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Getting Search Into Business Intelligence

The first challenge for businesses looking to get search into BI is to identify the capabilities necessary for the user.

VentanaView

Summary

Ventana Research views business intelligence (BI) as one of the key enablers of effective performance management. While BI tools are maturing, access to business intelligence data is still sometimes cumbersome. At the same time as companies have been wondering how to deploy BI easily to more users, Internet search engines and technologies have changed people’s expectations concerning information access in general. Taking note of this change in attitude, many BI vendors have announced they will incorporate search capabilities into their products. For the business and technology leaders in user organizations who are grappling with this cutting-edge issue, the first challenge is to identify the business drivers for the convergence of BI and search.

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The first business driver Ventana Research sees is making previously run reports in BI repositories easier to find. The ability of search engines to deliver useful results in a few seconds based only on a keyword has led business users to question why BI tools require them already to know what report holds the information they want. Many of the BI vendors have partnered with search engine vendors to enable keyword searches against titles, row and column headers and other report text. The list of returned results can be ranked and sorted by relevance to help the user quickly find the right information. This capability can lower training costs and increase user adoption as organizations broaden BI access to more people throughout the enterprise. Searching BI repositories also can help IT organizations in their data governance initiatives by providing an inventory of reports that contain sensitive information that should be available only to authorized personnel.

A second, related business driver is to be able quickly to get the answer to a specific question. For example, a search string of sales, forecast, variance%, colas, east, quarter1 would return a value such as “-10%,” instead of the link to the sales report for the first quarter. Some of the BI and search vendors provide some basic capabilities in this area, but the user must know how to structure the search phase properly. Although this type of natural-language query is still an immature search technology, both IBM, Microsoft and SAP have been conducting research into it. Making it easier for end users to create their own ad-hoc queries can increase business productivity and reduce IT report development workloads.

The third driver for the convergence of BI and search is to provide business contexts for decision-making. Users need to understand the larger context that is causing trends and variances in their BI numbers. For example, responses to declining sales of a product likely will be different if, on one hand, a competitor has introduced a new product with enhanced functionality or, on the other, the competitor has started heavily discounting the price of a current product. In order to determine the proper context, organizations need to link competitors’ news releases and internal competitive information from sales debriefing interviews – that is, unstructured content – with the structured BI data. This facility can help companies respond faster to changing market conditions and create action plans that more effectively reduce threats and help capitalize on opportunities.

Assessment

Ventana Research sees at least these three likely business drivers for the expansion of BI and search. We advise companies to take a phased approach based on a prioritization of these business drivers and an evaluation of the complexity of the technology implementations needed to address them. Absent any other compelling guide, we recommend starting with the capability to search previously run reports in a BI repository, which is the easiest driver to address from a technology perspective, even if an organization has to build that capability itself using Google’s OneBox for Enterprise or some other search appliance. Next we recommend addressing the integration of structured and unstructured data, which requires quite a bit of work on the part of IT to create the relationships between the different data types in a semantic layer. We advise companies to address the replacement of ad-hoc query interfaces with search last, since the natural-language processing functionality needed is complex and the current offerings are immature.

About Ventana Research
Ventana Research is the leading Performance Management research and advisory services firm. By providing expert insight and detailed guidance, Ventana Research helps clients operate their companies more efficiently and effectively. These business improvements are delivered through a top-down approach that connects people, process, information and technology. What makes Ventana Research different from other analyst firms is a focus on Performance Management for finance, operations and IT. This focus, plus research as a foundation and reach into a community of over two million corporate executives through extensive media partnerships, allows Ventana Research to deliver a high-value, low-risk method for achieving optimal business performance. To learn how Ventana Research Performance Management workshops, assessments and advisory services can impact your bottom line, visit www.ventanaresearch.com.
2006 Ventana Research

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