New Competitive Weapon: Pervasive BI and the Culture of ‘Now’

There’s no question that integrating analytical and transaction data to deliver “Pervasive Business Intelligence” can be a significant project for many enterprises. However, the good news is that it’s a capability that’s within the reach of many enterprises today. That’s the gist of a Q&A with three industry thought leaders, published in the latest edition of Intelligent Enterprise.Mark Madsen spoke at length with Jeff Bedell, executive vice president of technology and CTO of MicroStrategy, Stephen Brobst, CTO of Teradata, and James Markarian, senior VP of product strategy and CTO of Informatica, about Pervasive BI, and how it differs from data warehousing as we’ve known it.

(The three executives also collaborated on a thought leadership white paper on the topic, available for download here with registration.)

The impact of Pervasive BI is that it reshapes the way companies deal with moments of truth – something every company has, every day. That’s a moment, for example, when a company representative is face-to-face, on the phone, or online with a customer. Problems may need to be addressed; up-sell opportunities may present themselves. Or, several truckloads of products arrive at a distribution center at the same time. Which gets priority? Which can wait? Whatever the reason, decisions need to be made on the spot. Do representatives and decision-makers have all the up-to-date relevant information they need to make the right decision during these moments of truth?

Traditionally, BI has been a dark art in which analysts poured over and analyzed data stored in a data warehouse and made recommendations to decision makers. In recent years, the industry has made great strides in making BI data timelier – from months and weeks old, to days and hours old. Now, Pervasive BI promises to blend this analytical data with real-time transactional data, analyze it on the fly, and deliver the information to front-line employees and managers.

The goal of Pervasive BI is to serve up just-in-time insights when and where they are needed. It may be based on historical data coming from the warehouse, it may be based on real-time data coming right in from a production system, or it could likely be a combination of both. “Traditionally data warehousing has been focused on the corporate ivory tower,” Stephen Brobst said in the interview. “This is all about getting the data beyond strategy into execution.”

Businesses are starting to recognize that BI capabilities need to be made available across the enterprise, working behind the everyday applications that employees use to do their jobs. “People need to recognize that to make smarter decisions, we need to inject things like predictive analytics into the data stream — not just show the numbers but actually have intelligence as part of the numbers that are coming across to make tactical decisions as well as strategic decisions,” Jeff Bedell said.

In essence, end-users need not even be aware of the data warehouse and analytical engine running in the background. They see the resulting information that is displayed in front of them, to help them resolve the problem with the customer or distributor they have on the phone at that moment.

Often, moving to this capability – a “culture of ‘now,’” as expressed by James Markarian – isn’t a technology challenge, but an organizational challenge. Many organizations simply aren’t conditioned to think in terms of tactical decision-making based on real-time analytics. Once the advantages are seen in one part of the business, other parts of the business will want to get on board. “The main thing organizations need is a catalyst, which comes in the form of having a business case. What we’ve seen is that once people get a taste of operationalizing BI it has kind of a domino effect inside the organization,” Markarian said.

Ultimately, Pervasive BI is also an important step on the journey to automated decisioning. Few companies are at this point yet, but the executives agreed that this would be an important differentiator for competitiveness in the years ahead.

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