A Roadmap to Intelligent Business (part I)
What is Intelligent Business?
Intelligent business is a fundamental shift in thinking for the world of data warehousing and business intelligence (BI). It is about putting BI at the heart of the enterprise and integrating it into operational business processes. The idea is that operational business process applications and portals can request trusted business intelligence on demand so that operations become “intelligent” by being guided by BI.
There is automatic monitoring of operational business activity events, requests for just-in-time BI and on-demand requests for predictive analysis to provide a recommendation for example. In the intelligent business, BI is not targeted at people such as business analysts for example but targeted at applications within a business process. The objective is ubiquitous BI in every activity in every business process across the enterprise so as to guide business operations towards achieving strategic business objectives. In most cases the operational business user doesn’t know they are using BI. Behind the scenes, BI web services make it possible to dynamically integrate with operational systems. In that sense intelligent business requires that a business supports
- On- demand requests for specific intelligence e.g. about a specific customer
- On-demand requests for automatic analysis (done on behalf of users) of data, rule-driven automatic alerts and automatic recommendations
- Automatic capturing of events in business operations that trigger the integration of other data on-demand, to be automatically analysed and manual or automatic actions taken. This is known as business activity monitoring (BAM)
All this requires that BI is used in the context of an operational business task being performed in a business process. Therefore, business process activities have to be ‘attached’ to business objectives and goals declared in corporate performance management (CPM) software to help a company align business processes with its business objectives. Once this is done, we can then associate or target BI at specific business process activities so that the BI is used in an operational context to achieve a strategic business objective. Also this vision says that the number of requests for BI from people using BI tools is likely to be dwarfed by the number of requests coming from operational applications being used in front line operations by employees, partners, suppliers or customers. Figure 1 below shows the concept of intelligent business.
Notice from Figure 1 that operational applications surround and are ‘wired’ to rule driven BI services that access consistent integrated data in data warehouses and data marts. Also the CPM software is not only integrated with BI but also integrated with business processes so that we know what process activities are associated with what strategic objectives. Through the enterprise portal, people see their alerts, their recommendations, their actions, the on-demand BI that is relevant to their role in the context of any business process activity they are performing at that time. They also see the collaboration tools that they need to do their jobs and collaborate with others.
The Need for Common Metadata
A pre-requisite to integrating BI into operational business processes is that BI is trustworthy, consistent and has common understanding. Common data names, common data definitions, common data integrity rules across all BI systems are fundamental to making this possible. Without this, integrating BI into operations could cause untold damage to business operations especially if automated analysis and actions cause business changes to be made. Therefore the very first step involved in intelligent business is to ensure all BI data stores and BI tools use common naming, common definitions, common integrity rules and structuring of common data across all BI systems Common metadata is the foundation stone to consistency and integrated BI. Once data is consistently defined in BI systems we are ready to integrate BI into the enterprise to empower operational business processes with just in time BI.
Having laid the foundation stone of common metadata, intelligent business requires that business intelligence is integrated into operational processes using enterprise business integration software (Figure 2). At present, enterprise business integration is dominating IT investment because it significantly reduces costs in business operations, improves efficiency and increases self-service.
Many companies are integrating to join up their business while simplifying their IT set-up and getting rid of IT complexity to get more out of their existing systems (see figure 3). This IT simplification is like a ‘corporate Atkins diet’.
Companies are seeking to standardise on IT infrastructure by going with fewer vendors who offer integrated technology platforms. We are seeing this in BI with standard BI platforms (a single end-to-end suite of integrated tools for building and deploying integrated BI) now available from single vendors (e.g. Business Objects, Cognos, Oracle, SAP, SAS). On the operational side, we are also seeing single complete business integration platform (technology stack) solutions now available from infrastructure vendors (e.g. IBM, BEA, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft) that support a common approach to all internal and external integration of user interfaces, business processes, applications and data. Integration platforms consist of a suite or ‘stack’ of integrated technologies including:
- Enterprise portal technology with integrated collaboration tools
- Business process management technologies
- A common shared rules service
- An application server
- Application integration technology
- Data integration technology for on-demand data integration targeted at applications
You might ask what this all has to do with in intelligent business. The answer is simple. If a common integration platform is being used to integrate operational business processes across the enterprise, then trusted BI can be plugged into this platform to maximise the opportunity of creating an intelligent business. The intelligent business must include key technology components from both the operational and analytical worlds. These components are:
- A standard business intelligence platform for business performance management
- A standard enterprise business integration platform
- A shared business vocabulary via metadata management and metadata integration
- Corporate performance management software integrated with analytic applications and with business processes