In business intelligence, there is a lot of emphasis on getting the "right information" into the hands of the "right people" at the "right time."
Yet BI's biggest value may be in keeping information out of people's hands. Imagine if analytical tools could pull information from real-time data streams and send actionable recommendations to a rules engine that applies them to the appropriate transactions. That's the scenario laid out by Joe McKendrick on ebizQ's BI in Action blog.
Though we tend to admire automation for its efficiency, we often don't completely trust it -- which means it could take some time before folks are comfortable with this kind of automated decision-making.
Yet James Taylor, a partner in a company called Smart (Enough) Systems, predicts that 95 percent of operational decision making could be automatically performed by software, writes McKendrick. Though changing company culture may present a challenge, the technologies for achieving this kind of automation are already in place. Service-oriented architecture, business process management and business rules management can help bridge the gap between near-automated decision-making and a fully-automated process, says Taylor.
I got a similar view from Charles Nicholls, the CEO of SeeWhy Software, in our October interview. According to SeeWhy's research, 90 percent of companies say that embedding BI into their operational processes would improve their business performance. Fifty-five percent of companies say their operational BI alerts arrive after the event and are not specific or contextual enough to be acted upon.
While BI applications are traditionally built so that data and data logic are both stored in the database, Nicholls says companies implementing SOA are moving toward a more loosely-coupled environment in which data and data logic can be separated. He says:
So analytics can trigger business process management systems and trigger the process for retaining customers, or retaining stock, or those kinds of things. Therefore the nature of what we call BI -- for the sake of a label -- is changing. It's not just about producing reports, but about creating these kinds of autopilot systems.
While some strategic decisions cannot be automated, says Nicholls, "there are lots and lots of relatively low-level operational decisions that can benefit from automation." Nicholls advises companies to focus on specific pain points where automated decision-making can give them a big operational lift, such as getting and keeping stock on store shelves.
I blogged last month about several companies that were working to bring BI closer to their business processes. One example is Fannie Mae, which uses software tools to analyze its transactional data to determine which Web pages yield high rates of abandonment from loan applicants.