META Report: The Business Intelligence Portal Disconnect

Feb 18, 2002

David Folger

Many IT groups in the process of planning enterprise portal (EP) implementations and evaluating products for SQL database reporting are blissfully unaware that separate business intelligence teams are implementing Web-based reporting systems or have already chosen reporting tool standards. Although many BI reporting systems (such as those from Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Decisions, Information Builders) provide access control and personalized interfaces, with a few exceptions (e.g., Brio), none of these products provide the full functionality of a generalized enterprise portal framework.

Hence, to meet the information access needs of end users, business intelligence and enterprise portal teams must jointly plan information delivery efforts that span the structured and unstructured information spectrum. Indeed, by 2003/04, we expect that BI vendors will de-emphasize standalone BI portals, and integrate their offerings with standard portal frameworks (such as those from Plumtree, IBM, Sybase, iPlanet, BEA, and SAP). By 2005/06, vendors will consolidate down to a few large systems companies (e.g., Microsoft, BEA Systems, IBM), the largest enterprise application companies (e.g., SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle), and one or two independent players (e.g., Plumtree).

Within the past year, enterprise portal efforts have moved beyond tactical, departmental-level deployments, and have attracted the attention of infrastructure and enterprise architects. IT organizations (rightfully) recognize that these portals are an important component of an emerging information delivery infrastructure, which will provide business users access to needed information in the context of business processes. Enterprise portal development teams should resist adopting tactical solutions for structured data reporting problems, because business intelligence groups generally have much more experience with financial reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), and analytical applications than do typical enterprise portal teams.

IT groups should combine business intelligence and enterprise portal planning efforts into a general, enterprisewide information delivery infrastructure. This holistic architecture should address:

  • Information categorization: This involves integrating taxonomy creation and maintenance tools - from vendors such as Semio, Autonomy, and Verity - with BI reporting and OLAP servers (e.g., Acutate, Crystal). The focus of these vendors must now extend beyond unstructured text to include structured reports and OLAP models. BI engines and categorization systems currently require custom integration.

  • Content management: Although content management technologies (e.g., Interwoven, Stellant, Vignette) can be used to support this effort, content management involves development of business processes that are frequently absent in both business organizations and IT groups. A joint effort to establish rules about who can publish, what approvals are needed, and what legal and marketing review will be needed (particularly for external publishing) must take place, supported by technology. Currently, there is no out-of-the-box integration between content management players, business intelligence reporting, and OLAP servers. Users will be left with parallel publishing paths, with integration provided by the portal.

  • Document management: Again, business intelligence integration with document management systems such as FileNET, Documentum, or Open Text is not available from BI vendors. Users should consider these products as parallel information sources and, in most cases, provide integration only at the portal.

  • BI servers and data sources: Business intelligence efforts must also be considered in the context of this broader information delivery architecture. As technologies are chosen, integration with enterprise portals and unstructured information technologies (e.g., categorization, collaboration) provide new selection criteria for BI teams.

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  • Unified management: Most business intelligence products have relatively mature system management facilities, which in many cases duplicate those of enterprise portals and, in some cases, go beyond what EPs provide (e.g., field-level data-access control). Integrating these facilities becomes an important part of a comprehensive information delivery implementation. Until the portal market consolidates (2004/05), users will be left with multiple management consoles and limited LDAP integration.

Ideally, IT organizations should establish an information delivery architecture and planning group that combines document and content management skills with business intelligence and data warehousing expertise. In most cases, this should take the form of an EP project management team. Business representatives on the this team should help develop comprehensive end-user information and business process automation requirements. Information delivery system design must be approached in the context of business processes that define where the information is needed and where it is derived (the information supply chain concept). Although development of an enterprise portal project management team is the ideal solution, factors to consider for this process include the following:
  • An EP project management team-PMT must coordinate with an enterprise program management office (PMO), if it exists, as a central coordinating hub.
  • The EP-PMT must also coordinate with any data warehouse and BI groups and departments that are already present in the organization. Frequently, reporting is coordinated by both IT groups and other groups in the CFO's office (or in other end-user departments) and all involved groups must be included in coordination efforts.
  • Any major application upgrades (e.g., ERP or CRM installations) can drive major changes in business intelligence/reporting architectures and organizations. Groups or PMOs coordinating these rollouts must be contacted and their plans included in the EP project management team's efforts.
  • Users become very dependent on particular business intelligence products and the reports that are implemented on in-place BI systems. The EP-PMT must frequently give more care to preserving existing BI investments than to greenfield-oriented, unstructured information management issues.
  • Absent a high-level directive to develop an EP-PMT, business intelligence and enterprise portal teams should seek each other out and coordinate informally, wherever possible. Failure to do so will result in difficult and expensive after-the-fact integration of BI and EP systems.

What About Business Intelligence Portals?
Several BI vendors have released their own enterprise portal products (e.g., Business Objects, Brio, Cognos), with extensions intended to support unstructured information in a general EP environment. We believe that the market has decisively spoken, and that BI companies will NOT play leading roles as general-purpose EP framework suppliers. Therefore, IT organizations should not pursue initiatives that use their BI tool as a portal framework. Instead, IT organizations should move to specialized portal suppliers (e.g., Plumtree, Epicentric, Corechange,), or to EP frameworks from major systems software vendors (e.g., Microsoft, BEA, IBM, Sybase, iPlanet/Sun). Indeed, we believe the large system vendors will dominate EP frameworks by 2005/06. BI vendors will be judged on their ability to integrate with a wide range of leading EP companies, rather than on their own portal features.

Business Impact: To perform management functions in a timely manner, business users need easy access to business information and key performance indicators. Improvements in timeliness can improve customer satisfaction and business efficiency.

Bottom Line: IT organizations should consider business intelligence and enterprise portal projects together, as part of an overall information delivery effort. Architecture teams should be used that involve both disciplines, thereby developing an organization's information delivery systems.


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