The Future of BI

We asked some industry experts and analysts for their boldest predictions about the future of business intelligence technology. Here's a collection of their most provocative thoughts:

Business intelligence is becoming more directly connected to business processes in two different ways. BI will be increasingly used to analyze business processes, and BI will also be incorporated within business processes. In the former case, expect to see business process dashboards as the next wave of business performance management, bringing together data on process events from multiple applications. In the latter case, expect to see BI moving from just providing information to decision-makers to actually automating repeatable, operational decisions for activities such as setting prices, inventory levels and many other areas that were formerly the domain of "gut feel."

-- Henry Morris, analyst, IDC, Framingham, Mass.

Over the next five years, BI applications will become as commonplace as spreadsheet applications within all organizations that are midsize or larger. Organizations that utilize BI technologies most effectively will rise up as leaders within their industries and distinguish themselves from their competitors. Within the next two years, a significant event will expose the weaknesses of current approaches to securing data within the private or public sector that will cause politicians to enact legislation that will require greater security of data by using encryption technology for data storage and access. By 2015, BI applications will have evolved to handle structured and unstructured data and will become a component of a broader category called knowledge management.

-- Jonathan Wu, senior principal, Knightsbridge Solutions LLC, Chicago

Over the next three years, the pervasiveness of business intelligence technology will explode, by as much as fivefold, as three technology trends converge: the availability of 64-bit in-memory processing technology improving BI performance by factors of 10 to 100; the service-enabling of business applications; and the growth of rich Internet applications, or RIA. Together, they enable organizations to leverage BI in new and innovative ways. Imagine you've been driving with the parking brake on, and suddenly you release it. You not only go cheaper and faster to the same places as before, but you also explore new places and opportunities.

-- Lothar Schubert, director of SAP NetWeaver product marketing, Walldorf, Germany

Analytic results can be clearer if they include location. Why? The old saw sums it up: Everything has got to be somewhere. Location is a fundamental organizing principle for the ways that people think and act. But the BI community has been slow to adopt geographic capabilities, perhaps because it has been too hard. That's all changing as standards mature, integration becomes easier and geographic data becomes less expensive. Also, a whole new crop of location-determining devices like GPS, RFID, networked sensors and cellular networks are coming online. These factors create both the capability and demand for location-specific BI.

-- David Sonnen, IDC's consultant for spatial information management, Bellingham, Wash.

The future of business intelligence lies in the most unlikely of places ... in the hands of the CFO. As companies continue to deal with the deluge of data, contend with the consolidation of markets and adhere to government regulations, the CFO no longer has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines of IT. Instead he or she will need to rely on business intelligence and data warehousing technology to get better visibility into the performance of the company, understanding what the data means and the audit trail from which it was derived. In the very near future, CFOs will go from IT spectator to team captain.

-- Bob Potter, CEO, Kalido, Burlington, Mass.

Business intelligence initiatives focused on the need to understand and manage the customer, as well as those that help an organization understand the core elements and metrics of their business model, will have the most profound impact on organizations in the next three to five years. BI will become a standard, core business application for all organizations in a three- to five-year window. No longer an afterthought or a separate consideration, BI will be as integral to each organization's core applications as payroll processing.

-- Hans Hultgren, senior lecturer, on behalf of his colleagues at the information technology and electronic commerce department, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver

All of the current business intelligence technologies give organizations the ability to aggregate data to make decisions from the bottom up. Future business intelligence technologies must ensure that organizations approach business decisions from the top down: aligning every person, task and project with the organization's core purpose, mission, values and vision.

-- Miles Walsh, CEO, Green Array Corp., San Francisco

I believe that in the future, business intelligence technology will shift from a traditional, centralized and static data warehouse model to an agile, distributed intelligence and operational BI model where the knowledge gathering agents are embedded in distributed islands of data. BI will become less centralized, will not rely on data warehouses and will be used at all levels within organizations. Additionally, organizations will demand information and analysis in real time.

-- Charles Moon, chief technology officer, Infoglide Software Corp., Austin

There are three trends that will shape BI: First, today's BI software is mostly reactive; focused on transactions and static data. BI will evolve in the next three years to involve any information and to become more dynamic in order to respond to changing market demands in real time. Second, in five years, BI will move beyond the boundaries of an organization and expand into the supply chain. BI will become more intelligent in understanding customer behavior and linking that information into every decision-making process from the supplier to manufacturer to retailer and to the consumer. And finally, with security becoming a major priority for enterprises, companies will adopt an information-aware infrastructure model in the next five years that will support global, distributed BI while automatically protecting the security and privacy of information.

-- Howard Shao, founder, Documentum; senior vice president, EMC Software Group, Hopkinton, Mass.

