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Business Intelligence Software Coming Up Short?

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Business Intelligence software can play a vital role in helping IT and knowledge workers get a handle on increasingly huge warehouses of customer data and other information critical to their sales and overall business. But does that go far enough?

In many cases, the answer is no.

That's according to a new Forrester Consulting survey of 226 business and IT professionals, which was commissioned by enterprise search vendor Endeca, a provider of search applications designed to complement and augment BI software.

The report said that in spite of the millions invested by BI software developers and on customers using their products, today typical BI solutions struggle to keep up with the increasing volume and complexity of data -- even when those solutions are customized. The pain is particularly acute when it comes to decisions that need to be made quickly and are based on changing demands that might not conform to predetermined report structures.

"We're moving to the next stage of people in a business saying, 'If I can get the reports, why can't I slice the data a different way and see it in the context of blog postings about our products, and sort and filter that information further?'" Paul Sonderegger, chief strategist at Endeca, told InternetNews.com.

"Traditional reports and dashboards answer questions the company knew to ask," Sonderegger said. But those "will have to be complemented with next-generation discovery environments where people can ask questions they just realized matter in the moment."

As one example, Sonderegger said a BI system can provide important information like the fact that warranty claims on a company's most popular product were up 40 percent in the past month.

"The report answered the question it was designed to answer, but now what? Do the warranty claims vary across packaging? Across retailers?" Sonderegger said. "There isn't a pre-baked report for these kinds of questions, which requires diving into data that's probably sitting on different servers for parts suppliers, contracts and product lifecycle management, and figure out what changed."

Complicating matters is that the user who typically asks these sorts of questions isn't involved in IT decision-making: They're usually on the business side.

"They need a self-service discovery solution because they need a quick answer," Sonderegger added.

The report concludes there is "an extensive backlog of BI requests" that requires knowledge workers to continually look for alternatives for getting the information they need. Of those surveyed, 51 percent indicated that BI requests stack up in their organization, while 66 percent cited too many requests on the IT list as the main reason for the backlog.

Also, knowledge workers seek IT help for BI requests on average 46 percent of the time.

"Companies need BI tools and applications that combine the simplicity, and resulting zero training, of a search-like UI on top of reporting, querying, and analysis to make BI pervasive throughout the knowledge worker community," the report said.

Sonderegger acknowledged the big BI providers have come out with new products to address the need for easier access to less standard or structured information sources.

"The challenge they face is that they have to depart from a lot of the assumptions in the traditional data world that don't handle jagged data well, because it's not coming from traditional rectangular sources of columns and rows," he said.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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