Business intelligence goes small: It's not just for the biggest shops anymore

IT pros in midsize businesses share their challenges and triumphs.

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SaaS appeal

IT is heavily involved in the BI deployments at Cubist, Elie Tahari, Lionsgate and VIP, but Kia Motors USA opted for a different approach.

Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing and communications at the Irvine, Calif.-based automaker, needed quick access to what was being said about the company on websites and social networks. Rather getting IT involved in meeting this targeted need, he subscribed to WiseWindow's SaaS-based BI aggregation tool.

Michael Sprague
At automaker Kia, the BI project is being spearheaded by the marketing group, which opted to go with a SaaS approach, says Michael Sprague, VP of marketing and communications.

The service crawls the Web to find comments based on context and usage as opposed to solely looking for keywords. That data is then categorized and presented to Sprague and his team via an interactive report. "WiseWindow searches through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media in near real time," he says, noting that employees had to do that manually before Kia started using WiseWindow.

The WiseWindow database updates every 15 minutes, which is light years ahead of Sprague's previous services. "In the past, I would have had to wait for a brand tracking survey or focus group to know what users thought of a marketing campaign or new car feature," he says. Now that feedback is available almost instantaneously.

For instance, WiseWindow alerted Sprague when some early test-drivers of the 2011 Kia Optima took to the Internet to complain about how hard the seats were. He shared the information with the production team and they were able to quickly address the issue with a new seat design.

Forrester's Evelson understands why SaaS- or cloud-based offerings would appeal to small and midsize businesses. "They have smaller, weaker internal IT organizations, so they are looking for more prepackaged solutions with less need to customize, integrate, etc.," he says.

Intelligence for the future

Regardless of whether SMBs use on-premises or hosted BI tools, they are brainstorming ways to do more with their enterprisewide intelligence. For instance, Murabito is eager for a mash-up module that would let Cubist combine sales data with Congressional district information and infection incident information. Cubist could use the resulting analysis to encourage government agencies to provide incentives for antibiotic research.

For his part, Elie Tahari's Aytaman is focused on social networking and hopes to find a tool that would closely monitor customer responses to new clothing lines and feed data back into the Cognos system. He could then potentially combine that data with geographic data to determine a particular region's style preferences.

At Lionsgate, the future is in the cloud, says Collins. He wants to put an instance of SAP BusinessObjects in the cloud and make it available to mobile users. He believes putting BI tools in the cloud will promote faster decision-making while controlling costs and broadening the user base.

All of these midmarket businesses have successfully bucked the BI doomsday scenario that Gartner's Meehan warned about, where most BI projects fail. In fact, they've implemented BI so well that their major concerns going forward mostly revolve around ways to cost-effectively handle increased interest from users throughout their organizations.

Gittlen is a freelance technology writer in the Boston area. You can contact her at sgittlen@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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