Beating Business Intelligence Inadequacies

Susan Andre Survival Strategy Column

On the public Internet, an information portal employs a profile of users' information requirements and the services of a search engine to help consumers quickly find information to match their needs. An Internet portal provides consumers with a single interface to the vast network of servers that constitute the Internet. Information portals in the corporate environment have a similar objective: to provide business users with a single interface to information scattered throughout the enterprise. The first generation of portal solutions were based around helping users organise and share information such as e-mail, discussion group material, reports, memos and meeting minutes. These are referred to as collaborative portals.

As requirements for portals matured, so did the need arise for executives, managers and business analysts to increase ease of access to corporate information for making key business decisions. Current enterprise information portals (EIPs) therefore are able to support a wide range of different types of corporate business information, plus offer significant potential to organisations to leverage this information for business benefits. These latest portals are referred to as decision support portals.

Supply chain

EIPs for decision support help users organise and find corporate information in the set of systems that constitute the business information supply chain. Information about the company's regular day-to-day business operations is stored in operational databases, managed by transaction processing applications and enterprise resource planning systems. To analyse how these business operations change over time and to look for opportunities to reduce costs and gain competitive advantage, data is extracted from operational databases and loaded into a decision processing system by data warehouse extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) tools. Analyses and reports are created from the information in the decision processing system by business intelligence (BI) tools and analytic applications.

These reports and analyses are distributed to users via a regular client/server network, a corporate intranet or e-mail. Business users apply their knowledge of the business to the information obtained from the decision processing system and make decisions about what actions (if any) are required to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the company's business operations. These decisions, actions, and associated analyses and reports are frequently recorded in word processing documents, spreadsheets and e-mail messages and stored in a collaborative processing system managed by office and/or groupware products.

Measuring impact

As actions are taken, the decision processing system can once again be used to measure the impact on the business so that new actions can be taken when necessary. This iterative approach to decision-making forms a closed-loop decision processing system that provides users with the corporate information they need for effective and accurate decision-making.

I believe the promise offered by the corporate portal to capture and share knowledge is very alluring, especially for the knowledge-based enterprise suffocating under the chaotic overload of all types of information.

Integrated links to external information is a requirement of any successful business portal. Without this kind of linkage, a corporate portal risks becoming another island of information in the organisation, requiring users to hop back and forth between internal feeds and Internet feeds. There are other portal requirements: to blend customer-management technologies with other customer-focused applications, services and content; adding training and technical services; and providing easy access from a single centrally managed, customisable view.

Corporate portals reflect a fundamental transformation of our view of enterprise information management, from a series of isolated tasks to the co-ordinated integration of knowledge. The role of corporate portals is not simply to help individuals make sense of the volume of information at hand. More importantly, portals help users cope with the breakdown in our ability to maintain the underlying connections between information sources – the basis of knowledge and knowledge sharing.

Corporate portals co-ordinate rich content within a relatively narrow community. These portals are often built of large enterprise intranet applications. They support the decision core of a particular mission. Their content is much broader than commercial portals since there is far greater complexity to the information used to make organisational decisions – compared with an individual deciding to buy or sell shares using a personal portal.

In conclusion, new generations of interactive portals offer a vehicle for businesses to engage in two-way communication with partners and other external constituents speeding up business processes and augmenting the knowledge base.