As a leading consultancy firm specialising in Business Intelligence we have been asked to look at the major trends we expect to see in the Business Intelligence market both for 2013 and the coming years. These trends are the result of extensive vendor research and discussions with our customers regarding their priorities for Business Intelligence and what makes it a success.
1. Social BI: letting people work together
In the past the major focus of the Business Intelligence vendors has mainly been on developing new functionality for developing reports, dashboards, data visualisation and the distribution of these reports and dashboards. New functionality has been added continually in these areas, under the assumption that these “features” were necessary to beat the competition and win new customers. However a few innovative vendors have been looking at Business Intelligence as a process, and have figured out that this process is more complicated than distributing the right information to the right people in the right format.
Some of these Business Intelligence pioneers have been working on Social Business Intelligence, adding new functionality to document analysis, decision management and to enabling on-line discussions about the numbers, extending the Business Intelligence process to the area of decision making. They have added several social features including: commenting, likes and shared analysis.
From a business perspective these features are really valuable and will definitely increase the usability and the value of Business Intelligence. Users can see, interpret, analyze, discuss and document the performance numbers within one application. They no longer need to consult different sources and ask their colleagues what is going on it, is all available in one place. Mobile Business Intelligence will help make this even more effective.
2. Business Intelligence frameworks
In the area of software engineering professional developers are very used to the concept of reusability when it comes to developing information systems, but less so in the Business Intelligence software market. From the start of Business Intelligence, thirty years ago, the focus of Business Intelligence has been mainly on reporting, graphics and Online Analytical Processing (OLAP). Now we can see a shift developing; more and more vendors and organizations are looking at Business Intelligence as an efficient way of providing business insights. Where reports are almost impossible to reuse because of their static nature and large size, insights aren’t. Insights are small reusable objects, containing a parameter driven query and adequate visualisation, which can be stored in a library. These insights can be reused in reports, analysis, dashboards, intranets, mobile devices and even websites.
From basic insights it is only a small step to automating the complete information logistics by defining which insights should be used by which organizational roles. The benefit is huge: users can see almost instantly the information that is relevant to them instead of having to search through endless information sources most of which are irrelevant to them. In addition: insights can be reused by and shared among other roles, even external roles like customer or vendor. This type of information logistics is addressed in Business Intelligence frameworks. So, don’t just design reports, but design insights and more important, reuse them as much as possible.
3. Performance and Big Data
After three decades of innovation in Business Intelligence many implementations struggle still with performance issues. Not only because the data volumes are higher (Big Data), but also because the complexity of the data and calculations needed to assemble and distribute the right insights to the business users and analysts has been increasing steadily over recent years. Recently almost every Business Intelligence seminar has a presentation on “Big Data” (whatever that may be), whilst there is little agreement about what Big Data actually is it is clear that a number of sources like the financial markets, social media, modern airplanes and trains and smart phones are producing thousands of times more data than they did only 5 years ago. The question is can we improve the quality of our decision making processes by doing something with this huge mountain of data, and do we have the hardware and software available that is necessary to provide valuable insights in a reasonable amount of time at a price we can afford to pay.
The management guru Mintzberg wrote several years ago that (senior) managers have a very busy schedule, their work seems to be very fragmented, they have to deal with a wide area of subjects at one time and have a strong preference for lively interaction. This is still true today and not just for management, other employees have the same problems. Given that this reflects the current business environment we are operating in where decisions must be taken swiftly and accurately, we need Business Intelligence systems that will respond almost instantly with the required answers. Business Intelligence vendors are addressing this by providing advanced functionality to compress and aggregate the data, put the data in-memory, and cache the insights as much as possible, but will that be enough to overcome the on-going performance challenge? We expect in the coming years more innovations that will address this major challenge.
4. Focus on the million dollar insights
Reports should not be the primary focus (from a technical point of view) when developing Business Intelligence systems. More and more organizations are no longer satisfied with Business Intelligence which only provides just plain reporting, both from a technical and a business point of view; insights are the way to go. Organizations are demanding Business Intelligence that will add real value to their business processes; they want insights which will allow both employees and management to either earn a lot of money quickly or to see where they can cut costs significantly. These insights are called ‘million dollar insights’, often difficult to design and build, but they contain real intelligence. The coming years we will see Business Intelligence becoming more mature in its ambition, guided by real business challenges and governed by the same economic principles applied to other areas of the business.
5. Business Analytics: trying to predict the future accurately
Although in itself it’s not a new concept, (Niels Bohr, who won the Nobel Prize in 1922, once said “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future“), being able to predict accurately what will happen to various costs and revenues within our organizations is probably the most useful thing we can do in a time of crisis. Whether Business Analytics is a branch of Business Intelligence or a new type of product entirely is totally irrelevant as far as an organization is concerned. What is important is that with the processing power and the software that is becoming available will allow us to build models of our organizations and allow us to predict the effects of external economic changes like interest rates, or economic growth and recession. Clearly to build these models we need to understand the interdependency of our internal processes, and that is the first step to improving them using the Business Intelligence processes we have discussed in the preceding paragraphs. In 2012 we have seen some impressive results using these techniques, for example an American statistician called Nate Silver correctly predicted the US Presidential Election results in all 50 states – 3 days before the election. We expect the acceptance of Business Analytics to increase in 2013 producing even more impressive results.