IT consolidates BI tools as use expands

IT consolidates BI tools as use expands

As companies look to extend business intelligence capabilities to growing numbers of end users, IT operations are consolidating multiple BI tool sets and forging closer ties with business units.

As companies look to extend business intelligence capabilities to growing numbers of end users, IT operations are consolidating multiple BI tool sets and forging closer ties with business units. Attendees at a Computerworld Business Intelligence Perspectives conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, said tool consolidation should make BI tools easier to use and reduce IT support requirements.

For example, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide is replacing six reporting and analysis tools and standardizing on Information Builders Inc.'s WebFocus software. An official at the hotel operator in Minnetonka, Minn., declined to identify the six products that are being replaced.

Carlson will use WebFocus for reporting and to deliver business scorecard applications, which monitor adherence to corporate goals, to each of its 870 hotels.

The company started the effort to whittle its list of BI tools in January. Since then, the hotelier has cut its count of report templates from 210 to 70, said Robert Richards, Carlson's director of application development.

Two months ago, Carlson stopped using one of the six reporting tools, and it plans to eliminate the rest during the next 18 months, he said.

Having multiple BI products made it difficult for users to find data, and supporting all of the tools left Carlson's development shop backlogged, Richards said.

"The key is making sure you don't do the development more than once," he noted. "We'll be able to display information to the business much faster because IT won't have to support multiple tools."

The new scorecards will allow the company to provide users with metrics they can use to adjust operations when necessary, Richards added.

Partners Preferred

Union Pacific Railroad Corp. in Omaha began an effort two months ago to consolidate its lineup of BI tools from Hyperion Solutions Corp., Information Builders, SAS Institute Inc., Siebel Systems Inc. and SPSS Inc., said Rich Dickeson, director of business analytics at the rail company.

"I am looking for companies that will play well together," Dickeson said. "The fewer things I have to support, the better. If it is going to be two or three, I want those two or three to have partnerships with each other."

Dickeson said he expects a bit of pushback from users, since some departments have five- or six-year investments in specific products.

Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said BI has reached a tipping point as companies move to expand access to decision-support data beyond power users to a new and much larger realm of users, such as business executives and frontline managers.

Today, most companies with BI tools offer only 5 percent to 7 percent of their users access to the capabilities, Gile said. Over the next several years, he expects that about half of the employees within organizations will begin to use the technology.

Such an expansion will require companies to reduce the number of BI tools they support, Gile added. "If you have 15 BI solutions and you try to manage them, pay for them and make sure they're synchronized -- you can't," he said.

Meanwhile, Rent-A-Center Inc. has put its business users in charge of deciding how to use Business Objects SA's BusinessObjects XI software, which Rent-A-Center is now installing, said Tony Fuller, vice president and CIO at the Plano, Texas-based household goods rental chain.

Fuller said Rent-A-Center's business units are creating the plans for the BI tools effort, and the IT operation will deliver on those plans.

"That shows we're serious about it being a business function," Fuller said. "I approach [business executives] as a business leader, not an IT executive. A lot of these initiatives are IT-driven. We have a tendency to move forward at 100 miles an hour without taking consideration of the business [requirements]."

The BI tools, which the company will roll out over the next 18 months, will eventually be used by 35 or 40 executives and managers in addition to about a dozen power users, Fuller said. -- Computerworld (US)

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