IT Keeps an Eye on Business Intelligence

Companies turn to performance, usage monitoring as access to BI data widens

As companies expand access to business intelligence tools to more users, IT shops increasingly are looking to do the kind of performance and usage monitoring usually confined to transactional systems.

When BI software was commonly used to do historical reporting for a handful of power users, the dependability of servers or the content of reports wasn't as critical as it has become now, according to IT managers and analysts.

For example, the city of Albuquerque by the end of this month plans to go into production with the Cognos 8 BI suite, which will let external users access reports on restaurant inspections and building permits, said Chris Framel, applications group manager in the city's information systems division. Internal users will begin using the BI tools in September, he added. Within the suite, Framel plans to use Cognos Event Studio, an event-notification tool, to alert IT staffers if exceptions occur, such as users not receiving reports.

"Now, we come in the next morning to check and see if programs have failed," Framel said. "It is really all reactive rather than proactive."

Framel would like software vendor Cognos Inc. to develop an auditing database that he could use to monitor if and how reports are being used, he added.

"We do need to do that, because we have several hundred reports," he said. "It would be nice to know what reports they are using, and if they are not, then we could get them out."

Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm, uses Business Objects SA's Auditor tool to cancel "runaway queries" that last for more than 10 minutes and to identify reports that are not being commonly accessed by its 9,000 users so they can be eliminated, said Michael Strachan, vice president of business intelligence metrics at the New York-based firm. Now Morgan Stanley has begun testing a new query performance and data-usage tool from Appfluent Technology Inc. to help boost the performance and reduce the costs of its BI applications.

Because it allows some users to do self-service, ad hoc analysis, it's testing the tool as a way to allow database administrators to see queries that are running and identify bottlenecks, Strachan said. Morgan Stanley hopes to have the tool in production within two months.

Exposing Data

Quixtar Inc., an online health and beauty products retailer in Ada, Mich., plans to automate the monitoring of the BI reports it sends to the 200,000 to 250,000 business owners it works with, said Dennis Albachten, the company's senior BI analyst.

Quixtar, which uses Actuate Corp.'s enterprise reporting tool, now performs manual, periodic polls of users to assess which reports are being used and how often they are being accessed, Albachten said.

"We want to automate the data collection process for viewing and loading into the warehouse so we can report off it," he said. "We do have a gut feel, but it would be nice to be able to expose that data."

At A Glance
BI Growth

• Gartner's 2006 survey of 1,400 CIOs found that BI was the most highly ranked technology priority this year.

• The CIOs reported plans to increase their BI budgets by an average of 4.8% in 2006.

• The BI market is expected to grow from $2.5 billion in 2006 to $3 billion in 2009.

Eric Rogge, president of Eric Rogge Consulting in Foster City, Calif., said that as BI projects expand from departmental applications out to the enterprise level, they start to require the same degree of attention to scalability and performance as transactional systems.

It is important to ensure that "one user of one report isn't eliminating or restricting access to other users," Rogge said.

Grant Felsing, decision support manager at lawn mower engine maker Briggs & Stratton Corp., said that his company's move to embed BI data into workers' daily processes means that "BI is so integral for [users] knowing what to do every morning that if it goes down, five minutes later the help desk is getting hit."

Briggs & Stratton, which uses SAS Institute Inc.'s SAS 9 tool set, wrote software that it has been using for 18 months to monitor BI usage and the health of its BI platform. Every five minutes, the company runs a test to measure response times to ensure performance, Felsing said.

"This also gives us a picture of usage around the world, so with a single glance, I can review how Asia and Europe went first, then our Eastern facilities and finally our Midwest users as the clock marches on," he said. "The more people become dependent on it, the more stable it has to be."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon