Thursday, September 22, 2005

Service-Oriented Business Intelligence

What can SOA offer to business intelligence?

Five Types of BI

The BI vendor MicroStrategy has identified five types of business intelligence, which are (not surprisingly) covered by its own BI tools. The five types are differentiated in two ways: firstly by the number and range of users, and secondly by the degree of analytical sophistication and user interactivity. According to MicroStrategy, these two are inversely proportional – thus the greater the number and range of users, the lower the sophistication and interactivity. MicroStrategy's five types of BI can therefore be arranged in a 2x2 matrix with the top right quadrant empty.

This reflects a common attitude about BI – that because the complex stuff is hard to use, and costly to service, therefore it is only going to be used by a small number of highly skilled users working on stand-alone problems.

The complex stuff is also hard to specify. Traditional system development methods are not very helpful in defining the more complex information needs, but we are looking at alternative methods of requirements analysis. See my previous post on Business Intelligence Requirements (Sept 2005).

Closed-Loop, Holistic and Real-Time BI

In June 2003, I produced a report for the CBDI Forum on Web Services for BI, which talked about closed-loop business intelligence. Among other things, this includes the ability to generate derived data objects (such as customer clusters), which can be made available for further BI enquiry or even automatically re-input into the operational information systems. One way of doing this is to wrap BI enquiries as web services, which can then be invoked from the operational applications. This is known as Embedded BI.

Anant Jhingran, IBM's director of business intelligence, made the following points to journalists last summer.
  • it's not enough for an ETL tool to just grab data and dump it in a warehouse; you need the data that has made it into the warehouse, and the data that might be part of the business processes
  • you also need data that is outside traditional sources and outside the enterprise
  • current information is important; putting it into historical perspective is equally crucial
  • business process monitoring and business activity monitoring is about a holistic perspective on the historical and current data. It's all about synergies between the warehouse and business processes. It's all about unification around XML because XML is the way business processes are communicating the data
As reported by Rich Seeley (BAM goes XML. ADTmag, June 2004), Jhingran doesn't regard BI as real-time unless it is also holistic. Although in theoretical terms you can have one without the other, in practical terms it probably doesn't make sense to separate them. So let's call this Integrated BI. Service-oriented technologies (including web services, XML and grid) undoubtedly have a useful role in implementing Integrated BI.

SOBI Roadmap

We can identify four general ways of managing and implementing BI, as follows.

BI activities are decoupled and desynchronized from the business and from operational systems. BI activities are performed by independent knowledge workers. Current BI practice?
BI enquiries are wrapped as services and invoked from the operational systems.
  • For example, calculating the appropriate credit limit or policy for a specific customer in real time, based on a 360 degree picture of the customer and his recent behaviour.
Short-term SOA opportunity?
BI activities are coordinated with one another, and synchronized with business and operations.
  • Faster and more effective business response to external change
  • Greater consistency and coordination of planning effort across the enterprise.
Medium-term SOA opportunity?
Orchestrate BI services across a federated management or governance structure. Collaboration between knowledge workers. Longer-term SOA opportunity?

I'd like to develop this roadmap further, with the help of my readers. I should be most interested to hear from vendors and others. Who in your organization is doing this stuff? Please let me know about your products, projects and future plans.

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