On Cyber Monday morning at 7 AM, I found a good deal on a piece of electronics that one of our teenagers wants for Christmas. By noon, I was itching to find out if it was shipped and if so where it was in its journey to our home. I checked again at 5:30 PM and then again at 11:00 PM. Each time I looked, I was amused by the fact that the gift was one step closer to its destination.
The fact that you can track every time a package gets handed off to someone else within seconds of that hand-off is no longer anything special. This is what everyone expects – and rightly so. After all, the hand-offs are simply time stamps plus a couple of other pieces of data associated with information about your package. It all adds up to about 5 or 6 rows of data that shows the position of the package from the source to the destination. What makes this significant is that it's available at any time of day and I don't even have to pick up the phone and call anybody to access it.
Here's my point: Like it or not, what's happening in cyberspace affects your company systems by raising the expectations of all users. When you track a package from your home laptop and see details of every move it makes, you’d have a hard time going to work the next day and putting up with a green screen CICS application on your office desktop. Your expectations for your company's information system cannot be any lower than what you can accomplish on your laptop at home.
When your suppliers and vendors ask you for data and information about your inventory or their deliveries, what they're looking for is a browser-based and/or mobile application that you've provided them at no charge, so they can find out what they need sans the hopeless 20 minute conversation with the boys down in the warehouse. And if you don't provide those services to them, you'll find your company marginalized to the point where they can't even do business with you. That's the cost of progress, but in a way, it's a good problem to have.
Think of all the ways a Business Intelligence system can help you off-load essential information delivery to your customers, suppliers, and vendors. Self-service information delivery is probably one of the most important aspects of your BI system and it depends on a few characteristics, not in any particular order: multi-tenancy, ability to both consume and produce Web Services, high availability, fault tolerance, and redundancy, plus a really cool user interface that can handle the latest intuitive features of Web 2.0 that everybody has learned to use.
Think of these features as MUST HAVES. Adoption of BI applications, especially external ones, is directly related to the expectations of your users. If you create a very slick application that hangs at peak hours, nobody will want to use it. So, fault tolerance and high availability have to be taken into account as essential specifications. By the same token, an amazingly iron-clad application that provides the information in a Soviet-style screen won't cut it either. Remember - that truck driver with the mobile device doesn't have the time to figure out how to use your ugly screens. The bottom line is that when you get a quote for an external application built on open source software, off shore consulting and a whole lot of industry buzzwords, ask yourself if the final result will be able to give you the must-have characteristics I just mentioned. If they can't guarantee some service level agreements, you're using the wrong BI software.