Practical Operational BI

I recently had an interesting conversation about business intelligence and operational BI with Steve Mauss, President and COO of Knowledge Relay.  Knowledge Relay was founded in 1984 and has its roots in project management software for the aerospace/defense and government verticals.  Over the years, it has expanded its reach to support other industries such as utilities and construction as well as adding new data access and analysis capabilities.  The company leverages open source software.


Knowledge Relay


The goal of the company is to help organizations “improve operational efficiencies by reducing the time between collecting data and acting on it”.  In fact, Knowledge Relay promises that it will get your large or mid-sized company up and running on its platform in 30 days.  The company has several products that help it to do this.  One is called Data Integrator.  The other is Information Visualizer. 


  • Data Integrator.  Data Integrator comes with over 250 connectors out of the box to help companies connect to a myriad of data sources including CRM, ERP, databases, financial applications, and project management software. .  Data integrator also performs the Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) part of the integration puzzle.  It uses a drag and drop interface to map source to target destinations. The company deals with data quality ty in a couple of ways.  Its ETL solution has built-in quality control as the data is migrated and transformed.  It also provides an applet that performs quality checks in the background (pre- and post-migration) and, if/when it finds a problem, it notifies (i.e. via email to computer or mobile devices) the responsible parties and asks them to fix it.  
  • Information Visualizer.  Information Visualizer combines multiple data sources into a single view.  It includes Gantt, PERT, X-Y line, pie, and text reports as well as some dashboards (which it OEMs from iDashboards).  The company also supports sharing of information via a job server that distributes PDF reports automatically via email, a web portal, or a number of print options.  I’ve included some of the visualizations, below.



Knowledge Relay supports some pretty practical operational applications.  For example, an energy company might use the software to analyze regular maintenance tasks that involve the integration of project management, ERP, and MRO information.   The system will help management understand how it is performing on these tasks.  It can also be used to generate a list of items that the guy on the floor needs in order to deal with something like outage management. 


Operational BI


There has been a lot of hype over the past few years about operational BI and particularly real time operational BI.   Think embedding and automating analytics in a process so a person (or another process) can act on that information in real time. A good example of this is a call center.  In this use case, a call center representative can use the information about a customer he or she is speaking with to up-sell, cross-sell, and so on during a phone call.  How does this work?  When the call is received, the system retrieves the information on a customer and it is analyzed and passed to the call center agent who can then act on it. This sounds exciting, and it can be, although industry studies indicate that this is not yet mainstream technology. 


Operational BI, at its core, is really what Knowledge Relay is talking about – providing information to people to help them make decisions and take action in the context of a business process.  At Knowledge Relay, operational BI is about utilizing BI to analyze the operational aspects of a business and provide this insight, not only to executives, but also to the people on the front lines.   This analysis is embedded (and automated) into the process.  As Steve put it, “It’s not always enough to find out about an operational problem, it’s also important to identify (data quality and other) issues as soon as possible in order to avoid cascading problems throughout the system; problems that will later have to be undone just to get back to a baseline. “  There is a lot of value in this.




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