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Business intelligence: The sleeping giant

E-business is one of the hottest technologies for the AS/400 today, but studies show that business intelligence is a sleeping giant ready to explode.

Business Intelligence (BI), a term coined by IBM, is a marketing concept based on applications and technologies used for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help businesses make better business decisions.

On the AS/400 in particular, BI should grow 360% over the next three years according to a report by the Andrews Consulting Group, Cheshire, Conn. (formerly known as D.H.Andrews). In contrast, however, 60 percent of the respondents said that they either had no plans to implement business intelligence applications or would not do it for at least a year. E-business, by comparison, was being addressed by 77% of the respondents.

However, Tony Lardarello of ShowCase Corp. of Rosemont, Ill., a vendor specializing in BI on the AS/400, contends employing e-commerce or BI aren't mutually exclusive, but work quite well together. Showcase offers a BI application that allows users to access reports through a Web browser.

Recently, Search400.com's assistant news editor Edward Hurley spoke with Lardarello about the future BI on the AS/400 and what it will take to get this sleeping giant to awaken.

Search400.com:Can you describe BI, its capabilities and give some examples of its use?

Lardarello:BI does things you can't do with other applications. You start out with your data, which goes into data warehousing from there it goes into a multi-dimensional database where all the intercepting points are found. For example, you can enter all your customers, products and sales reps and figure out automatically what each sales rep is selling to each customer.

Search400.com:Generally, what industries are using BI now? What others would benefit?

Lardarello:Basically any company that needs to turn information into an opportunity. It is useful for retail, manufacturing and medical businesses. It is also important to the gaming industry. All the casinos have AS/400s I was in a casino recently and was surprised to see a green screen behind the counter.

Search400.com:So what makes the AS/400 well suited for BI?

Lardarello:First, running BI on the AS/400 from start to finish keeps your data on the machine (where you want it for other applications and to keep it safe.)

This is something we have to answer during every sales call. People ask about all the BI applications for Windows NT. But, nothing beats the reliability and scalability of the AS/400 (for BI). One really sees it during e-business or retail uses where there is a high volume of information.

Search400.com:It's been argued that the deployment of BI has been hampered by the frenzy surrounding e-business. Do you see them as mutually exclusive? How would deploying them (or having them) together be beneficial to companies?

Lardarello:When companies are considering e-business, they have to ask themselves if they are comfortable with the data coming across their desks in reports. If the answer is "no" then they should consider BI. Then once their data is in order, they can use the Web to give people access to it.

Generally, companies start with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) then do data warehousing and BI. Ultimately, they can do enterprise intelligence where information can be analyzed over the Web. All of this can be done front to back on the AS/400.

Search400.com:Predictions vary but industry insiders predict BI is going to be very hot in the next couple of years. What do you see as the growth areas?

Lardarello:Enterprise intelligence, a step past BI. Users are able to analyze their data with BI then allow people to access it using a Web browser. Part of this is file management to organize all the documents so they can be found easily.

Before BI in order to run a series of reports you needed several IT guys to work through a weekend. The salespeople then wouldn't get them in the mail until Tuesday or Wednesday. Now with BI, the computer can automatically make up the reports at night so the salespeople can access them with a Web browser when they come in on Monday morning.

If you have comments about this story, e-mail Ed Hurley, assistant news editor

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