The knock on business intelligence (BI) is that it's too complex, restricting its use to data analysts and techies. That's ironic, since BI actually goes to the heart of business strategy and competitive advantage, priorities that are much closer to the manager's heart. John Schwarz, CEO of SAP-owned Business Objects, agrees that BI has had a difficult time penetrating the executive suite. Now, however, he thinks it's time for the BI value proposition to be heard and acted upon by managers.
Why hasn't BI won over the ordinary executive?
John Schwarz: Getting information into the hands of executives is tough. Many customers haven't done a good job figuring out where the information is coming from. Many different systems see the same piece of information from different perspectives. There are databases for [e.g.] marketing, sales, products, orders, support, and contact management. The trick is to figure out which data element is the canonical point of view. Other systems then need to be configured so that they take their lead from that one single view. That is master data management (MDM).
But MDM's been around for a while.
Schwarz: Very few companies have done it well. The banks are leading, because their business depends on getting it right. A bank may have separate views of you as a credit card customer, a loan customer, and a wealth management customer. These systems are all different. They were built independently of one another. The integration of information is a fundamental step to getting this trusted data view. Another step is sharing this information in your ecosystem of suppliers and customers so that all of you have a common view of each entity.
You're talking about structured information. What about the unstructured variety?
Schwarz: There are two kinds of unstructured data: numerical data that's unstructured because it's not in a database or a managed file, and data that is text or media. We have tools to handle unstructured data. Here's an example: at a call center, calls are recorded and transcribed into text. BI tools can understand that text -- pull out mood information and customers' intentions and make those part of a marketing database. The link between structured and unstructured data can be maintained. For example, if you're going over information from the call center, you can link to the original call and listen to it.
And executives can use these kinds of features without being techies?
Schwarz: My CMO uses a tool for guided navigation search that gives him access to all of the product and customer data in our database. He can slice and dice the data using the capacity of the search tool to identify trends and market behavior. He can identify opportunities, zero in on specific customers, help the sales organization build campaigns that target specific opportunities, and, at the back end, tell the product team what they need to fix. Anybody can do it. Sure, not all BI is going to be done using queries or search, but the tools are usable enough for executives to build their own access.