Business Intelligence Expands its Horizons – and Yours

The concept of business intelligence (BI) — finding and understanding data to better run businesses — has been around for years. But this year it takes on new importance for CIOs. According to analyst firm Gartner, IT departments have focused on how their companies can grow and employ software systems to help executives make better decisions. That will put a premium on those with a business intelligence degree and an eye on all the trends.

And those trends will bring many changes, transforming how BI happens in companies by 2014, says Gartner. Applications will have forecasting and prediction algorithms. About 15 percent of BI implementations will incorporate collaboration and social media into decision-making systems. A third of BI use will happen over handheld devices. Companies will also put business intelligence systems in cloud computing to make advanced capabilities and processing speed available to companies of all sizes.

These trends are already appearing in the market. Verizon Communications will offer cloud ad BI services to its customers. MicroStrategy plans a series of iPhone and iPad BI apps.

One big reason is that business intelligence is no longer an application for upper management only. Increasingly, BI finds itself on business front lines. BI systems must be accessible to non-technologists. IT will have its work cut out to make business intelligence as obvious, straightforward, and usable as a smartphone app.

BI will need flexibility that it has never before possessed. Analyst firm Forrester Research calls this “agile BI,” in which applications must pull together data from virtually any context and allow users to analyze incredibly complex data. Not only does that mean strategic analysis for a business, but it also extends into areas that seem like operations processing: patient records management, insurance claims administration and underwriting, or mortgage loan processing. In those contexts, BI cannot take for granted leisurely schedules. Applications will have to work in real-time, using in-memory capabilities to speed response time.

This is beyond technology alone and could require an information systems degree with an emphasis on analyzing such intricate collections of information, whether structured or unstructured. Imagine having to pull together data from massive Oracle databases, applications written in-house, Twitter, and Facebook, all for a single use. That is the new world of business intelligence.

However, basics are still important. According to an HP survey, some of the top business intelligence initiatives are data quality, data governance, and master data management — information that is always accurate in flexible systems that do whatever users need and want.