Friday, November 25, 2011

Ten Reasons Why Business Intelligence Is Different From Other Applications

Business and IT professionals who have a variety of experience with different applications, like CRM, ERP, LMS, HRM, and SCM, tend to think that Business Intelligence (BI) is just another, similar application. However, BI offers opportunities for businesses that far outshine other narrowly focused software solutions - most notably through its vast scope, comprehensive reporting tools, and diverse scalability. Here are 10 attributes that separate BI from the rest:

1. BI Is User-Defined and Scalable
If you ask a group of people to define CRM or other application terms, there's a good chance that all of their definitions will be quite similar. However, if you ask them to define Business Intelligence, you'll likely hear reporting tools, analytics, dashboards, scorecards, data modeling, data warehouse, data mining, online analytical processing (OLAP), or performance management. It is all of those, and more.

2. The BI Market Is Saturated
Because Business Intelligence offers such diverse opportunities, the marketplace is full of vendors claiming to sell "BI" solutions. When searching and evaluating different products, it's easy to get lost in the myriad of features and functions. Each product may do some things, but not necessarily all of them; however BI can deliver many, if not all of them. When considering a BI platform, it's important to learn about BI's many embedded features and create a prioritized list for your own organization.

3. BI's Feature Set Is Complex
Compared to standard business software applications, Business Intelligence has many more features that can present a challenge to learn. This initial learning can include drilling down to a report, adding summarizations, or learning the best way to display data visually. For example, in data mining you may need to learn about clustering, decision trees, or regression, all-powerful features that require a higher learning curve than out-of-the box solutions. However, BI's benefits do outweigh the difficulties.

4. It's Horizontal, Not Vertical
Business Intelligence platforms take a horizontal approach to data that supports many vertical applications - including most of those listed above in item number one. Every organization or application with data has a potential case for using BI, no matter how many vertical uses or applications might be involved.

5. BI's Data Structure Is Flexible
Data that is stored and used for Business Intelligence can be either standardized for transactional systems or optimized for reporting and analysis. BI is flexible and can provide good results using many different structures. Although most business applications rely on transactional structures for speedy record processing, in BI it can be modeled as relational, dimensional, or a hybrid that might be ROLAP (Relational) or MOLAP (Multidimensional).

6. BI Is a Platform, Not a "Solution"
It's important to understand the difference. Most business applications are available as software solutions-fit for specific purposes and ready to use right out of the box. Most Business Intelligence applications rely on platforms where technical users build specific solutions in a development environment. There are a few BI vendors who are moving toward solution-based applications.

7. BI Requires IT Involvement
Because Business Intelligence is complex, flexible in structure, and platform-based, it depends more on IT than most business applications. Organizations where business users and IT resources work together will experience a much greater overall success rate with Business Intelligence.

8. Software As A Service (SaaS) Is Immature
SaaS can now be considered a viable solution for many business applications., for example, has a proven track record of success. However, that is not the case for BI. While it is appealing and there are a few SaaS entrants, it's just not plug-n-play as some vendors might tell you. There is still the upfront and ongoing work of data integration, data cleansing, data modeling, and data refreshes. Until the market matures, it will be difficult to realize the significant benefits of SaaS for BI.

9. User Adoption Can Be Challenging
Most business applications are specific to standard business processes-something users are already comfortable with. However, Business Intelligence is very flexible and doesn't follow any specific, prescribed process. Users have the ability to explore the data and develop reporting tools as they choose. This is a huge benefit that can also present challenges and intimidate many users preventing them from fully adopting a BI solution.

10. BI Has Only 2 Letters!
Other application abbreviations have 3 letters. So...BI is one-third easier to remember. OK, we had to throw in something fun about Business Intelligence!