Demand grows for unified information access
Forward-looking companies are exploring ways to integrate large volumes of structured and unstructured data so they can access to information from one single point for faster and more effective decision-making.
This is the view of Michael de Andrade, CEO of information solutions specialist, EnterpriseWorx. “The vision of unified information access (UIA) is only starting to be realised,” he says, “but new platforms and advanced application integration technologies are emerging to provide business people with near real-time analytics and interactive user interfaces.
“UIA provides a single point of access to multiple heterogeneous sources of information, combining elements of database management, business intelligence (BI) and search technologies. In a call centre context, for example, it ‘connects the dots’ by bringing together address details, transactions, interactions and documents relating to a particular customer.”
Forrester Research points out that “search and BI really are two sides of the same coin. “Enterprise search enables people to access unstructured content like documents, blog and wiki entries and emails stored in repositories across their organisations. BI presents structured data in reports and dashboards. As both technologies mature, the boundary between them is beginning to blur.”
“Business managers want to be able to access information regardless of where it is located,” says De Andrade. “Search and BI are evolving into unified information discovery and analysis supported by UIA. Technological convergence will give business people a centralised view of information for more accurate analysis and more precise decision-making.
“This takes the traditional notion of extracting data from external sources, transforming it to improve quality and loading it into a database (ETL) to a new level. Having said that, the basics of sound data management remain intact. It’s important to implement an integration project with the physical aspect of data management in mind.
“Information technology (IT) managers need to think through where the data ‘lands’ and how it is consolidated. In the first instance, the data warehouse architecture must be structurally sound. To make integration a reality, you need to think upfront about which sources will talk to which targets and then develop an architecture that allows data to flow without an ETL requirement each time. In large organisations, it may be necessary to set up an integration competency centre (ICC) to align business and IT requirements and processes within the organisational framework.
“Companies need to be clear on their strategic objectives and implement UIA in a methodical way. The latest analytical tools are able to integrate structured and unstructured data and display massive amounts of information visually in an accessible way.
“This makes it possible for organisations to discover crucial relationships buried in huge, complex, dynamic information collections with hard to discern links and use it for forecasts almost in real time, giving them an edge on their competitors.”
According to a recent IDC research report, more than 75% of businesses internationally are looking for ways to merge structured and unstructured information, or are already deploying information access software to achieve this. The report states that, “impatient with their siloed approach to information, organisations are looking for ways to make it easier and faster to find, merge and understand the information that is scattered today across applications and servers.
“Search vendors need to add data analysis, visualisation and reporting capabilities that include structured as well as unstructured data. BI and data warehousing systems need to add more features to improve language understanding, and they need to improve the speed with which new information is added and made findable.
“New BI applications will need to present their features in an easy-to-use environment that hides the complexity of the underlying technologies and data stores and helps workers make more informed decisions.”
“Integration and ease of access is required to overcome organisations’ siloed views of information,” says De Andrade, “The challenge facing our digital world,” is to find ways of helping businesses to locate and penetrate information nuggets and present information when and where they need it.”