BI sector set for user growth and consolidation

With access to Business Intelligence applications set to expand to general users, consolidation of BI tools is on the cards at many organisations. Heather Havenstein reports

As companies look to extend

business intelligence capabilities to growing numbers of end users, IT departments are consolidating multiple BI tool sets and forging closer ties with other business units.

Attendees at the recent Computerworld Business Intelligence Perspectives conference in the US said tool consolidation should make BI tools easier to use and reduce IT support requirements.

For example, Carlson Hospitality is replacing six reporting and analysis tools and standardising on Information Builders’ WebFocus software. An official at the hotel operator declined to identify the six products that are being replaced.

Carlson will use WebFocus for reporting and to deliver business scorecard applications which will monitor adherence to corporate goals to each of its 870 hotels around the world.

The company started the effort to whittle down its list of BI tools in January. Since then it has cut its count of report templates from 210 to 70, says Robert Richards, its director of application development.

Two months ago, Carlson stopped using one of the six reporting tools and the company plans to eliminate the rest during the next 18 months, he says.

Having multiple BI products made it difficult for users to find data and supporting all the tools left Carlson’s development shop backlogged, Richards says.

“The key is making sure you don’t do the development more than once,” he says. “We’ll be able to display information to the business much faster because IT won’t have to support multiple tools.”

The new scorecards will allow the company to provide users with metrics they can use to adjust operations when necessary, Richards says.

Railway operator Union Pacific began consolidating its line-up of BI tools from Hyperion, Information Builders, SAS, Siebel and SPSS two months ago, says Rich Dickeson, director of business analytics at the company.

“I am looking for companies that will play well together,” Dickeson says. “The fewer things I have to support the better. If it is going to be two or three I want those two or three to have partnerships with each other.”

He says he expects a bit of pushback from users since some departments have five- or six-year investments in specific products.

Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Research, says BI has reached a tipping point as companies move to expand access to decision-support data beyond power users to a new and much larger realm of users, such as business executives and front-line managers.

Today, most companies with BI tools offer only 5-7% of their users access to them, Gile says. Over the next several years, he expects that up to 50% of the employees within organisations will begin to use BI.

Such an expansion will require companies to reduce the number of BI tools they support, he says. “If you have 15 BI solutions and you try to manage them, pay for them and make sure they’re synchronised — you can’t.”

Meanwhile, Rent-A-Center has put its business users in charge of deciding how to use Business Objects’ BusinessObjects XI software, which Rent-A-Center is now installing, says Tony Fuller, vice-president and CIO at the household goods rental chain.

Fuller says Rent-A-Center’s business units are creating the plans for the BI tools effort and the IT operation will deliver on those plans.

The BI tools which the company will roll out over the next 18 months will eventually be used by 35-40 executives and managers in addition to about a dozen power users, he says.

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