Dynamic Times Require Dynamic BI

Responding to constantly changing business demands for analytics and BI is a daunting effort.

Mergers and acquisitions and evolving supply chains require new comparisons and aggregations. The explosion of social media drives demand for new customer insights. Mobile computing changes form factors. And self-service BI puts users in the driver’s seat.

Business Takes Charge

In true Darwinian fashion, the business side of most organizations is now taking greater responsibility for fulfilling its own information needs rather than depending solely on already-burdened IT resources.

For example, in a 2011 survey of over 625 business and IT professionals entitled Self-Service Business Intelligence: TDWI Best Practices Report, @TDWI July 2011,The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) identified the following top five factors driving businesses toward self-service business intelligence:

  • Constantly changing business needs (65%)
  • IT’s inability to satisfy new requests in a timely manner (57%)
  • The need to be a more analytics-driven organization (54%)
  • Slow and untimely access to information (47%)
  • Business user dissatisfaction with IT-delivered BI capabilities (34%)

How IT Empowers Self Service BI

In the same survey report, authors Claudia Imhoff and Colin White suggest that IT’s focus shifts toward making it easier for business users “to access the growing number of dispersed data sources that exist in most organizations.”

Examples Imhoff and White cite include:

  • providing friendlier business views of source data
  • improving on-demand access to data across multiple data sources
  • enabling data discovery and search functions
  • supporting access to other types of data, such as unstructured documents; and more.

Data Virtualization to the Rescue

In the TDWI survey, 60% of respondents rated business views of source data as “very important,” and 44% said on-demand access to multiple data sources using data federation technologies was “very important.”

According to Imhoff and White, “Data virtualization and associated data federation technologies enable BI/DW builders to build shared business views of multiple data sources so that the users do not have to be concerned about the physical location or structure of the data.

These views are sometimes known as virtual business views because, from an application perspective, the data appears to be consolidated in a single logical data store. In fact, it may be managed in multiple physical data structures on several different servers.

Data federation tools support access to different types of data sources, including relational databases, non-relational systems, application package databases, flat files, Web data feeds, and Web services.

Selected Examples

  • Self-service BI in Research and Development – With hundreds of information providers and consumers, Pfizer used data virtualization to provide business views of information across every stage of the drug development lifecycle.  Empowered knowledge workers leveraged this data along with their BI tools of choice to accelerate new product introductions and increase revenue.
  • Self-service BI for Compliance – The EPA, OSHA, DOT, and many other federal and state agencies require hundreds of compliance reports. Because internal systems have been optimized for operations, not compliance reporting, making data integration a significant contributor to compliance reporting costs.  By providing business views of these sources via data virtualization, compliance staff at this manufacturer built their own compliance reports using their preferred self-service BI tools.