HP stengthens BI services offerings

Hewlett-Packard has announced a set of services aimed at improving business intelligence implementations.

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Hewlett-Packard has announced a set of services aimed at improving business intelligence implementations.

One service is for ensuring master data is captured, stored and processed in a consistent manner across a company. Master data is organized around key aspects of business operations, such as "customers" and "products," and therefore often shared by multiple systems and divisions.

A second new HP service focuses on ensuring business data is accurate and complete. The third service will help companies develop a framework for governing data access, auditing, availability and security, HP said.

HP bolstered its BI team through the 2006 acquisition of the systems integrator Knightsbridge Solutions. On the product side, HP has the Neoview data-warehousing platform, as well as the recently announced HP Oracle Exadata Storage Server for large-scale data warehousing, co-developed with Oracle.

Investment in BI tools is expected to remain solid despite the weak economy, and many customers will likely turn to HP and other companies to help them complete projects.

But HP's announcement drew mixed reactions from industry observers on Tuesday.

Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson said, "In every report I write, I recommend baby steps -- small, tangible [project] deliverables a few weeks apart."

This is necessary because of the very fact that BI tools enable users to analyse and explore data, making it hard to pin down precisely what the application should be able to do.

"It's not like ERP [enterprise resource planning] -- 'my supply chain looks like this,'" he said. "With BI, you don't know what questions you're going to have tomorrow."

BI projects therefore can't follow a traditional software development lifecycle, where requirements are written, handed off to developers and then an application shows up months later, according to Evelson.

"That absolutely never works. The only thing that works is rapid prototyping," with developers and business analysts working closely together, he said.

However, he added, companies pursuing BI should not merely engage in a series of small efforts, he cautioned: "If you only do that, all you're going to get is all these little dashboards all over the place that don't have you marching toward another goal."

Given the tough economy, companies that procure BI services should "absolutely be pushing" for contracts that are conditional on project success, with some money paid up front and a bonus upon completion, Evelson said.

One problem with this scenario is that it is more difficult to measure a BI project's return on investment, he said. The challenge is "finding that kind of mutual understanding of what the success metrics are."

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