One of the more disappointing aspects of business intelligence applications is how few people actually use them. Within large organizations, the preponderance of business intelligence systems get used by business analysts who are paid to master those systems. In the small-to-medium business segment, not only are few people with the necessary skills available to use them, there are hardly any BI systems in place because they are too hard to implement and maintain.
Providers of BI applications have been trying to crack the adoption problem for years. Their most recent hope has been the advent of software-as-a-service offerings that make it easier to deploy business intelligence applications. But now comes along IBM, which is rolling out a new IBM Cognos Express offering that seeks to reduce the complexity of rolling out a business intelligence system by pre-configuring many of the components.
For example, IBM Cognos Express combines query and reporting tools, enhanced visualization tools and Microsoft Excel-based planning and analysis tools under a common framework. By combining these tools, IBM hopes to make Cognos BI tools more accessible to not only a larger number of companies, but also more people in large enterprise companies that have found the cost of deploying BI applications to be prohibitive. IBM is also hoping that its business partners will use the IBM Cognos Express platform as a foundation for delivering customized SaaS offerings.
IBM is not the only vendor trying to exploit the great unwashed demand for BI. The simple truth of the matter is that in most companies today, the definition of BI amounts to a relatively sophisticated custom Excel application. Nobody is sure, however, if that application is 100 percent accurate. Some more sophisticated companies have also implemented customer relationship management (CRM) software, but very few have anything in place that looks like a real BI system.
This lack of analytics has not gone unnoticed. Partially as a result of being caught unaware by the recent downturn and a desire to be more efficient, BI is at the top of everybody's priority list. The problem, of course, is that it has been on the top of everybody's priority list for over three years now, which in turn has started to create a certain amount of BI fatigue. So obviously, while the business spirit is willing, the skills are weak.
The real question, therefore, is even if the IT skills needed to successfully deploy were there in the first place, do most companies really have the business discipline required to really get something out of it?