Social Networking Breaks BI Barriers

SAP's bid to purchase Business Objects offers a chance to pose the question: What's the value of business intelligence without collaboration?

SAPs bid to purchase business intelligence market leader Business Objects for $6.78 billion Oct. 8 is reverberating throughout the industry and, for the moment, poses the question about the value of business intelligence without collaboration.

BI includes software that supports business processes by collecting information about the relative health of a business, such as information about a supply chain or sales groups performance, and pipes it back to business managers via reports, scorecards or dashboards. With Business Objects, SAP, an ERP (enterprise resource planning) giant, will be able to use this information to support its applications and its customers business processes.

But many experts believe the true value of BI will be unlocked as the enterprise market increasingly moves to social networking and collaboration tools. It cuts both ways, with BI supporting collaboration tools.

For example, today when business managers receive scorecards and other reports from traditional BI systems, they are typically funneled straight to their PCs. If the managers want to share these reports with colleagues, they would have to e-mail the information to colleagues.

Picture social networking and collaboration tools, such as tags, wikis and blogs, adapted to allow users to share reports and scorecards that BI engines spit back at business managers.


SAP sets its sights on Business Objects. Click here to read more.

Take IBMs dogear social bookmarking tool. The software lets business users store, categorize and share a set of personal Web bookmarks with colleagues in an intranet. Imagine the ability to port the BI reports to dogear, where other users in a group or department can see the results.

Brendan Crotty, manager of social software for IBM, said one customer is actually doing something like this, with it technical support workers using dogear to bookmark and tag technical support notes from customers with relevant information. IBMs Many Eyes software can also let customers upload specific data to get visualizations based on the input, Crotty told eWEEK.

Sosius, an online collaborative workspace specialist, also sees value in blending BI with its tools, said founder Andrew Cameron-Webb. Cameron-Webb said Sosius will allow business users to develop applications and then search for experts within the workspace to help develop reports with input from multiple users.

"In the enterprise, a lot of this information is in silos because of the use of different systems," Cameron-Webb told eWEEK. "With Sosius, you can pull in external data from many environments and share it in a team-focused way."

Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta said he sees collaboration tools aiding predictive analysis, noting that a sales manager looking at a pipeline for a region might want to look at aggregated results. By collapsing this data into a wiki or some other real-time tool, multiple users can access and validate the data.

Gotta also said wikis and other collaborative workspaces arent the only areas we may see social computing tools mesh with BI. To make sense out of a predictive analysis, business managers may choose to have a Web conference right away to get a quorum.


Click here to read about enterprise mashups.

Some experts see the convergence of BI and social networking and collaboration tools directly through the lens of the SAP-Business Objects buy.

Ovum Research analyst David Bradshaw said BI will actually be used to enhance social networking tools, funneling data to users sharing information on a wiki.

For example, he noted that Business Objects SAAS (software-as-a-service) offering, which it gained when it purchased Nsite earlier this year, already allows users to share BI reports. Ideally, those reports could be uploaded to a wiki or tagged for more robust collaboration.

Gilbane Group analyst Geoff Bock said the combined assets of SAP and Business Objects can be used to facilitate a new form of scorecard, one that offers information on customer opinions. While the traditional scorecard offers rows, columns and numbers, a new brand of scorecard created by SAP with the help of Business Objects software might feature customer feedback.

"The driving motivation behind this acquisition is to create a new kind of platform for collaborative information delivery and allowing companies to better understand the info they have at their fingertips," Bock told eWEEK. "In the next year or two, were going to see new kinds of scorecards to get a sense of opinion in some very intuitive ways."