If not, the growing and pertinent need of companies to do ad hoc querying and searches on all kinds of information could give rise to BI bureaus whereby companies will begin to outsource to external BI specialists because they simply do not have the time or the resources to do it themselves.
“Companies will be able to trickle-feed their data to off-site application services providers, using their specialist resources and applications to fulfil requests for searches and queries on unstructured data. This is already starting to happen in the US with startups such as LucidEra. However, this could prove difficult in South Africa currently where connectivity is still very poor,” says Morgan.
He concludes saying that while there is still huge scope for advancements in BI technology, it remains an indispensable business tool that businesses should be utilising to tap into the wealth of information they have stored in their ERP, CRM, supply chain management and other systems.

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