Business intelligence gets collaborative

Collective intelligence is an organization's most precious asset. It's what makes the difference between a successful enterprise, one that can pool its expertise to address common opportunities and threats, and a competitive also-ran.

Traditionally, the business-intelligence industry has offered little to directly address the collaboration environment. Most business-intelligence applications focus on delivering targeted reports, analytics, dashboards and other key data to users, who are expected to rely on their own social intelligence, and on third-party collaboration tools, to decide when and how to share this information with colleagues.

In recent months, though, business-intelligence vendors have begun rolling out more collaboration features or begun talking about features to expect in the coming year. Not all of them have boarded the collaboration train, but those that have will certainly spur others to follow.

Instant messaging is central to the business-intelligence industry's collaboration road map. For example, Hyperion has announced a product that will embed IM into an always-on desktop business-intelligence interface, enabling more direct communications among decision makers in response to real-time feeds of key performance indicators.

Business Objects, the business-intelligence industry leader, is developing an IM-based collaboration environment for possible incorporation into future products. At its recent user conference, the company's chairman demonstrated a prototype IM-based service that could make real-time decision support available within desktop widgets, Microsoft Excel and other applications. For example, a sales team could have shared access to a common business-intelligence scorecard that shows how sales actuals and projections compare with objectives, while also using an embedded IM service to discuss next steps and assign action items to address problem areas.

In the first half of 2007, Business Objects also plans to roll out a feature that will provide a single repository for managing analytical application-development projects, making it easier to share budgeting, planning and financial data across the organization. In addition, the vendor plans to introduce enhancements that let users access business-intelligence applications securely from within Microsoft Office applications.

With Microsoft Office/Excel, the de facto collaborative front end in this market segment, it's no surprise that Microsoft plans to integrate collaborative features into its forthcoming business-intelligence platform, PerformancePoint Server 2007, due to be released in the latter part of this year. This platform will integrate tightly with Office and, just as important, with SharePoint Server 2007 and its many Web-facing collaboration features.

Collaboration is one of the key differentiating themes behind PerformancePoint Server 2007. Teams will benefit from rule-driven business-intelligence best practices, workflows, annotations and notifications. Users will be able to build, customize and share reports in Excel while connected to a secure and centrally managed server.

Although Microsoft is ahead of the business-intelligence industry curve with its collaboration road map, the vendor is not planning to integrate PerformancePoint Server 2007 with any of its other collaboration platforms. Nevertheless, Microsoft is further along than such rivals as IBM and Oracle, both of which have business-intelligence and collaboration tools -- plus knowledge management wares -- but have not announced plans to converge them.

Over the next several years, expect to see the business-intelligence, collaboration and knowledge-management segments converge. Likewise, expect to see such interactive Web 2.0 technologies as AJAX, blogs and wikis revolutionize the business intelligence experience. Many vendors realize that decision support environments should let users access intelligence wherever it may reside, be it in data warehouses or in the heads of remote colleagues.

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