The concept of “Pervasive Business Intelligence” is not new. The term, that refers to “a data warehouse that combines historic and real-time data, available to the majority of the organisation’s employees 365/24/7″ has been used since 2008, associated with democratised data warehouses, which can be used by all levels of the organisation, to make decisions based on real-time information.
What is new is the fact that, with the current advances on the technology front, organisations are now able to implement a Business Intelligence concept that, until very recently, was no more than that: a mere theoretical concept.
Combining history and real-time data
With current advances in in-memory computing, and tools such as SAP HANA®, it is a question of time until it becomes common place for businesses to load real-time data into their data warehouse – this is if data will be required at all to be stored in separate in-memory InfoCubes. It may well make more sense to simply access raw data directly from base (in-memory) tables, provided performance is acceptable.
I would not go as far as predicting the death of data warehousing as we know it. It will be more a case of only storing in a star schema information that requires slicing and dicing, whilst leaving unchanged, in in-memory base tables, data that requires no manipulation to be reported.
It is not my objective to conjecture about the future of data warehousing. The main point here is to highlight that, with in-memory computing, a quantum leap in data load and transformation performance makes it possible to achieve something that until now was not always practical: to make real-time data available to analytics applications, combined with historical data.
Available to all employees 365/24/7
The other area that makes Pervasive Business Intelligence possible is Mobile Computing. Whilst the current technology does not prohibit the user from accessing data 24/7 (from a security or sever availability point of view), the user is not always able to be in front of a desktop or a laptop computer, connected to a secure network and able to check the data they need, right at the time when they need to make a critical decision. It is just not practical.
With the recent push for enterprise applications to be made available on mobile devices (i.e. smart phones, BlackBerry® devices, Android® devices, iPads®, etc.) and applications such as SAP BusinessObjects Mobile®, RoamBI®, MicroStrategy®, etc. the user is now able to interact with their data warehouse wherever they are. Be they in a train, in a bus, ready to enter a meeting with an important vendor or client, or inside a meeting room anywhere in the world. Wherever a mobile device works, decision-support data is readily available.
It is not difficult to imagine why Pervasive BI can represent such a paradigm shift:
- Sales personnel can enter a meeting with a client with full knowledge of that client’s order history, creditworthiness, discounts applicable, etc. and be prepared to offer the best deal to that client, based on real data. Not only that: they can assess the impact on their business of each new deal they offer their client – right on the spot.
- Sales people can access available-to-promise data whilst deciding whether to commit to a larger Sales Order or not, with the knowledge that they will be able to meet that larger or changed order. What if the client changes their mind? They can check the impact on the spot.
- Procurement personnel can access spend information on a particular vendor, and this can help them negotiate a better deal for their company. They can then assess the impact of the new deal in future spend.
- Maintenance personnel can access the history of a particular piece of equipment whilst on the field. What is the typical time between failures of this particular part or system? Which warehouse can I get a new one from, given that I am where I am?
- Sales & Operations Planning can be more that mere guess of the future – people can actually simulate the impact of their decisions, agree on a version of the plan, simulate impacts of promotions or constraints, approve a plan, on the spot.
It all translates in being more agile, more competitive, more profitable – all thanks to being able to access real-time information, anytime, anywhere, without the need to sit, switch on a laptop, and wait for it to be connected to the network. And all based on real-time data.
As SAP put it, it is: “… your business at your fingertips …“.