What is pervasive BI?

It's a term that is getting a lot of attention these days, but what is pervasive BI and why is it important?

Pervasive BI — A definition

The term "pervasive BI" refers to organizations that have included the majority of their employees in their business intelligence solution. This can take a variety of forms such as including middle management in the formation of realistic and useful objectives, or providing employees with access to performance dashboards. It is difficult to determine quantitatively if an organization's BI solution is pervasive. Instead, qualitative measures should take precedent, looking at the solution's influence and effectiveness at driving performance throughout the organization.

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Pervasive BI — What knowledge is the "right" knowledge?

The goal of pervasive BI is not to simply provide access to raw data, but to include your employees in the formation and attainment of business objectives. Consider the following example of a call center monitoring current service level. To maximize that metric's usefulness, it should be compared against existing service level agreements (SLA) to provide a view of the center's current performance. Individual agents can then act on that information and change their actions and behaviours when the SLA is not being met. This is the type of knowledge that is at the heart of business intelligence. By providing insightful knowledge about performance, employees can take the initiative and make more informed decisions that positively impact your organization's performance.

Including everyone in a BI solution is a challenge because you need to display your business' knowledge in the right way to the right people. The fact is that most employees only need access to job-specific metrics, such as the call center agent monitoring current service level. Pervasive BI is about optimizing performance at every level of your organization, so the KPI message has to be relevant and actionable. To achieve this, businesses need to consult with department heads and middle managers to determine what the priorities on the ground are and figure out how that department fits within the larger picture of the organization. The idea behind pervasive BI is to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same objectives.

Pervasive BI — Where are we now?

For the vast majority of organizations, BI solutions have yet to become pervasive. In an Information Week study, it was found that of organizations with a BI solution in place, only a quarter of employees had access to those tools. That is a telling figure — BI still has a ways to go before it is pervasive. Accounting for this knowledge-gap is the fact that modern business intelligence is only starting to mature and realize its full potential. One aspect of this is the emergence of business intelligence software such as operational KPI dashboards. These dashboards effectively broadcast knowledge to employees using clear and simple visualizations such as graphs, charts, and tables.

Business dashboards are an essential piece of the pervasive BI puzzle. They are an easy way to include everyone in the BI solution by providing access to important business knowledge. When BI systems started to become popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, many businesses deployed them to skilled analysts, who generated reports at the executive or upper-management level. With the availability of operational data, easy to use dashboards, and cost-effective mass licensing, there is a shifting attitude where many organizations now view access to the dashboard at all levels of the organization as an integral part of their BI strategy.

Going pervasive in the age of mobile BI

While many organizations have invested in a desktop or on-premise KPI dashboard, an exciting new possibility for "going pervasive" is mobile BI. Mobile BI dashboards offer a level of accessibility that is not possible with desk-bound tools — today's mobile BI solutions are accessible> via any smartphone (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry), tablet (iPad, iPad2), or Internet browser. This means remote workers can stay informed about important KPIs even when they are away from the office.

In addition to the benefit of accessibility, mobile BI is also advantageous because it is scalable to any number of users. As most mobile BI solutions are delivered as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS BI), deployment requires little IT involvement or infrastructure. Adding new users to the dashboard often only requires adding additional licenses. While mobile BI is still in its infancy, it is already showing its potential for delivering on the promise of pervasive BI.

The future of pervasive BI

Pervasive BI is one of those concepts that is intuitively recognized as positive and having a lot of potential. The benefits of pervasive BI extend the benefits of business intelligence to your entire organization. The pace of business is rapidly accelerating, so being knowledgeable about your business is more important than ever. Keeping everyone in your organization informed is what pervasive BI is all about — and it will impact performance, understanding, and loyalty.

Achieving pervasive BI is not an easy or instantly attainable goal. As with any business intelligence strategy, it requires a lot of effort and analysis to determine what knowledge is useful to each department or employee. It also requires a solution that is trusted, clear, and effortless. As noted above, the reach of BI tools in organizations is currently at about 25%. That number will likely never reach 100%, but that isn't necessarily important. Rather, qualitative measures need to take precedent, and emphasis placed on the effectiveness of the solution at getting your entire organization on task.

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