by Boris Evelson and Colin Teubner.

Business intelligence (BI) practitioners have always thought of the world as data-centric. Data integration, data warehouses, data marts, reports, and query builders were always about data. BI has traditionally excelled at answering questions like "what happened" or even "why did it happen" but always fell short on "what do I do about it" and fell short of the next logical steps which traditionally have been the realm of business process management (BPM) and business rules engines (BRE). This data-centric view of the world turns out to be plain wrong. The world is much more process and rules-centric. We run many processes every time we come to the office, these processes generate data, which in turn trigger rules, and in turn generate more data output that is being consumed by processes in an endless loop.

We've been researching the topic of "3Bs": BI, BPM, and BRE convergence for several months here at Forrester. We started out on the tack that while the requirements and applications for convergence between these technologies are very strong, almost intuitive, actual vendor solutions in the area are weak and require significant customization. While many vendors actually possess several of these technologies, innovation in combining them together has so far been limited to the BPM vendors — and because these companies tend to sell their wares as a platform, rather than as a specific solution to a problem, buyers are left to combine BPM, rules and BI themselves. Yes, many BI vendors can trigger basic report workflows based on certain conditions and can expose data or consume data as a service. And yes, many application vendors embed BI dashboards into applications. What we need today, however, are generic BI, BPM and BRE tools with clear integration points. Tomorrow, we'll be looking for end users and VARs putting these converged solutions together themselves.

Why is this convergence so important? BPM vendors sell efficiency gains, BI vendors sell visibility into business results, and rules vendors sell optimized decision-making — but for this type of software to have a profound impact on a business, all three technologies need to be used in a drive towards business optimization. BI tools are needed to help understand results of BPM processes; rules describe what constitutes a significant event and what actions should be taken; BPM is needed to provide process context and take action on those results.

And once an as-is process is optimized in this way, the process itself must be improved to see additional business gains. BI must step up and provide results in process context, combining both process metrics and business metrics. All this leads to real insight into the business, its processes and how they work, giving answers to more advanced questions. "How can we make this process faster?" becomes "Should we be doing this process?" or "What else do our customers need?"

An added benefit — icing on the cake — is "context-aware BI". BI has been traditionally hard to use, especially in a self service environment because most of the time users start with a blank slate. They open up a blank dashboard or an ad-hoc query tool and are immediately presented with a variety of KPIs, KPMs, facts, dimensions, etc. and are forced make a decision on where to start, what measures to pick first, what is really relevant to the problem at hand. In the converged world of process centric or context aware BI, one would almost never start with a blank dashboard. Since it is the process that pulls the dashboard automatically at the right place and the right time, the process is aware of where it is and what decision needs to be made. It can therefore pre-populate that dashboard with the right KPIs/KPMs or the right intersection of facts and dimensions for the user to hit the ground running with the analysis and decisions.

There seem to be a chicken and the egg syndrome going on here: Vendors are not putting a lot of attention to this matter because there's not much customer demand, and customers are not really thinking in terms of process-centric BI because no one's educated them on the benefits of going to converged 3B model. Who's right and who's wrong here? Please submit your thoughts and ideas and we'll do our best to include them in our upcoming report on the subject.