Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Being "Agile" with Pentaho Business Intelligence - Letting "Agile" help you decide

There are still numerous organizations that have not yet standardized nor adopted a Business Intelligence strategy. For example, I have heard so many "spreadmart" horror stories, they can be used as a basis for a white paper on how "not" to implement BI solutions. Most of the time these "spreadmarts" are the fallback due to too little time, too little money and slow development of a proper BI solution. Daily, I consult with multiple prospects on how the Pentaho software can soothe all types of "pain". These discussions reveal a "need" to reshape their business. They want to reduce costs, increase profits, offer competitive products and services, as well as consolidate raw data from multiple silos. All at the same time they want to "do it" as cost effectively as possible. Because they are looking at a Commercial Open Source solution that provides significant cost savings, they also want to understand what other value Pentaho delivers versus a proprietary BI vendor.

However you want to slice it, the offerings provided by most BI vendors generally perform and look the same. Especially on the surface. So, what differentiating criteria can help one make that informed decision when evaluating BI software? First of all, it is my practice that the decision should not be influenced by an unnecessary feature or a function. Output to PPT for example has never been a deal breaker for us. Instead, I recommend that one looks deeper for a complete BI stack built on an "integrated" modern architecture. An architecture that allows for setup both on-premise and in the cloud. Factors including "Agile" development, ease of use and scalability also should contribute to the decision. Other points can include differences around services, support, collateral and training. Think about it, what is the sense of deploying a "sexy" dashboard if it can only run on one platform, can only be created by IT, is hard to discern information from and can't scale to multiple users? Oh, and did I mention that there may be a charge for each dashboard user? (sorry, had to throw that one in there) As you can see, there is simply much more to consider when deciding on what BI solution can meet your objectives, not just what is on the surface. Quoting the phrase, "Beauty is only skin deep" comes to mind.

Let's break a few terms down to identify the bigger picture.

First, Business Intelligence.

In general, the term "business intelligence" is not new. It has been around for years, even before I was born. BI is neither a product nor a system. It should be thought of as an activity not a project. It is a term that combines architectures, applications, and databases and the action taken when using them. In a 1958 article, IBM researcher Hans Peter Luhn used the term business intelligence. He defined it as:"the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal." In 1989 Howard Dresner (later a Gartner Group analyst) proposed BI as an umbrella term to describe "concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems." It was not until the late 1990s that this usage was widespread. Almost 20 years later, in today’s modern world the application of Business Intelligence technology is now becoming more popular day by day.

Now let's look at the term "Agile", as a noun and then as an adjective.

"Agile" software development refers to a group of software methodologies based on iterative development where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between IT and the business users or other cross functional teams.

"Agile" as an adjective can be simply described as moving quickly with what appears to be little effort.

Now let's combine the two. Agile Business Intelligence can be described as the activity of quickly, easily and iteratively developing Business Intelligence applications, while collaborating with the users who will be consuming them.

Pentaho Agile BI will allow "more" developers of varying skill sets to become "more" responsive to the growing needs of those users. It will also ensure that the information to be consumed and the way it is consumed is correct in less time reducing the need to "fallback" to spreadmarts and at the same time standardizing on a BI solution. Pentaho Agile BI brings together ETL (data movement and transformation), visualization (visualizing the data) and data modeling (building the business layer) under one integrated development environment that will serve as the foundation for this activity. Applying this methodology will ensure greater success for both parties involved and ultimate success for the organization. Take a look below (click the thumbnail) to get a quick preview of Pentaho Data Integration 4.0 and Pentaho Agile BI in action.

Business Intelligence and Agile development are not new concepts. However when combined they offer an organization a powerful approach in delivering BI applications that will help it meet it's objectives.

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