Cognos VP calls BI 'must have' technology

If you want to stay competitive, you need to be smarter. It's as simple as that, according to Don Campbell, senior vice president of information delivery products at veteran business intelligence provider Cognos.

What's the biggest reason that companies should incorporate BI into their CRM strategies?

I think that the core value of business intelligence is to be able to bring together a lot of different information in order to make a valuable decision. A customer touches an organization in many, many different places. And collecting all of the information about the customer and all the touch points for a customer in your organization generates an awful lot of somewhat disconnected information. Business intelligence helps you bring all of that information together. And whether you're someone on the shop room floor, or you're someone in the financial department, or you're someone dealing with a supplier in IT, you need to have the information in the view that you need to see it, in the manner that you need to receive it. And it has to connect all of the dots together, so you're really getting the full 360 [degree] view of that customer. Your company has been making business intelligence products for a long time. How have you seen the market change over time?

We've seen a couple of different ripple effects. We started out feeding a departmental customer. And from there came the Internet wave. All of a sudden, client-server type software turned into an easier-to-deploy environment on a Web browser. And so we moved all of our BI onto the Web. That certainly helped administration and the access that we could get to an end user because now it's easier for corporations to roll it out to many more people. We also can now touch an extended enterprise and the whole supply chain aspect of it. The wave we're seeing now is really around the enterprise. It is tying together all of the information access around an entire extended enterprise. And that's worldwide. It's multiple languages, multiple operating systems, it's 24x7 kinds of up times, it's massive scalabilities. Business intelligence is not a 'nice to have', it's a 'must have'. It's the only way that businesses can really stay competitive in this very competitive market that we're in right now. As time goes on, the amount and complexity of enterprise data is going to increase. What do you think the future holds for BI?

That's very true, we get more and more data. Our job is to turn data into information. I think different dimensions become critical. One is user access point. So it's no longer valid to say 'We will deliver information only to your desktop computer.' That's where the whole mobile aspect comes in, wireless devices, etc. I think that another dimension is time -- being able to deliver information instantly. I think that's going to increase a lot as well. And if we push time to the next step, the next step is the predictive side of it. So being able to identify conditions from an analytical standpoint and project where we will be at some point in the future, drive an event off of a pending condition and identify a problem before it becomes a problem. I think that's going to increase over the next little while as well. We're still not quite there as an industry in consuming information at the fullest extent of today's technology. I still think we have a ways to go for companies to really roll out the strength of the software and the hardware that exists today because it does take some time. But where we want to lead our customers is around strong analytics applications, a variety of end user access points and letting business intelligence be accessible to everybody in an organization in the way that they need it. Can you give an example of how this would be used?

Suppose you're a salesperson, and your job is to be out of the office visiting customers. You're in your car a lot, you're in airports and various different places. Now suppose your key customer is trying to purchase something through you or they've got a problem with one of the existing products that you've sold them. They're contacting customer support and they're logging a problem. That information is being collected and business intelligence is being done on that information, and you as the sales rep need to know that your key customer has an issue because you have an opportunity to close more business with that customer or make that customer more satisfied. And it can't necessarily wait til 5 o'clock when you get back into the office to check your e-mail. So that's an obvious need where you have to be connected at all times. You recently announced a partnership with RIM to enable wireless access to BI apps through BlackBerry devices. Can you explain the importance of giving people mobile access?

If information is your key corporate asset, then getting information in a timely manner is very important. You want to be able to get the information from your infrastructure to the person that needs to make a decision. That person may be at their desk and available at their portal, but what happens if they're not? What happens when they're on the road or they're at a customer site or they're away from their office? In a CRM kind of application, you need to know how to respond to the needs of your customer when the information is hot. And so there was a natural tie to push Cognos' business intelligence content to a device that you can have mobile with you at all times. There was a natural connection with RIM and that's why that partnership, I think, is going to be very strong for both companies. Microsoft recently announced it is entering the CRM arena. How do you think this will impact the market?

Just because of the marketing and PR muscle of Microsoft, anything that they do is going to raise the visibility of any market. That normally has a positive impact on every player. For Cognos, we have a great relationship and partnership with Microsoft. I think from an entire market segment standpoint, the awareness that Microsoft brings and that they will bring as they roll out more and more tailored, specific applications or services around CRM, will help us to leverage the tools that we have at our disposal. Part of what we've tried to do at Cognos is turn new technological innovations into tools and applications that can help our customers in the area of business intelligence. Anything Microsoft can do in an interface, in a device or in an operating system that can help Cognos to expose the rich BI smarts that it knows is under the covers is going to help the end user. So I think it's great.

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