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Survey: information moving way too slow to 'compete on analytics'

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New research shows that while many companies aspire to compete on analytics, decision-makers still wait days, weeks, and even months for reports on the state of their business.

We've been hearing a lot about "competing on analytics," and maintaining a competitive edge by becoming a data-driven business. However, recent research shows that while many companies aspire to compete on analytics, decision-makers still wait days, weeks, and even months for reports on the state of their business. Most still do not have access to analytic tools.

To effectively compete on analytics, organizations need to make business intelligence data readily available to all levels of decision makers and applications across the organization, in as close to real-time mode as possible.

A few months back, as part of my work with Unisphere Research/Information Today Inc., we worked with IBM's Cognos group to prepare a study on the state of corporate performance management. We surveyed 323 respondents, members of the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG), and the results are published in "Business Intelligence Isn't Enough: How Organizations Turn to Performance Management to Drive Results in a Turbulent Economy." (Related article incorporating the results published in the latest edition of Database Trends & Applications.)

Our data shows there are considerable demands from enterprises for reports, dashboards, scorecards, or planning models to help decision makers determine the health of their business. However, many respondents say they still often end up waiting up to a month for reports. One out of four say their organization's decision-making capabilities are hampered by delays in the availability of required information.

The survey, first conducted in 2007 with a follow-up in 2009, found there has been little movement in the direction of real-time (or near real-time) analytic capabilities:

  • Most decision-makers do not have access to analytics. Overall, the largest segment of respondents, 47%, say that fewer than 10% of their employees have access or use these performance management tools on a regular basis, about the same as the survey two years ago. Only five percent can say that they now make performance management tools available to a majority of their employees - unchanged from the previous survey.
  • It takes too long to get the right information. Typically, business users must submit requests to their IT or data management departments for reports, dashboards, scorecards, or planning models. The time it takes until these requests are acted on varies, but few (15%) will see results within 24 hours. For a majority of respondents, the waiting time lasts between three days and more than a month.

Of course, once the technical team gets to a user request, it's still going to take time until the application is in the user's hands. The survey finds, for example, that most new reports or planning models take several days to build.  Even when completed, the report or model still needs to be vetted through a corporate approval process. Most respondents, 72%, report that a report or model is not ready for the business user until it has gone through at least two to five iterations for approval.

Needless to say, this is not the winning formula for competing on analytics.

However, data managers and specialists are well aware of what needs to be done to move the organization to a more analytics-driven state. While only five percent say they now provide analytic capabilities to a majority of their employees, 35% would like to do so within the next five years. The OAUG survey also finds growing support toward enabling end users to build their own interfaces to performance management information. End user self-service is also seen as the best way to proliferate and promote these solutions.

We examined the data from organizations that make BI tools more readily accessible to a larger number of decision makers, versus those that limit access to a few specialists or decision makers. We found that organizations with more "democratic" or self-service BI capabilities report faster delivery of reports and models.  For example, 29% of the "aggressive adopters" of democratic BI report that information is turned around in less than a day, versus only 13% of "laggards."

While there has been little movement since the 2007 survey in making performance management tools available to most employees across the enterprise, there are signs of movement in the right direction. For instance, there has been an uptick in the percentage of users across companies that can build their own reports, dashboards, scorecards, analysis, ad hoc queries, or planning models. In the current survey, 13% of respondents say that a majority of their end users now have these "self-service" capabilities, up from 10% in the 2007 survey.

The rise of Web 2.0-type interfaces-built on standards such as AJAX and REST-also now provide fuel for end users to quickly assemble their own front-end interfaces with less technical assistance. Indeed, the OAUG survey finds that respondents overwhelmingly agree that such "self-service" aspects-empowering the end user to build his or her own customized interfaces-will go a long way to encouraging greater adoption of performance management tools and practices. Seventy-one percent agree that this is the way to go, up from 68% in the 2007 survey.

In preparing the DBTA article on these survey results, I asked Justin Honaman, director of customer intelligence for Coca-Cola Customer Business Solutions, for his take on the challenges of self-service analytics. He says the tools are coming along, but end-user education on analytics is just as important. "Many BI tools offer solid user interfaces, but the key to successful access is educating the business user on how to make sense of large volumes of data, how to manipulate the data to answer business scenario questions, and how to create documents to communicate insights in a meaningful way."

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure