But whether they're using off-the-shelf or in-house BI apps, CIOs need to remember in this new era of Google Apps and SaaSy Web interfaces that they'd better ensure that ease of use is top of mind. "It has to be easy, intuitive and offer the ability for users to drill down and have that layers of 'depth,' so that as people get smarter they can drill down even further [into the BI tools' capabilities]," says CRA's Anthony, offering Microsoft's Excel as an example. "But you have to make sure those layers are very easy to begin with."
When that type of situation transpires, a sustained "snowball effect" can occur among the user community, offers Swislow, which can then lead to more valuable business results from the BI tools.
"It's like every step you take making better use of the tools just opens up more opportunities to use the information and do more interesting analytics," he says. "The questions never end, and when you answer one question, that means you have time to ask another question."
A BI System for One and All
In the not so distant future, as the definition of corporate "business intelligence" continues to sort itself out, it's easy to imagine BI as a highly targeted analytic interface, delivered to various users, that is able to manage, integrate and present the enterprise glut of back-office transactional data that streams through organizations today, such as ERP, CRM and supply chain systems.
This personalized BI interface, in other words, would take be able to take the pulse of and easily display everything relevant happening to the enterprise at any given time.
CRA's Anthony says that this type of BI system ensures that executives, managers and decision makers are making their decisions based on the analytic and reporting data that is not only most relevant to them but also has the most value from an enterprise perspective. "Everything working together is much more powerful than anyone working in their vacuum," Anthony says. "That's where the new CIOs, in my mind, are becoming the strategic partner because of BI and the data provided. This [type of] CIO understands the business and the technical layer that provides that data. It's a big role."
At Cars.com, Swislow mentions the value that data from "one big analytics engine" can deliver, not only to business users in terms of customer, website and sales data; but also in how Cars.com demonstrates the site's value to advertisers and also the helpful data that Cars.com can provide to the consumers who make more than 1 million searches on the site each day. "There's a tremendous amount of intelligence there at multiple levels," he says.