In the next three years, business intelligence will be a completely different animal. The often-muddied waters of finding and presenting data will become clear, and accessing information from any data silo across a worldwide organization will be astonishingly simple and straightforward. Mobile access to key performance indicators will also play a critical role in how individuals use and benefit from business intelligence data. Decision-makers at all levels of an organization will be able to have anywhere, anytime visual access to what is happening in the business.

-- Neal Williams, CEO, Corda Technologies Inc., Lindon, Utah

As open-source BI gains market share, the benefits of having one BI platform will become reality. Organizations will create best-of-breed BI platforms using multiple BI vendors that interoperate and easily share information. Vendor interoperability will create an environment of intense competition and cooperation in the business intelligence market, leading vendors to focus once again on specialized areas of business intelligence rather than working to be all things to all people.

-- Jason Weathersby, Eclipse BIRT project management committee member, Actuate Corp., San Francisco

Business intelligence tools by themselves will no longer be sufficient. The era of performance management has arrived, and a growing number of organizations have recognized that management reports generated with business intelligence tools must be tightly coupled with their strategic and operational planning processes. This can only be achieved with fully integrated business performance management systems that bring together enterprise planning and financial management applications with comprehensive BI functionality. The evolution from BI to BPM is well under way and will continue at an accelerated pace.

-- John Kopcke, chief technology officer, Hyperion Solutions Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.

The IT infrastructure stack is built on three layers: applications, data and network infrastructure. As business intelligence initiatives become increasingly important to organizations, now a new layer is emerging -- the analytics layer -- that will sit above the application layer and help companies make better use of their data. Business information, supply chain sensors, manufacturing and ERP data, among others, channeled into the analytics layer, will allow companies to extract a key competitive advantage: the first to see an opportunity and the first to take action. This new analytics layer will evolve into the interface between business decision-makers and the information systems.

-- Christopher Ahlberg, CEO, Spotfire Inc., Somerville, Mass.

Over the next few years, data fragmentation is going to dramatically increase as companies outsource more of their core business functions to outside service providers. Organizations already deal with the challenge of integrating data internally from a wide range of disparate, heterogeneous systems. As more business functions and associated data reside outside the firewall, companies will need to develop a strategy for cross-enterprise data integration to ensure they gain a unified view of their extended enterprise -- especially important in light of regulatory-compliance requirements.

-- James Markarian, CTO, Informatica Corp., Redwood City, Calif.

BI will be combined with other intelligence efforts for more sophisticated and unique results. For example, by combining BI with competitive intelligence tools. Technology and analytic tools will become key in obtaining and analyzing specifics about one's competitors. Combining BI with competitive intelligence efforts will allow organizations to derive a competitive advantage. A related prediction is the rise of content-enabled CRM, in which organizations will begin to combine BI with relationship intelligence for a true 360-degree view of the marketplace. Combining external intelligence (BI) with internal relationship intelligence (like the data housed in a sophisticated CRM system) will allow users to match data for exclusive and advanced information. The next-generation CRM tools will be at the forefront of this convergence.

-- Barry Solomon, executive vice president, LexisNexis Interface Software, Chicago

Customer data integration -- or a single enterprise view of the customer -- will be the next big growth area for business intelligence. Despite years of having CRM practices in place, most companies are no closer to understanding their customer than before. Customers still receive duplicate mailings, still get prospecting calls and still have to repeat their information when passed from one call center employee to another. CRM hasn't delivered on customer intelligence and it won't until customer data integration becomes a reality.

-- Tony Fisher, president and general manager, DataFlux Corp., Cary, N.C.

The future of business intelligence lies within IT itself. Just like the cobbler's children need shoes, IT organizations themselves will finally push for and use BI tools for their business -- the business of IT. BI tools for IT, providing analysis on customer demand -- who is consuming IT resources and at what cost -- will gain popularity and application. IT executives, who are limited today with information from disparate systems that focuses on systems performance and availability, will obtain a new level of visibility into their IT infrastructure, enabling them to truly manage the business of IT.

--- Gerry Coady, CTO, Evident Software Inc., Bloomfield, N.J.

The future of business intelligence will feature a move away from specialized applications, dedicated analysts and fixed reports and towards ubiquitous analytics everywhere world. High-quality information, correlated, corrected and tied in to key suppliers and customers will now flow to where it is needed and be presented in easy-to-use Web-based front ends. Every person in the organization from shipping clerks to the CEO will have the information appropriate to allow them to gain the insights they need. At the same time developers will have access to tools that allow fast customization, automatic generation of key components and deliver visualization and drill down at the end-user level.

-- Karen Parrish, vice president of business intelligence solutions, IBM Software Group

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