Upgrade Your Mainframe with Operational Business Intelligence

Companies race to transform their businesses by delivering operational insights to their employees

Companies race to transform their businesses by delivering operational insights to their employees

Today companies are striving to increase customer loyalty and improve employee productivity in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. To achieve this, many businesses are leveraging near real-time information to enable better business decisions by employees at all levels within the organization. However, many organizations suffer from internal inefficiencies resulting from the lack of integration of work processes that have evolved separately over time. The inability of operational personnel to quickly understand a developing business issue—detecting an inventory problem, identifying fraudulent purchases real-time or identifying preferred customers at every point of contact—all result from a lack of the right information at the right time, to the right business user in the organization. From call centers to production managers, proactively delivering information as it’s needed can improve business users’ decisions throughout a corporation, increasing its overall efficiency.

To satisfy this need for information, business intelligence (BI) solutions are evolving to become more proactive, delivering actionable information to the front lines of business operations. This is best achieved by embedding information into the operational processes that drive the business, without forcing business users to learn yet another application or another set of processes. This strategy is being referred to as operational BI.

Operational Business Intelligence Tools

This shift in the use of business information is changing the way BI is being delivered. BI systems are no longer limited to departmental solutions accessed by analysts that cull through data reporting on business trends. While these systems will always provide critical insights into a company’s success in achieving its overall goals, BI solutions are evolving to deliver critical information to the people that transact and manage the business on a daily basis. This is achieved by leveraging application tools that can automate the delivery of key information to the masses, delivering data integrated in the desktops they interface with daily. There are many of these mainframe-enabled tools including DataQuant, Alphablox, IBI-WebFocus and SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence DB2* for z/OS* servers as one of the primary underlying databases.

Each of these solutions provides a slightly different approach to integrating BI into a System z* environment. Both IBI’s WebFocus and SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence solutions offer a wide spectrum of data-warehousing functions from built-in access, transformation and integration tools for a variety of data sources to reporting and visualization tools that present the data to end users. These products are suitable for those who wish to integrate many data sources or need to transform their data sources, delivering information to the visualization components that provide business users with the actionable information.

DataQuant delivers a powerful graphical reporting environment that allows organizations to quickly and easily develop decision-making applications with their interactive visualization solutions. Alphablox provides an excellent option for Web-based integration leveraging a WebSphere* portal to embed visualization results into operational processes. These fit well in organizations that already have their data cleansed and prepared for reporting and/or don't have strong requirements to access many data sources. Data access and cleansing functions can be added to these options with separate IBM* products such as Information Server for accessibility to information and DataStage for data management (see Figure 1).

Information for the Masses

While all BI solutions have the benefit of providing actionable information to a company, each has unique characteristics and performance requirements. Analytical BI systems are shared by relatively small numbers of users accessing data volumes to derive trending patterns. This information is delivered through standardized reports, dashboards and performance systems.

Operational BI solutions access far less data in a given inquiry; however, the ad-hoc information must be provided at transaction speeds embedded into the desktop for large volumes of users. To satisfy these requirements, operational BI systems place completely different requirements on the underlying systems that deliver these solutions.

Enabling BI for operational personnel means opening the system to potentially tens of thousands of users who are accustomed to structured application interfaces. IT implementers must rethink how BI is delivered to these business users. For most IT teams, it means integrating an enterprise decision support environment with the transactional environment of the company, both capable of supporting large groups of users accessing systems 24-7. This requirement dramatically alters the system characteristics for a BI environment.

Operational BI workloads also require a foundation with wide-reaching data accessibility. While this may sound difficult to achieve, SAS, IBI and now IBM provide the functionality to address data accessibility. Leveraging the latest technologies found in their offerings greatly simplifies this task. A key component found in Information Server for System z is Federation Server, which consolidates data into a single view. This gives users access to information dispersed throughout the enterprise, both on the mainframe as well as distributed platforms, making the vision of operational BI a reality.

Caryn Meyers is part of the IBM marketing organization in support of System z solutions in the BI and data serving area. She focuses on assisting teams with the design and delivery of scalable data warehouse solutions.

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