Internaut: The time is now to build business intelligence

System consolidation requires planning and modification to existing applications. It's a perfect time to re-think the way business is conducted at an agency.

Shawn P. McCarthy

Are government system consolidations as intelligent as they should be? Some are.

Government agencies are under considerable pressure from both the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal CIO Council to consolidate information systems, reduce application redundancies and improve the way they share data with other government agencies.

It's a tall order, but also a golden opportunity for agencies to increase the level of business intelligence built into their computer systems.

At most agencies, business practices (meaning the basic flow of information, decisions, transactions and associated reporting) usually include a mix of manual and automated processes. These processes support both technical and management practices across multiple locations. And they're sometimes overlooked in consolidation projects. The goal of merging multiple financial or human resources systems throughout an agency is admirable, but that alone doesn't streamline the various ways data flows in and out of these applications.

Larger goal

A larger goal is to develop powerful business platforms capable of hosting cross-platform applications with built-in business intelligence.

In the minds of some IT managers, however, adding business intelligence objectives to a system consolidation project has the potential to slow down work and increase costs. As a result, it's easy to postpone business intelligence integration until a later date.

But consider this: System consolidation requires a lot of planning and considerable modification to existing applications. It's actually a perfect time to rethink the way business is conducted at a government agency, and to analyze the long-term return on investment that can be gained from integrating business intelligence.

Here are some simple ideas for beginning to integrate business intelligence right now:

  • Start by looking at your current reporting functions. How are your reports built? Where does the data come from, and how is it integrated?
  • How can these reports be automated, and how close to real-time can you make them?
  • Are all fields tagged with the Extensible Markup Language?
  • Once such tagging and report automation is completed, can you build other applications around the associated data gathering and reporting functionality?

System upgrades

The Food and Drug Administration took the business intelligence approach to recent system upgrades. For the past few years, the FDA has used a solution from Business Objects Inc. of San Jose, Calif., to do ad-hoc reporting. As FDA has plugged into the Health and Human Services Department's United Financial Management System, it has built its enterprise architecture to accommodate its reporting solution.

The managers of the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System also are building a consolidated Web-based system that can, among other things, allow administrators to create real-time reports with an enterprise-level view.

Also built using Business Objects, such reports can be automated and shared, and business logic can be triggered by certain events.

Agencies facing substantial system consolidations would do well to look at their current data gathering and reporting requirements and try to automate those functions as they design their new systems. In the long run, the payoff is far greater than just reducing the number of applications hosted by an agency.

Shawn P. McCarthy is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC of Framingham, Mass. E-mail him at smccarthy@idc.com.

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