One of the marks of a successful business intelligence software system is the ability to quickly produce consolidated summaries known as dashboards. The dashboards are, in turn, related to the growing trend of centralising data. Brisbane-based Infohrm Group created a dashboard recently for the University of Southern Queensland, the Australian Catholic University and Swinburne University of Technology. It charts resource management, planning and productivity.
This was facilitated by a $2 million grant to the University of Southern Queensland from the federal government under the second round of its Workplace Productivity program, which aimed to encourage improvements in the management of workplace change.
The dashboard pulls together information previously separated by the existence of separate IT silos for various activities.
"Sourcing, integration and consolidation of data from multiple heterogeneous operational systems is the key to delivering powerful cross-functional business intelligence to each of the universities," says managing director of Infohrm, Anastasia Ellerby.
A related trend in the business intelligence area is the centralisation of data, so that head office has a better picture of how an organisation is functioning.
Worksafe Management Systems, a Queensland company, has switched to a web-based structure for faster collection of key data for its occupational health and safety management system. One customer is Queensland Health.
"The web-based system not only makes the working environment safer, it can eliminate complex paperwork and allows risks and incidents to be logged in real time, directly into the system," says Worksafe chief executive Bob Johnson.
"The new system means that there is one central database for the whole state, rather than databases in each district. We can report instantly across the whole state, and spot trends when before they were seemingly invisible."
However, the director of Australia's Altis Consulting, Gavin Cooke, warns the volume of information collected can be too high.
"People are very reluctant to admit that the grain of data is higher than they need," he says. "Most of it they don't need for more than three months. You can summarise weekly, monthly, quarterly."
Business intelligence companies are emphasising the need to get data processed, analysed and summarised in real time.
Dave Lafferty is senior vice-president, global marketing and chief marketing officer for Ottawa-based business intelligence supplier Cognos.
"Most companies are looking at a forward view of the company rather than rear vision financial records," he says. "They're moving ahead from a spreadsheet planning approach to a performance management approach."
Senior IT troubleshooter Becky Wanta, on a recent visit to Australia, outlined the practical difficulties of getting different operating systems to co-operate.
Until recently, she was chief technology officer at global soft-drink giant PepsiCo.
When she arrived in September 2003, she found databases in 150 countries worldwide plus another three in New York, two in Chicago and two in Texas.
Converting them into a single, authorised corporate version in one location was a long drawn-out task, not for the faint-hearted.
Then there were legacy computer systems. Each of the five main operational areas had its own type of computer architecture. Getting a seamless transfer of information between them meant turning to a relatively recent concept, service-oriented architecture (SOA), using systems from a specialist supplier of integration software, TIBCO.
"It's our job as senior IT executives to understand what the business people want," says Wanta.
"The challenge with an organisation is that they're used to after-the-fact analytics. It took me two years to get acceptance that information is not a technology play, it is a business play."
Wanta says business intelligence is misunderstood.
"It's after the fact, large data chunks. The real value is putting real-time information into the right format at the right time, and into the hands of the decision makers."
Melbourne-based Saul Cagonoff is principal architect for California-based TIBCO. "That's one of the key frontier areas in this whole business intelligence area, delivering data to the dashboards in ways that the customer can massage the data," he says.
"A lot of people are using the data warehouse as an archive, but accessing some data directly. Integration has been notoriously inefficient, creating point-to-point communication paths that can only be used for one purpose."
Altis Consulting's Cooke says the most important information is gathered externally.
"I tell customers the most important information they need is what isn't in the system. It's the data that is missing from my warehouse that is the most valuable."
• A dashboard brings together information that was previously separated because of separate IT silos for different activities.
• Business intelligence companies say they need to have data processed, analysed and summarised in real time.
© Fairfax Business Media
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