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Mike Ferguson

Welcome to my blog on the UK Business Intelligence Network. I hope to help you stay in touch with hot topics and reality on the ground in the UK and European business intelligence markets and to provide content, opinion and expertise on business intelligence (BI) and its related technologies. I also would relish it if you too can share your own valuable experiences. Let's hear what's going on in BI in the UK.

About the author >

Mike Ferguson is Managing Director of Intelligent Business Strategies Limited, a leading information technology analyst and consulting company. As lead analyst and consultant, he specializes in enterprise business intelligence, enterprise business integration, and enterprise portals. He can be contacted at +44 1625 520700 or via e-mail at mferguson@intelligentbusiness.biz.

November 2006 Archives

Informatica's (http://www.informatica.com) announcement today on it's intent to acquire ItemField serves to re-enforce the trend that the two worlds of structured and unstructured data are coming together. While we have been using data integration infrastructure software for structured data for some time, most organisations have only tinkered with the world of using data integration software to integrate ustructured content with structured. Yet the amount of unstructured content that enterprises are struggling to manage continues to rapidly increase. While the use of content management systems to get control over unstructured content has increased significanty over the last few years many companies are struggling to get content into these systems just to manage it. In addition, dynamic integration of unstructured content to render into portals is also in demand.

It is often the case that companies want to associate unstructured content with structured data. An obvious example is in the area of records management whereby invoices, statements and other 'operational documents' need to be tied to customer data or supplier data. Insurance companies need to associate quote documents wih customer or prospect data, banks need to associate account statements with customers etc. etc. All this bodes well for unstructured data integration specialist vendors such as Vamosa and Kapow who have been growing steadily and getting a lot of attention lately from IT professionals working with content management and portals technologies. These vendors may well start to get a lot of attention from structured data integration suitors over the next 12 months. The general trend here is towards enterprise data integration.


Posted November 27, 2006 2:48 PM
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With more and more unstructured information not only on the public internet but also in the enterprise the need to manage this information and extract knowledge from it is increasingly in demand in commercial enterprises. There are lots of reasons why this is of interest including improving customer satisfaction by identifying customer concerns from customer conversations, equipment failures from field service technician notes, and even identifying fraud from bogus emails. In addition there is a need to link unstructued information to master data. An example here would be relating documents such as invoices to customers or emails with structured customer data. Also emails on product quality issues need to be related to product master data for example. Call logs in call centres is yet another example

Business thirst for new information and to extract aditional knowledge for greater business insight is still growing at a pace. From this the business need is to be able to integrate and analyse structured and unstructured informaion and so expand beyond traditional BI systems focussed on structured data into the world of unstructured analytics. This market is massive and it is clear that traditional BI vendors have still not fully switched on to the value of this market and so we see a lot of fairly unknown vendors (at least unknown to the traditional BI professional) pushing into the BI market and claiming market share. Vendors such as Attensity, Clarabridge, ClearForest, Endeca, Fast and InXight are all doing well in this space. All these vendors are in the world of Enterprise Search and text analytics. It is no surprise that BI vendors are starting to introduce partnerships with these relatively new kids on the BI block and you could easily see some acquisitions possibly occurring here in the next 12-18 months as large BI vendors expand their platforms to gear up for the sea of unstructured content they may be asked to analyse.

Text mining and search analytics are just a few examples which will make it easier to find information and to generate dynamic taxonomies from Search results that can then be used to rapidly zoom in on what you are looking for. It is also true that text analytics can generate XML documents. So for example if a customer writes an email along the lines of "My name is Mike Ferguson and yesterday I bought a new Panasonic HD TV from ABC Electronics in Manchester......" I can extract from this a customer name, a manufacturer name, a product name and a store name which could be brought together in an XML document about a sales transaction. Therefore customer detail could be taken from this and deeper insight extracted from content like emails, blogs, wikis, web chat, .....etc. Once this is extracted I can then start to analyse it with traditional BI tools and visualiuse new information and analyses. This extraction of terms from unstructured content can facilitate a richer more productuve multi-faceted search experience which to any BI professional looks like OLAP for search. Here the user can drill down and slice and dice search results any way they like to help navigate quickly to the information they want.

With social network tagging also exploding on the scene, we can also analze popular tags and help people identify dominant ways in which people are categorising relevant iinformation that may be of interest to them.

This is a new area for BI and I expect it to grow very rapidly over the next year. I shall be writing an article on this in the next few months on the B-EYE-Network.

If you are already doing work in this area, please share your experiences. It would be great to hear some case studies.


Posted November 15, 2006 4:05 PM
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Anyone browsing the web today would have to be blind to not notice the explosion of Web 2.0 technologies and in particular the rapid uptake of RSS (Rich Site Summary or now popularly known as Really Simple Syndication) and ATOM feeds that are springing up everywhere. RSS and ATOM keep us informed of any changes to content that we have registered an interest in i.e. subscribed to. Modern day browsers support the ability to regularly check RSS and ATOM sites that you have subscribed to on a regular basis. Even MS Office 2007 Outlook can organise feeds like your email boxes to keep you sane and keep you organised on any new information that you are interested in. If you want you can download popular feed aggregators such as NewsGator (http://www.newsgator.com). What is interesting about this is how such feeds could relate to Business Intelligence. After all, so many of us want to know when a new version of a report is available, or subscribe to whenever a metric changes so that we are automatically notified about it. Of course many BI tools already support alerting of users when metrics change. \this can be done by email or on a dashboard for example. However with reports and dashboards all being published to the web these days it seems to me to be inevitable that BI vendors will add support for RSS feed or ATOM feed generation based on changes to BI metrics and BI content etc.

Where it has also major significance is in performance management. After all, being automatically kept up to date when metrics change, allows people to notice changes in performance and therefore take action if necessary. Being able to subscribe to be automatically notified of metrics changes via such a universally accepted and fast growing mechanism can only help business users manage the business better. Not only that but support for RSS and ATOM in BI content should allow is to distribute intelligence more widely and reach users who have either not got the time to use BI tools or are struggling with usability fears and confidence on BI tools. The integration of BI into portals is also pushing on this area because several new releases of portal products are also now allowing portal administrators to make any portal page they like into an RSS feed. Therfore as soon as BI (in the form of reports, scorecards, dashboards etc.) is published to a portal page, all subscribing users (assuming they are authorised) will get notified. I can see no reason to stop RSS Items or ATOM entries in theses feeds being new/changed BI metrics or BI documents (such as reports or dashboards).

It is also the case these days that search engines can search RSS and ATOM feeds which means that BI available through RSS and ATOM could be searched. Several BI vendors e.g. Hyperion, SAS, Business Objects and Cognos already have support for search engine integration in particular with Google and IBM. Business Objects recently expanded on this with their announcement of an Open Search Initiative that opens up partnerships with several other search engine and text analytics vendors.

If you are experimenting with RSS or ATOM and Business Intelligence or have already got something up and running in production, I and the rest of the readers on the B-EYE-Network would really like to here from you and benefit from your experiences. Let me know how you are using this and what technologies you are using. I would also like to hear from vendors on this topic.


Posted November 14, 2006 10:02 PM
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