On its path to maturity, business intelligence solutions are increasingly delivering sound value to a wider range of companies than ever before. However, while the technology matures, users of such systems are not keeping pace and may not yet be gaining the full benefit of their investments in such solutions.
That is according to Christo Bredenkamp, a director of Synergy Computing. He points out that with BI a top priority in the 2006 Gartner CIO Survey, company directors accept the theoretical value of the technology; he wants to see that turned into practical benefit.
“While the providers of BI software continue to focus their efforts on the development and production of programmes which are easier to use, reaching out to more mid-level information workers, for many companies using the tools is limited to upper management,” he notes.
Bredenkamp says BI has evolved from where it was characterised by production and statistical reporting on mainframes (1975-1990), through to the introduction of easier to use client-server-based BI tools and query, reporting and OLAP (online analytical processing) technology with Web-based architecture and broad suites of BI platforms (1990-2005. “Today, the focus is falling on expansion of the reach of BI to users inside and outside the organisation. Reporting is being augmented by realtime, predictive decision-centric functionality which is capable of delivering a combination of strategic BI with operational insights which can help information workers make better decisions with immediacy,” he says.
But while this is the direction being taken by vendors, he says issues remain which limit the success of these developments. “These issues include problems with data quality, which immediately scuppers the reliability and trust of a BI system, as well as poor end-user training. While BI is an undeniably valuable tool, it does not replace human thought – and without the knowledge and skills to use BI tools appropriately, it is unlikely that businesses will get the full benefit from such solutions,” he says.
A recent survey of BI users in South Africa indicated that 43% of respondents have had BI for three or more years, while a further 23% report using such systems in the past 1-2 years. Alarmingly, perhaps, just half report a return on investment. Tellingly, says Bredenkamp, BI is used only for month-end reporting by 41% of those using such solutions, while just 21% link BI to key performance indicators. “77% say their business wants better access to critical information and 54% want easier information retrieval; these ‘desirables’ are in fact what a BI solution is supposed to deliver,” he points out.
Bredenkamp does not believe this failure is the result of poorly designed software. Rather, he believes the key factors for a successful BI solution include the deployment – with attention to factors such as the information which is drawn into the system for analysis, the creation of reports and its presentation to the appropriate individuals – and the delivery of training as an integral and essential component of the solution. “Ease of use and data quality are the two most important criteria to success or failure of BI. End user education on the principles and reasons for the software tools is essential if companies are to turn the theoretical benefit of BI into tangible results,” he concludes.