In recent months we've explored Collaborative BI as a growing trend and how it's gaining popularity as an extension of traditional business intelligence solutions. Despite all the hype around this topic, it can be confusing to determine what makes Collaborative BI unique. I've seen the terms "Collaborative BI" and "enterprise collaboration" used interchangeably a lot lately, and while both may fall under the categories "Collaborative Decision-Making" or "Knowledge Management," there are distinctions between the two that are important to understand.
Though enterprise collaboration and Collaborative BI share some of the same features – the ability for users to interact like they would on social media, for example, rating, tagging, and commenting on content – enterprise collaboration is less specific about the type of interaction employees have. These platforms, like SharePoint and Socialcast, enable users to chat with each other, post blogs and wikis, make announcements, view the activity streams of other users, collaborate on projects, take polls, and generally do all the things they'd do in a workplace – but online. They provide a secure place for business users to work together and eliminate some of the need for project-related e-mails, phone calls, meetings, and shared drives. This article on CMS Wire gives a great example of how enterprise collaboration can improve the work life of a manager and his project team. It's all about workflow and process-driven decision-making (as opposed to data-driven decision-making, which Collaborative BI facilitates).
Here are two ways that enterprise collaboration may look at your company:
- You're part of a large project that involves employees from several departments. Your manager sets up a shared workspace in your enterprise collaboration system and you receive task notifications – maybe to research information and then submit a document for review. You receive alerts as due dates approach. Your manager's dashboard tracks the status of your tasks and the activities assigned to other individuals for an at-a-glance view of how the project is progressing. All of the work is submitted through the system, commented on, revised, and ultimately approved and stored there.
- You might also use an enterprise collaboration system to simply collaborate on one document. It gives you the ability to track changes, revert to previous versions, and see comments from several different users, which is way better than e-mailing the same file multiple times and wondering at the end of the day, "who has the final version?"
Companies that are using enterprise collaboration effectively have everything from RSS feeds to financial data plugged into their platform. Going further, arcplan customers also use arcplan Web parts to pull their BI information into SharePoint, so it truly is a central hub of information for some companies.
While enterprise collaboration enables employees to work together on all kinds of documents and projects, Collaborative BI solutions – whether dedicated like arcplan Engage or embedded like Yellowfin – enable discussion, annotation, alerts, and knowledge sharing mainly around business intelligence content – reports, dashboards, and analysis. These solutions exist mainly to facilitate better decision making. Collaborative BI is less about collaboration around projects and more about engaging regular business users in the process of using data to drive decisions.
So who benefits from Collaborative BI over enterprise collaboration? I believe the same groups benefit from both systems.
- Employing social media features that users are already comfortable with (from having used them on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) means casual users can adopt the system with little to no training. They have access to a searchable “report library” and can use vetted information to make decisions or request enhancements to certain reports directly in the system.
- Managers and executives benefit by narrowing their focus to the best reports – as voted on by other users and their peers – eliminating the need to comb through many versions of the same report to find the most useful/updated one. That saves time, but Collaborative BI also saves money and resources. As Jill Dyche wrote in Harvard Business Review, "Business executives are unaware of the extent to which their staffs routinely reinvent the wheel to get the information they need. It's a hidden cost, and a growing one." When employees have access to all the BI reports in their organization via a simple Google-like search function, they can use existing reports rather than create new ones or at least have a starting point in case they just need a modification. (And it goes without saying that the company's security policy/restrictions are automatically applied so users only see what they're permitted to see).
- And finally, power users – report developers and business analysts – are adopting Collaborative BI in droves in companies that have already deployed it. According to Wayne Eckerson’s recent report, 84% of power users are using Collaborative BI and benefiting from features like commentary, graphical annotation, easy sharing, and more. This group is also the heaviest contributor of content to these systems and sees Collaborative BI closing the loop, opening access to their valuable reports and analysis to more users - thus enabling better, faster business decisions.
Though Collaborative BI systems are not as widely used as enterprise collaboration, information technology researcher Gartner estimates that 15% of all BI deployments will contain collaborative elements by 2013. I expect that number to be higher as these features are integrated into more and more business intelligence software products. Our hope at arcplan is that Collaborative BI reaches critical mass and engages business users to make better decisions based on existing data.
arcplan Engage enables users to search for the information they need from their BI systems (arcplan and others as well), rate it, comment on it, and share it with peers to improve decision-making enterprise-wide.
Check out this brief video to see how it works.