The Shades of Business Intelligenceby Pradeep Chaudhary on 2012-07-28 09:16:33
A Business Intelligence (BI) system is a key component of a company's IT framework. It is used by business users to report on, analyze and optimize business operations.
Companies seeking to implement a BI solution must first and foremost decide what they wish to achieve from the solution – is the information required for strategic purpose or tactical purpose or operational purpose – or a mix of all.
BI is normally perceived as a software to be used by upper management or analysts. The requirements for a BI project will often list the ability to do trending over years of data, create alluring dashboards and KPI metrics showing trends over months and years.
And most often, that is what is built.
Over a few years of usage, the company then realizes the need for finer drilled down data – which becomes difficult to get as the original architecture was built around the strategic / tactical level premise.
Definitions of Strategic, Tactical and Operational vary – depending on which analyst firm your company subscribes to.
A small example will help to comprehend. Consider the questions below. Answers to each will be determined by the ‘level’ of data available.
A) How many containers were handled by the Atlanta office in the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively ? – addressed by Strategic level data.
B) How many containers were individually handled by the four warehouses under Atlanta office for the second quarter of 2012 ? - addressed by Tactical level data.
C) What are the container numbers which have gate-in and gate-out at warehouse ‘A’ two hours back ? – addressed by Operational level data.
Strategic BI is future oriented. It uses historical high level data to find trends and patterns which will be used for long term planning. The focus is primarily future direction and growth.
Tactical BI deals with short range data. It helps the company know where its plan stands and what action needs to be taken to rectify the deviations.
Companies who have designed their BI to answer just (A) and (B) above will find it intriguing to get the answer to (C). That’s because the design for an operational level BI solution is different.
Operational BI is concerned with managing and optimizing daily business operations. Operational BI is what can be referred to as ‘real-time’ BI. It helps the Line- of- Business users to make quick decisions and be more agile.
The ability to retrieve this kind of real time information will depend on the architecture used for building and deploying the BI solution.
For operational intelligence, the Data Warehouse which feeds data to the BI software needs to be refreshed frequently; perhaps every few minutes. On the other hand, Tactical or Strategic level solutions can suffice with even once- a- day refresh.
The Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) approach for an operational BI will be vastly different than for Strategic or Tactical intelligence. Operational BI systems must capture large volumes of data in near real time without degrading the performance of existing jobs on source or target systems. Another challenge is to recover quickly from any outages – thus making it necessary to build a highly resilient and available system.
The bottom line thus is - Be clear on your BI objectives. Be clear on what you seek of it. Plan now what your future requirements would be. These in turn will drive the approach and architecture for your BI implementation. After all, the framework determines the efficient execution of a task.
By Pradeep Chaudhary
Domain Consultant at Tata Consultancy Services.