Collaborative BI Sets Stage for Collective User Action
Originally published October 17, 2012
Collaborative business intelligence is a relatively new concept in which BI and collaboration technologies are beginning to merge in support of a new and improved decision-making environment.
Organizations need not implement a full collaborative BI environment in a single step. The collaborative framework illustrated in the figure below suggests an evolutionary approach (going from left to right) to enabling the capabilities of collaborative BI.
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Figure 1: Organizations can implement several different levels of collaborative BI and decision-making capabilities.The BI environment consists of technology that supports the overall BI and data warehousing system. These products are used by IT staff to create the repository of data that business workers then use to create reports and analytics. Many BI vendors provide support for both collaborative interaction and information enhancement in their software – by enabling the distribution and annotation of reports and query results, for example.
Collaborative interaction is usually supported by integrated instant messaging and email interfaces to applications such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs and Lotus Notes, which are part of the office environment in the diagram. Several BI vendors also enable BI results to be integrated into collaboration platforms; that extends the BI environment with content management, search and certain other collaborative features. BI vendors may interface to social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. That can indirectly add social computing capabilities, such as communities and user profiles, to a BI solution.
The application suites in the office environment include email systems, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools and personal databases; in some cases, they also feature on-premises and cloud-based tools for social computing. These applications are most commonly used to share BI findings and communicate about them, including with users who don’t have direct access to BI systems. But Office and rival products can also be used to enhance the content and context of reports and query results through the addition of comments, external information and expert opinions.
The enterprise collaboration platform depicted in Figure 1 provides cross-departmental collaboration capabilities and is external to the BI environment. Examples of available products in this category include IBM WebSphere, Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle WebCenter and SAP NetWeaver. The technologies and collaborative and social computing features offered by the different vendors can vary considerably. For example, software for content management, search and process management might come standard with one platform and be sold as separate components or options with others. In addition, these platforms usually work with the vendor’s own BI tools. The products typically include support for user communities and team-based workspaces, but they often lack formal or informal decision-making procedures, collaborative connections to business processes and workflows, and the ability to record and track business decisions.
Products in the purpose-built collaborative decision-making system category are developed from the ground up for organizations looking to implement collaborative processes for making decisions. Both on-premises and cloud-based implementations are available; two examples of cloud-based offerings are Salesforce Chatter and SAP StreamWork. Products in this category are at various levels of development but are evolving to support the three main features of collaborative BI. They are also being integrated with the BI and office environments, and in some cases with enterprise collaboration platforms.
Organizations can implement collaborative interaction and information enhancement features using the capabilities currently offered by, or being added to, BI tools. Supporting collaborative decision making, however, requires the use of a collaborative platform or a separate system designed specifically to meet the need for collaboration in the decision-making process.
For many organizations the collaborative BI journey is just beginning. But if implemented properly, the end result will significantly benefit an organization’s decision-making abilities.
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