New intelligence on business intelligence

Von Kevin McKean

With annual spending on business intelligence software now more than US$8 billion and growing by more than $200 million per year, we thought it was essential to examine the factors driving -- and limiting -- the adoption of these increasingly important data tools.

The result is the latest study to emerge from the InfoWorld research team, led by VP of Marketing Paul Calento and our friends at IDG Research.

Titled InfoWorld Research Report: Business Intelligence, the study investigates BI use and adoption among InfoWorld readers, nearly half of whom have already implemented and another quarter of whom are actively evaluating BI solutions.

Given those numbers, it"s not surprising that nearly two-thirds of respondents rated BI as a high-to-critical priority during the next few years. Most BI packages are implemented for internal use, of course, but some 60 percent of companies make their BI data available to customers, too -- about one-third to suppliers and nearly one-quarter to government regulators.

As for which features are used most widely, the ability to drill down into information topped the list, with 78 percent of respondents rating it as highly important. Sorting and filtering, a consistent GUI, and the ability to visualize data also ranked highly.

Companies seem particularly enamored with BI"s predictive analytic capability. This feature is used predominantly by the financial folks (with a 64 percent response rate among firms) but is also used by sales (53 percent), marketing (50 percent), and customer service (40 percent), among others.

When asked to identify the needs that have driven them to use or consider BI, 47 percent cite the desire to achieve better quality of data. But other technological challenges loom as well. For example, 39 percent want to integrate BI software with their existing infrastructure, and 32 percent need it for security and user rights management.

The main factor holding back the growth of BI is a familiar one: money. Some 49 percent of respondents say budget constraints limit their ability to roll out BI; another 40 percent worry about the time required to implement a BI project. On the matter of user interface, whereas some respondents like graphical dashboards, more than a third said the UI of their current BI solution is not appropriate for all potential users, and slightly more than half expressed support for a UI that resembles a simple search engine.

Such concerns may slow but will not stop BI adoption. Nearly half of respondents say their companies will spend more on BI next year, and 70 percent expect the number of users to rise. On the whole, our study reveals a field that is meeting a need and growing.