Business Intelligence Power Play

Opinion: Admitting that it's not omnipotent, BI shares reign with search.

Come forward, seeker of knowledge. You stand before BI, the great mystic oracle of information. Ask your questions and gain enlightenment.

Wait! BI is much too complex and arcane for one such as yourself to interact with the great one directly. You must direct your questions through one of the priests of BI, also known as the business intelligence analysts. These priests will make your queries pleasing to BI and also will be able to interpret BIs answers for you.

You wish to know the sales patterns of your largest customers in the Northwest? BI has the answers you seek. Ah, you also seek knowledge of the future, wishing to forecast the effects of a new company business strategy. Yes, BI can do this (BI is an oracle, after all).

Do you have further questions, seeker of knowledge?

You want every piece of information on the company intranet in which competitors and strategies are mentioned? And you want to find all internal blogs that mention top customers and problems? Hmm. Those requests might be a little tricky for BI.

You see, BI is all about finding information from structured data, databases and applications. The information you seek comes from unstructured data, which to BI might as well be ancient Greek.

But have no fear: BI has foreseen this problem. (The oracle thing, remember?)

BI has a relative—a cousin, if you will—that can handle unstructured information and find answers to your questions. The name of this cousin is Search.

In the past, BI has avoided working with this cousin, even making light of Searchs abilities. Search rarely provides definitive answers like BI does, instead giving a long list of possible results that may or may not include the answers you are seeking.

And instead of requiring specially skilled business intelligence priests, this cousin is so easy to interact with that millions of people do it everyday.

To be honest, BI would really rather not work with this cousin, but BI sees the way things are going (the oracle thing again). To gain answers to the questions that BI has trouble with, BI and Search will work together.

This isnt simply a matter of asking some questions of Search and some of BI. Businesses and other seekers of knowledge will want BI and Search to work seamlessly together. Results of BI queries will need to be combined with Search results, so that, for example, sales data of clients can be associated with white papers and analyst reports on the same clients.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about how vendors are combining BI and search.

Rather than specially skilled priests of BI, those seeking answers will now use custom-designed portals or dashboards that combine the abilities of Search and BI so that answers will be easily accessible to anyone who needs the information.

This type of integration is already happening through the likes of oracles of BI from IBM, EMC and Microsoft. It wont be long before BI without Search will seem like a curiosity of the ancient past.

However, some businesses and seekers of knowledge may be thinking, "That sounds great, but were not upgrading our infrastructure any time soon. Is there still a solution for combining BI and Search?"

Without a change in infrastructure, you may not get the tight integration of combined Search and BI tools, but it is fairly simple to effectively combine Search with existing BI apps. The wide variety of desktop search tools, from the free Google Desktop to higher-end search tools such as X1, make it possible to perform detailed search queries across multiple data sources and easily combine the results with those from traditional BI systems.

Also, internal search engines such as Google and Thunderstone appliances can query into the same databases and back-end applications that BI tools use. While the results the search engines generate wont be as detailed as those from BI apps, it will be possible to combine results from traditional search sources such as intranets and document repositories with those from structured data sources.

So while BI may find his cousin Search to be somewhat unkempt and lacking in precision, the two will work together to try and answer the questions of businesses and seekers of knowledge.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.