In the past, business intelligence used to be the remit of a small number of highly-trained marketeers who planned the optimal number of crisp packets on a supermarket shelf. But in today's world of e-commerce rollouts, network managers are being pushed into providing back-end systems to support ever more sophisticated business intelligence databases and customer relationship management packages. The main reason for the growing adoption of such systems is simply that they are getting cheaper. An increasing number of companies have moved into the business of producing relatively low-cost business intelligence packages. MicroStrategy is one such player. In 1997 it developed broadcaster technology that allowed it to deliver business intelligence information to people's pagers, rather than to their desktops. The company's development effort is designed to take advantage of this convergence so that enterprises can analyse far more information about their customers. At its recent user conference, World 99, MicroStrategy chief executive Michael Saylor, explained how intelligent e-business will develop over time. "Convenience is about extending the personalised storefront all the way to the pina colada hut on the beach," he said. The company plans to achieve this through a new set of technologies that build on MicroStrategy's existing business intelligence suite. It will add telecasting and an e-business enabled transaction engine to its current technology. According to Sanju Bansal, MicroStrategy's chief operating officer, part of the development plan calls for a new version of existing products because when originally designed, MicroStrategy did not envisage having more than 5,000 users. "Today we can support up to one million users," he said. MicroStrategy is also planning to integrate directly with websites, rather than with applications. The idea is to bypass complex business process integration by attaching to a target web page and reading through that site to obtain the information needed for a particular application, said Saylor. Yet some problems remain. Enterprises still find that business intelligence packages will have a very profound effect on their network infrastructures. The sheer amount of data static can also put a drain on bandwidth, leading to potential network problems. Top Marks Jonathan Summerfield, IT projects manager at MicroStrategy customer Marks & Spencer, said that to do all the things MicroStrategy envisages requires a huge investment in infrastructure. M&S has been developing a single warehouse since 1996, and believes it will be mid 2000 before it completes a project designed to run a single data warehouse accessible to 50 buying departments. "You have to get the infrastructure right before anything else can happen," said Summerfield.
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