4 forces changing the face of business intelligence

Are we still viewing 21st century organizations through a 1990s window?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

These are four of the major trends reshaping business intelligence and analytics this year, the subject of a webcast I just delivered as part of my work with Unisphere Research/Information Today Inc. (The webcast was sponsored by Tableau Software.)

iPhone Mirror images by Joe McKendrick
Image: Joe McKendrick/ZDNet

In looking at the coming revolution in BI and analytics, the question that needs to be asked is: "Are we still viewing 21st century organizations through a 1990s window?"

Analytics guru Tom Davenport, for one, still believes that we still are caught in the 1990s, so to speak, with analytics still in the domain of the quants and statisticians.

Plus, the BI interfaces decision makers still use are two-dimensional charts — and even simple spreadsheets.

Here are the four trends shaking up BI as we've known it:

Visual analytics

Some also refer to this as "3D data visualization." Perhaps even 4D would be a better way to describe it, since it enables a look across time — the fourth dimension.

Visual analytics provides something more powerful than 2D charts, and providing deeper understanding. They are typically interactive, 3D diagrams that enable decision-makers to see at a glance what is trending.

A stunning example of visual analytics is Google's work-in-progress, a 3D map of the universe called, "100,000 Stars." It enables you to zoom in on our solar system, and then zoom over to the closest adjoining star and it's solar system. Click on specific stars and planets, and you will get a brief description.

Imagine similar visualizations for business problem and opportunity areas, and you get what I mean — it's out of this world. You can plot your data points, as well as even plot time to see how trends unfold.

You already see this with those weather maps that move two, three days into the future. It turns the data into a physical object that you can view from different angles or timespans. It really brings data alive, and drives home any points that need to be made.

Unstructured data

Unstructured data is a vast, vast unrealized and untapped natural resource. When I say unrealized, I mean everyone recognizes it's out there, and it's a rich vein to be mined, but many executives maybe sitting right on top of the gold without even realizing it's down there.

The ability to extract insights from unstructured data — which is the essence of Big Data — represents opportunities for real business returns. The insights that lie in Big Data are key to competitiveness in today's economy — offering insights to predict market shifts, understand customer behavior, optimize supply chains, and develop product innovations.

Executives, managers and professionals who are able to make better and faster decisions more often will have the edge in today's economy.

In a survey Unisphere Research conduced among 264 data managers about a year ago, we found our respondents almost unanimously agree that unstructured data — which they define as business documents, presentations and social media data — is on the rise, and ready to engulf their current data management systems.

The trouble is, management does not understand that the challenge is coming, and fails to recognize the significance of unstructured data assets to the business. So there's lots of work to be done here.

Cloud-based BI and analytics

BI can be expensive to purchase, implement and maintain. Cloud may change all that. Cloud is opening up business intelligence and analytics to more users — non-analysts — within organizations. There already is a drive to make BI more ubiquitous, and the cloud will accelerate this move toward simplified access.

To be sure, we're still only in the early stages cloud-based BI and analytics. A survey of 200 companies by Saugatuck Technology concludes that only about 13 percent of enterprises worldwide — including all industries and all sizes of enterprises — have cloud-based BI/advanced analytics solutions in place and in use. But this is about to change.

Saugatuck's survey also shows that cloud-based BI and analytics will be among the fastest-growing cloud-based business management solution types through the next two years. Cloud-based BI and analytics will see an 84 percent compound annual growth rate over this period.

Mobile BI and analytics

This is something from the "It's-About-Time" Department: More enterprises are embracing — or will soon be embracing — access to data analytics via mobile apps. Having analytics available in a simple app fashion could be a major boost for efforts to "democratize" analytics in organizations.

The key is to keep things simple and understandable, and mobile apps can go a long way in delivering this. Analytics can be offered through simple, single-purpose mobile apps, who's utility is quickly and easily grasped by business users.

(Disclosure: I was compensated for my webcast presentation.)

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