Mainland and Hong Kong enterprises will speed up the pace of investment in business intelligence (BI) projects over the next few years, according to new market research. Research firm International Data Corp (IDC) has estimated Hong Kong's annual investments in BI-related software, computing hardware, systems-integration services, telecommunications services and networking gear will grow 7 per cent on average to reach a high of US$132 million in 2006 from US$96 million last year. The mainland is forecast to achieve 43 per cent annual growth in BI-related spending over the next few years after shelling out US$197 million last year. The steady rise in investment will ensure the market will overtake the present BI pace-setter, Australia, by 2006. Total demand for software, hardware and services used for BI projects in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, will grow 23 per cent a year and become a US$3.3 billion regional market in 2006, according to IDC. IDC research manager Robin Giang said this growth spurt in BI spending reflected the urgent need by companies across the Asia-Pacific region to control their operating costs while raising productivity, especially during uncertain economic times. Ms Giang said: 'Organisations today need BI solutions to better understand and plan their business, as well as respond to competition, based on sound comprehensive analysis of corporate information.' As part of the overall IT market, BI systems are used to analyse quantitative business data, usually business transactions. They provide insights that help business managers make tactical decisions, as well as to establish, modify, or tune their corporate strategies and processes to gain competitive advantage, improve business operations and profitability. Ms Giang said software products used to store, access and analyse corporate data make up the most significant investments in BI projects. In Asia, the biggest spenders on BI-related systems included companies in the banking, telecoms and distribution sectors. 'The attractiveness behind BI solutions is that they enable organisations to transform their unstructured data into market intelligence, and then channel this valuable information to the right people at the right time, so that immediate business decisions can be made and executed,' she said. She noted that investments by government agencies on BI projects would also be on the rise, with a forecast 4 per cent annual growth over the next five years. 'In Hong Kong, for example, the Census and Statistics Department has used software from BI tools vendor SAS Institute to help turn raw census data into refined insights that will help decision-making in the Hong Kong SAR Government.' Under the World Trade Organisation, mainland firms are also expected to keep pace with emerging competition in liberalised domestic industries with the help of individual BI projects. 'BI solutions help leverage companies' existing investments in database, data warehouse, enterprise resource management and customer relationship management projects - all of which help capture rich reservoirs of data that still need to be mined and analysed,' Ms Giang said. That would mean a shift in corporate IT spending priorities over the next few years.