The following is an excerpt from our recent webinar: Old vs New – Trends in Data Analytics, which you can watch for free here.
The business intelligence landscape is constantly evolving, and while the basic concept has and always will be the same – i.e., using technology to turn data into insights that organizations can act on – today’s data analytics tools are very different from the ones that companies were using a decade ago. Let’s review some of these changes, and venture a guess as to what business intelligence and data analytics might look like in the next few years.
Read the full text below, or get a quick rundown by viewing the slideshow:
The Evolution of Business Intelligence
The user base: no longer a privileged few
In the early days of business intelligence, BI was the privilege of a few – large organizations with massive resources and a central IT team with the time and skill to procure and implement a solution, a process which would often take months or years.
Advances in technology and a stronger focus on user experience have changed this, and modern business intelligence tools automate many of the processes which formerly required intensive technical knowledge. In short, analytics and reporting has been simplified, and accordingly the types of organizations and users who have access to BI has grown significantly.
We see this ourselves with many of our customers at Sisense: alongside many of the “usual suspects” – the large enterprises, fortune 500s, etc. – you can also see a strong presence of SMEs, or even startups in some cases. Additionally, because deploying a BI solution is simpler and cheaper than it used to be, these deployments are often departmental rather than enterprise-wide.
Technology moves from OLAP to In-Memory to In-Chip
In the past organizations had less data than they do now, but still relied on technologies such as OLAP, which is great for handling large datasets but limits the ability of of business users to perform ad-hoc queries due to its reliance on pre-aggregation.
OLAP cubes were optimized to answer the same questions you already knew you had, faster; but if you had new questions or wanted to explore your data that would require changes to the underlying data model, which meant going back to the IT pipeline. And so business users would get canned reports, in either a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the pace their IT team could keep up with.
But in recent years, analytics technology has changed dramatically: technologies such as in-memory enabled you to ask any question across the database and receive near-instant answers, using simple formulas or basic SQL. Further down the road In-Chip™, pioneered by Sisense, has taken these ad-hoc capabilities and made them available even when working with large, complex datasets from multiple sources.
These technological advances mean that reports no longer have to be produced by IT, and enables the business user to perform ad-hoc querying and analysis, significantly expanding the scope and possibilities of data analysis.
The initiative moves from IT to Business
As a result of BI becoming more of a ‘mainstream’ product (rather than a niche toolset for IT and DBAs), and with the advances in technology that made it more accessible to business users, the ownership of a typical BI project has also shifted – from an IT-led initiative to one typically spearheaded by business departments who want to increase the value they gain from data – with finance, marketing and operations being some of the few that would spring first to mind.
Overall, this is a change that is good for all parties involved: IT teams have a lot of mission-critical responsibilities, and often become a bottleneck when they are also tasked with generating frequently-changing reports for business departments. Moving this responsibility to the business users themselves, or to dedicated BI analysts, means the business gets its reports faster, while IT can focus on its core responsibilities, implementation of new technologies and ensuring data governance.
Next Up: Tackling Complexity and Moving Beyond Dashboards
We’ve seen that BI technology has evolved, and as a result it has become an initiative that is typically owned and operated by business departments rather than technical ones. We have seen the move towards ad-hoc reporting and data exploration instead of canned scheduled reports. So what’s next?
We believe that the future of the business intelligence market will be largely dominating by two seemingly contradicting forces: the growth in data complexity and the demand for simplicity.
Coming to terms with complex data
We’ve written before about the fact that data is growing more complex on a daily basis, mainly due to the abundance of data which we can now use digital means to measure, store and process.
If in the past century an organization would mainly track its financial records, with the bulk of reporting and analysis done on an annual basis, today’s businesses have a wealth of data about consumers and business processes from such sources as CRM, online web analytics, machine data and more. The internet of things promises to generate an even greater, endless stream of real-time data from a host of interconnected devices. And all of this data is coming from different sources, in different formats and with wildly different requirements when it comes to BI analysis.
This is compounded by the business questions themselves growing in complexity, either in terms of the depth of statistical analysis or in the timeliness in which the information is required.
And in this age of complex data, the business requirements seem to be almost the polar opposite: business users want simplicity. They want easy and quick access to data. They want to be able to answer ad-hoc queries independently, using a single system rather than having to become familiar an assembly line of database, query and visualization tools.
These two seemingly-opposed vectors dictate that business analytics vendors will have to come to terms with the rise of complex data, alongside the need to continue to cater to the demands of the business departments that they are meant to serve. Pure visualization tools, which were all the rage during the last decade, will have to grow to become something more in order to continue and serve their purpose – they will need to offer stronger data preparation capabilities and a more complete solution, while still offering the same streamlined and accessible user experience that had fueled their rise to the top. It is a challenge (which I believe Sisense answers better than any other vendor), but this challenge will shape the BI market in the years to come.
Giving Data a Real-World Presence
The second trend that is likely to deeply change the future of BI lies in innovative new ways to consume data and business intelligence insights. It is in this area that changes in technology have yet to cause a deep impact – sure, today’s BI dashboard software is capable of producing flashier, more interactive dashboards, and graphics are better than ever; but a chart is a chart, and higher resolutions do not mean deeper insights.
However, with the influx of new IoT and VR devices, and the ability to use these technologies to connect the physical and digital worlds, it is becoming possible to take the data out of the dashboards we’ve grown accustomed to use and give it a physical presence – with alerts coming in the form of ambient lights, and reports generated by speaking to a virtual assistant in natural language.
While this transformation has only now begun, we are sure to see more of it in years to come – as data becomes a more integral part of every business process, we will begin to see more innovative and effective ways of consuming and interacting with it.