When is eye candy not “eye candy”? When it improves user comprehension of business data, increases their productivity and encourages them to work with the data to become smarter about it’s finer points and implications.
I was reminded of that when Information Builders (IBI) recently briefed me on their new release (5.2) of their Performance Management Framework (PMF). PMF is a platform that incorporates metrics, scorecards, analytics and dashboards to enable companies to quickly implement software that will support a wide range of performance management activities and strategies. The latest version offers significant enhancements in the user interface. For instance, it allows you to ‘pull up’ the corner of chart to look at the underlying data. You can take a time series, chart it, and have chart play back the period covered – much like those time-lapse doppler radar series in a weather report. So, for example, you can look at a pie chart representation of sales by region (or product family, or salesperson, etc.) by month over the past three years to get a better, visual sense of trends in these numbers. It was another reminder to me that we’re finally moving into another, higher level of computing capabilities. “Eye candy,” which is extremely important to users of business intelligence, performance management- and analytical applications, seems to get disparaged by IT industry pros, in part because until now graphics were not much more than the electronic equivalent of the dot-matrix printer charts people were marveling over in the 1980s. No more: expectations for richness in data representation and the desire for a broader set of gestures into the syntax of event-based programming have been mounting. People want their business apps to be as fun as their Apple iPhone apps.
“So easy, even an executive can do it…” has been the holy grail of business intelligence systems since the days of the executive information system (EIS). PMF 5.2 gets you closer to this ideal in terms of ease-of-configuration and also eases the burden on IT departments to manage the plumbing. Of course, just because they can, doesn’t mean that busy executives and managers should be putting together their own performance management systems and dashboards. (Unless they are propeller heads by training, it’s not the best use of their time.) What it does mean is that it’s finally that much easier to have a business analyst do the job for them and the training requirements for these analysts are substantially lower. Business analysts know what data are available, what specific end users want and need to know and they understand enough about IT systems to connect those that want it to the information that they need. In the past, the fact that users and IT people spoke two mutually incomprehensible languages led to seemingly endless cycles spent trying to accomplish this connection (and not always succeeding).
IBI also has added to its existing content libraries with starter kits that accelerate the time to value. These ten or so new templates fall into both vertical and horizontal (e.g., insurance, hospital management, finance and so on) categories. There also are more gadgets, dashboards and metrics in the catalog. IBI also has embedded new risk analytics into the release, which are built on robust set of new risk metrics. Risk analytics are a foundation piece for enterprise risk management [http://www.ventanaresearch.com/blog/commentblog.aspx?id=3437] . PMF 5.2 also nods to the growing use of social computing in business with “Web 2.0 gadgets” and increased collaboration.
PMF 5.2 is one more reminder that a decade of relative slow evolution in business computing has left many in IT departments looking for ways to, in effect, just sharpen the existing set of pencils. Too much focus on maintenance has focused attention on finding cheaper, more efficient ways of doing the same old thing. IT departments have to bow to cost realities, but those IT departments that find ways to deliver business value with the least amount of frustration and maximum value are also the ones that somehow manage to get a better deal in the budget, year in and year out. This advancement is one of the reasons that this product was ranked as a ‘Hot’ vendor in the 2009 Ventana Research Value Index for Performance Management.
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Robert D. Kugel CFA - SVP Research