When it comes to the whole subject of business intelligence, there is a lot of rolling of the eyes going on in both the IT department and the business units they serve.
That doesn't mean hope doesn't spring eternal for BI. After all, BI projects continually top all surveys regarding IT priorities, including the latest one from IBM.
While people tend to vigorously debate approaches to BI, what people like about BI is that it's a place where the IT department has ample opportunity to prove its value. Unfortunately, too many BI projects are still pretty limited to creating canned reports from static data that costs a fortune to build and maintain. The reports that get generated can often look impressive, but the amount of time it takes to respond to a unique query usually takes days and weeks when the business side is typically looking for the information in a matter of hours.
The end result is frustration all around. The business side questions the value of investing in expensive BI systems in the first place, while IT professionals look for something more rewarding to do with their time. Despite these issues, the untapped potential of BI in the enterprise remains immense.
The good news is that progress is finally being made. Companies such as PivotLink on one side of the BI spectrum and SAP on the other are delivering what many now refer to as a self-service approach to BI. The basic idea behind these tools is that data is aggregated inside a layer of software that sits above the traditional data warehouse infrastructure. This layer of software borrows heavily from mashup concepts pioneered in the Web 2.0 applications to make it easier for end users to dynamically run their own queries without any assistance from the IT department.
In the case of PivotLink, this capability is delivered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. In the case of SAP, the company has developed an SAP BusinessObject Explorer tools that lets end users dynamically query a Business Objects application. PivotLink argues that a SaaS model is more heterogenous, costs less to deploy and makes it easier to distribute information to a broader number of end users. Longer term, PivotLink also expects to benefit users by providing integration with other SaaS offerings such as Google Apps and Google Wave.
In either scenario, significant improvements to the BI experience are being made. The amount of overhead that the IT department has to support is sharply reduced, while end users see a lot more value being derived from IT. When it comes to boosting the morale of any organization, there is no substitute for winning. Self-service BI creates the opportunity for a win-win scenario that both sides of the IT-business divide can finally celebrate.