Could Mashups Solve Problems Plaguing Business Intelligence?

Loraine Lawson

Despite economic concerns, analysts predicted business intelligence would be a top tech priority this year. And apparently, it has been.


But it's fall, and with fall comes the harvest and even though modern business isn't what you'd call an agrarian pursuit, inevitably, there comes a time to ask: Are we reaping what we've sown?


When it comes to BI investments, it seems harvest isn't turning out as well as many hoped when the year began.


A recent report from the UK shows that companies there aren't very happy with the yield of their business intelligence investments. Data technology research company Kognitio found that a majority of the 200 companies it surveyed spent at least half a million pounds ($819,000) on BI implementations. One in four actually spent more than a million pounds (that's approximately 1.6 million dollars).


Yet-these investments aren't providing the expected value, according to the survey. It's one thing to disappoint, but 62 percent fessed up to receiving "a barrage of complaints from their business users."


Now that's what my grandparents would have called "a bad crop."


What's wrong?


IDC analyst Dan Vessett says part of BI's problem is a people issue, not a technology issue. "The technology has been around for a long time. It's the people that often get in the way," Vessett said during a speech at Computerworld's Business Intelligence Perspectives. He identified a number of cultural factors that can contribute to BI's success or failure, including the involvement of non-executive employees and user satisfaction with the dashboard.


After reading the Kognitio UK survey, David Linthicum expressed a similar view:


"The core issue here is not one of BI failing. Technology is almost never the issue. It's the ability for IT to create and/or align the right technology for the needs of the business users."


Linthicum offers four steps IT can take to foster BI success:

  1. Understand the business users' needs-and in detail.
  2. Resolve data quality issues.
  3. Focus on master data management as an ongoing effort.
  4. Delight users by going above and beyond.


Maybe technology isn't the problem. But his last item makes me wonder if technology could be part of the solution.


After all, Vessett points out that design quality is a key component of BI success:


"Design quality, or the extent to which IT-deployed performance dashboards are able to satisfy user needs. Satisfied users will talk up the BI software, creating "BI envy" in other employees and thus helping spread the software's use. Dissatisfied users will go around IT and use Excel or some software-as-a-service applications."


This made me think that perhaps, just perhaps, a big part of this problem could be solved by making integration and reports easier for business users. In fact, data integration was one of the two reasons companies had to get a grip on BI costs, according to a 2008 Aberdeen Group survey. The second issue:
delivering BI tools to end users.


Both of these are issues that mashups purport to do, which leads me to this question: Could mashups play a role in making BI more successful?


Last week, I wrote about how companies are applying mashups to BI, but what really made me ask the question was IBM's recent release of IBM Cognos 8 Mashup Service and an updated version of IBM Mashup Center.


The IBM Cognos 8 Mashup Service is an API that "exposes content from IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence as a Web service for use in other operational applications, business processes and mashups," according to this eChannelLine report.


Integration lies at the heart of this new tool, the article continues:


"By integrating entire reports, analyses and metrics - or just the most relevant parts - into key applications such as human resources, procurement, and sales management, users can quickly and more easily make informed decisions in the context of their daily business. For instance, a sales manager responsible for many retail outlets will be able to easily overlay critical sales reports into a GIS application in order to gain a quick, visual snapshot of store performance throughout the district, identify trouble spots, and initiate necessary sales strategies to boost underperforming locations."


As for the updated IBM Mashup Center, it sounds like it could be more user-friendly. It includes a new browser tool that lets users create their own widgets. Additionally, it will support integration with RESTful services and include connections with new data sources, eChannelLine reports.

You can read more in an excellent roundup of IBM's new mashup offering by my colleaque, Ann All.


Of course, IBM isn't the only company in the business of melding mashups with BI-it's just most recently in the news. As I shared last week, more companies are applying mashups to BI and, as a result, more mashup success stories are emerging, including how the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency uses JackBe's mashup tool to map strategic information and how Pfizer Pharmaceuticals uses Composite Software's Composite Information Server for mashups.

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