IT as the Enabler of Self-Service BI

Below is more from Information Management’s Webcast by DM Radio, “The Last Mile: Data Visualization in a Mashed-Up”. This Webcast was hosted by Eric Kavanagh and included BI consultants William Laurent and Malcolm Chisholm, and InetSoft's Product Manager Byron Igoe.

Eric Kavanagh (EK): IT certainly plays a critical role in this stuff, especially in making sure the data is accurate, is trusted, is getting to the right place at the right time, but is this mashup technology a good opportunity. William?

William Laurent (WL): Yes, I think especially with cloud computing being so prominent on everyone’s radar, I think that for years we have been asking the wrong question. We’ve been asking how can we align IT with the business, and we have COSO and IDLE and all these methodologies, and I think someone mentioned about self-service business intelligence. I see IT as the enabler of self-service. So you have software as a service. I think you mentioned that, Eric. You also have platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, so IT becomes an enabler of self-service. It becomes a provisioned. What does it provision? It provisions networks, storage of data. A lot of this is going to be transparent, cloud-based, so my question to the vendors is where I see IT going, this is how I see IT evolving, and I how I see business intelligence evolving. So how do mashups fit into here? How are mashups going to evolve with software as a service platforms, and infrastructure as a service.

EK: Malcolm, we have these interesting divergent forces, one we’ve been talking about is the cloud, software as a service. It seems on the one hand software as a service is great because it puts functionality in the hands of business users in a very simple way.

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We see a lot of these purpose-built Web sites out there, places like Bitly and Twitter, and even Facebook and some others, iContact, for example, A lot of these are very specific types of functionality being provided to the business user that traditionally one had to go through IT to get. So on the one hand it’s good. But is it possible that these services make it look so easy, it actually increases friction between business and IT? What do you think of all that?

Malcolm Chisholm (MC): I think so. I think that if you look at the technology, the tools, the promise of data mashups, it’s a fairly obvious business proposition for end users. Then you go to IT and you want to know what kind of data do we have? Where is it? What does it mean? How do I get it? They can’t answer those questions. And the data that is out there is dirty and needs filtering. And the other thing I think is that IT is the only area of the enterprise with institutional amnesia. We have legions of analysts who are paid to discover what it is that IT has done in the past. Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s analysts were really involved in automating business processes and worked directly with end users. Today we’ve switched from process-centric to data centric projects.

And the analysts don’t really do much source data analysis, and it’s flabbergasting to me. Not only that but when they do their piece of source data analysis, and they discover some of the answers to how they can satisfy my data demand, everything is instantly forgotten. So if the same questions are asked six months later, the analysts have to go back to work and repeat what they have done. So I think this sort of knowledge management about data is an inherent challenge that IT has to step up to. Hopefully the demand for mashups will force IT to mature in this area, so they will do information management in a proper way, which they really should have been doing for years now.

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