Growing user numbers making BI smarter

Managing business intelligence applicatons requires a different approach when more than just a few users can access them

As companies expand access TO business intelligence tools to more users, IT departments are doing a lot more performance and usage monitoring.

When BI software was only used to do historical reporting for a handful of power users, the dependability of servers or the content of reports wasn’t as critical as it has become now, according to IT managers and analysts.

For example, the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico will shortly go into production with the Cognos 8 BI suite, which will let external users access reports on restaurant inspections and building permits, says Chris Framel, applications group manager in the city’s IS division. Internal users will begin using the BI tools in September, he says. Within the suite Framel plans to use Cognos Event Studio, an event-notification tool, to alert IT staffers if exceptions occur, such as users not receiving reports.

“Now we come in the next morning to check and see if programs have failed,” Framel says. “It is really all reactive rather than proactive.”

Framel would like Cognos to develop an auditing database that he could use to monitor if and how reports are being used, he says.

“We do need to do that because we have several hundred reports.

“It would be nice to know what reports they are using, and if they are not, then we could get them out.”

Investment bank Morgan Stanley uses Business Objects’ auditor tool to cancel “runaway queries” that last for more than ten minutes and to identify reports that are not being commonly accessed by its 9,000 users so they can be eliminated, says Michael Strachan, vice president of business intelligence metrics at the bank.

Morgan Stanley has begun testing a new query performance and data-usage tool from Appfluent Technology to help boost the performance and reduce the costs of its BI applications.

Because Morgan Stanley allows some users to do self-service, ad hoc analysis, it’s testing the tool as a way to allow database administrators to see queries that are running and identify bottlenecks, Strachan says. It hopes to have the tool in production within two months.

Quixtar, an online health and beauty products retailer, plans to automate the monitoring of the BI reports it sends to the 200,000 to 250,000 business owners it works with, says Dennis Albachten, the company’s senior BI analyst.

Quixtar, which uses Actuate’s enterprise reporting tool, now performs manual, periodic user polls to assess which reports are being used and how often they are being accessed, Albachten says.

“We want to automate the data collection process for viewing and loading into the warehouse so we can report off it,” he says.

“We do have a gut feel but it would be nice to be able to expose that data.”

Eric Rogge, president of Eric Rogge Consulting, says that as BI projects expand from departmental applications out to the enterprise level they start to require the same degree of attention to scalability and performance as transactional systems.

It is important to ensure that “one user of one report isn’t eliminating or restricting access to other users”, Rogge says.

Grant Felsing, decision support manager at engine-maker Briggs & Stratton, says his company’s move to embed BI data into workers’ daily processes means that “BI is so integral for [users] knowing what to do every morning that if it goes down five minutes later the helpdesk is getting hit.”

Briggs & Stratton, which uses SAS’s SAS9 tool set, even goes so far as to monitor the health of its BI platform.

“This also gives us a picture of usage around the world, so with a single glance, I can review how Asia and Europe went first, then our Eastern US facilities and finally our Midwest users as the clock marches on,” he says. “The more people become dependent on it, the more stable it has to be.”

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