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Integrated business intelligence strategy spans app, BI developers

CIOs need to marry business application and BI development efforts to create a cohesive BI strategy, especially when adding analytical capabilities to enterprise applications.

Enabling more end users to analyze data is part of the future of business intelligence, and adding BI capabilities to business applications is one way to do that. But to succeed, CIOs need to get application developers working with BI developers so they learn from one another and create an integrated business intelligence strategy, practitioners say.

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"People spend millions on making BI tools easier for their users, but if the BI tools are tightly integrated in the [business] application from the get-go, users won't have to jump back and forth between the two worlds," said Eric Dingfelder, BI practice lead at Techport Thirteen Inc., a San Diego consulting firm whose practice focuses on Actuate and BusinessObjects BI software. "Rather than the back and forth between the BI tool and business apps, users can open a window to the BI tool while they're in the business application."

Companies are building more BI capabilities into their business applications because it's becoming easier to do so. These applications and BI tools are becoming Web-based so it's easier to build in URLs, cookies and single sign-on to pass information between BI apps and business apps.

Vendors are also embedding BI capabilities into business processes. Information Builders Inc.'s latest release of WebFocus this week at its user show in Nashville integrates business activity monitoring (BAM) capabilities and BI components to capture transaction and workflow data across several applications and business units. This capability can bring up information such as recent credit card transactions or buying history in a CRM application while a representative is processing an order, for example.

Still, to effectively marry BI with business applications and processes, the CIO needs to bring together the application and BI development teams so they get to the point of cross development, where the BI developers -- who work with business users day in and day out -- share what they learn with the business application developers.

This is not always an easy task.

As a former application developer, Dingfelder said he turned up his nose at working on the BI development team. He, like many application developers, was happy in his own app silo. It wasn't until he saw the potential job stability of BI development that he changed his mind.

Unlike developing a business app with some revisions, BI app development requires constant and quick update turnarounds. "The work of a BI developer is never done because there is always a manager who wants another report," he said. "I don't think application developers realize that helping the CIO gain more information out of a business app and the fact that BI tools are very programming-centric make for a great career path."

Joining the application and BI development teams was only natural to Chris Brady, CIO of Dealer Services Corp., a company that uses Information Builders' BI tool. Dealer Services also developed its own ERP system.

"All members of my development team do cross work," Brady said. "Everyone is expected to know how to work with the BI tool, regardless of their specialization. This makes it less likely that there will be missteps in the development process."

Dealer Services, a Carmel, Ind.-based finance provider to car dealerships, built a metrics dashboard that tracks accounts receivable and overdue loans and a report-generation dashboard that gathers information from the ERP system and sends reports to each of the company's 450 employees via email.

Involve app dev lead in BI tool choice, too

CIOs may also want to bring the app dev team leader in early to help choose a new BI tool. There are cases where the app dev team is not consulted and the company winds up choosing a tool based on bells and whistles and not the fact that most of its development team specializes in Microsoft .NET or Java.

It will be up to the CIO to make sure that the [app dev] team realizes that their applications and the information
in those applications are going to be used for analyses in a much wider BI concept.

Marcus Collins
analystBurton Group Inc.
"There are some BI tool vendors that say their product plays well with different programming languages, but they will not play as well as a tool that was written in the same application development language your team uses," Dingfelder said.

Another trend pushing the need for more application developer participation is a growing demand for new BI analytical capabilities, particularly in such areas as website performance and customer-facing applications. These are development areas falling outside the responsibilities of the BI developer and into the hands of the application development team.

"Companies are beginning to rely on the application development team for a whole new analytical area of gathering unstructured business content that is considered outside the realm of traditional BI," said Colin White, founder of BI Research in Ashland, Ore.

There can be clashes among those working on newer BI analysis projects, including operational BI or BAM, and those working on traditional BI projects, such as structured data gathered from ERP systems.

When you start creating different groups for different BI projects, there will be conflict over which technology to build, who is going to build the applications and who gets the funding for the projects, White said.

The CIO must ensure that whatever the application development team builds can be integrated into the bigger-picture BI strategy and provide clean data for analytics.

"It will be up to the CIO to make sure that the application development team realizes that their applications and the information in those applications are going to be used for analyses in a much wider BI concept and not just in system silos," said Marcus Collins, an analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group Inc.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer

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