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The Smart Business Intelligence Framework

by Colin White
The Smart BI Framework brings together the four forces that drive business operations: people, plans, processes and performance.

I’ve often made the point in my articles that business intelligence is no longer just nice to have, but is essential to business success. I’ve also commented at the same time that business intelligence applications and their underlying data warehouses can only support the needs of the business if they are tightly integrated into the overall IT environment. To highlight the importance of business intelligence and the need to integrate it into the enterprise, I developed the concept of the Smart BI Framework. The latest version of this framework is shown in Figure 1.  

Figure 1. The Smart BI Framework

Copyright BI Research and Intelligent Solutions, 2005.

The Smart BI Framework brings together the four forces that drive business operations and the IT systems that support them. These four forces are people, plans, processes and performance.

A company’s people are the underlying foundation on which the business is built. Without good employees a company will fail. How people perform their role in the organization is changing. The speed of business today means that people can no longer sit in ivory towers, or control and restrict the flow of information within the organization. If information is power then it must be made available to the people that need it for their jobs.

Key to collaboration and the sharing of information is knowledge management (KM), which brings together portals, content management and collaboration tools. The growing importance of business intelligence also means that it too must be integrated into the KM environment.

As senior executives define business plans and goals they must communicate them down through the corporate hierarchy. Targets must be developed and measured, and employees must be told what is expected of them. Employee compensation should generally be tied to achieving expected targets. Planning, budgeting and forecasting systems form the basis of the planning process, but collaboration capabilities are required for communicating plans and goals, and business intelligence is essential for monitoring and managing targets. Methodologies like balanced scorecards are also valuable for formalizing the planning process and managing targets.

Once business plans and initiatives are agreed on, they are implemented in business processes. Business process management is a growing technology for modeling, simulating, deploying, integrating and monitoring business processes. At present, process management is used primarily with operational business transaction applications, but the need to manage document and information workflows is bringing process management concepts and technologies into the collaborative application environment.

Business transaction applications run business operations and associated business processes and underlying activities. The role of business intelligence applications is to monitor, analyze and report on those operations. The output from business intelligence applications is used to determine how well actual business operations are doing, compared against business goals and targets. If these business goals and targets are not being achieved, then either business plans or business operations must be adjusted accordingly. This aspect of business intelligence is often called business performance management, which is easily confused with business process management, especially given that process management also supports the monitoring of business performance.

Business performance management is a term that is becoming increasingly abused by vendors. Vendors will use the term to describe a product even if it simply creates a business dashboard showing basic performance measures that are unrelated to business plans, goals or targets. A true business performance management application is closely tied to business plans and planning systems so that performance measures can be related to business goals and targets.          

Most business performance management applications deliver information that is reactive in nature, i.e., the information produced identifies business problems after they have occurred. Ideally, business users would like to be able to predict or anticipate business issues before they occur. The integration of business intelligence predictive technologies and planning methodologies into the business performance management environment helps satisfy this requirement.       

At present, business intelligence is data-centric, but as it becomes more integrated with business operations it will need to become more process-centric so that business intelligence results can be more easily related to business processes and their associated business activities. This involves integrating performance management and process management technologies. Perhaps the term to use here is business process and performance management, or BPPM. This term would at least remove the current industry confusion over the BPM acronym!

BPPM would allow business intelligence to be integrated into business transaction processes and also allow business processes to be added to business intelligence applications. An application example in this latter case would be for a performance management application to alert a business user about a business problem and provide a guided analysis workflow or procedure that helps the user investigate the problem in more detail based on best practices.

At the heart of a business intelligence system are the operational data store, enterprise data warehouse and data marts that supply the integrated, clean and consistent data for analysis. Many traditional data warehouse implementations have been deployed using the Corporate Information Factory architecture developed by Claudia Imhoff of Intelligent Solutions. As business intelligence becomes more integrated into the business environment, this traditional architecture must evolve to support the technologies and techniques outlined in this article. I have been working with Claudia to design an Extended Corporate Information Factory that supports the Smart Business Framework outlined in Figure 1. The Business Intelligence Network will publish an article on the Extended Corporate Information Factory soon.

We can see then that a Smart BI Framework involves connecting together business intelligence, business transaction and collaborative applications and their underlying data and information stores. Further enhancing are integration connections to business planning systems, and support for knowledge management, business process and business performance management technologies. Such a framework brings together the four main business drivers of an organization: people, plans, processes and performance.

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Colin White -

Colin White is the founder of BI Research and president of DataBase Associates Inc. As an analyst, educator and writer, he is well known for his in-depth knowledge of data management, information integration, and business intelligence technologies and how they can be used for building the smart and agile business. With many years of IT experience, he has consulted for dozens of companies throughout the world and is a frequent speaker at leading IT events. Colin has written numerous articles and papers on deploying new and evolving information technologies for business benefit and is a regular contributor to several leading print- and web-based industry journals. For ten years he was the conference chair of the Shared Insights Portals, Content Management, and Collaboration conference. He was also the conference director of the DB/EXPO trade show and conference.

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Colin's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!