The democratization of business intelligence

As Gigaom Research readers told us in a flash poll—and has been confirmed elsewhere—self-service is seen as the most disruptive force within the hot and fluid area of data discovery.

Although big data has received more hype, analytics, and the increased use of data in general, is becoming a pervasive factor in new cloud, mobile, and social applications across the enterprise. However, data access and analysis is still often too slow, costly, and dependent upon scarce levels of expertise for widespread implementation. (Few CIOs will be surprised by IBM’s survey findings that the greatest skills shortage is in combined analytics and business knowledge.)

But new, interactive, self-service capabilities are making the broader use of data feasible for many organizations. These solutions also incorporate new visualization and prediction tools. Visualization makes it easier for non-specialists to interpret data, and predictive analytics are increasingly important for customer segmentation and marketing analysis. An example of this broadening application of business intelligence can be found in Computerworld’s recent profile of Dell’s use of self-service analytics.

A fluid market

Into 2014, both start-up and established players are needing to update their systems, sometimes radically, to compete with a new standard of data discovery that is making many applications viable for the first time. (Tableau, MicroStrategy, and TIBCO Spitfire announced significant upgrades in 2013.) Few enterprises have yet settled upon—let alone widely implemented—standard applications for self-service data discovery, and startups are disrupting the often lagging capabilities that the leading data players currently offer. (According to Information Week’s 2014 analytics and business intelligence survey, only 35% or companies have standardized on one or a few BI products.)

Microsoft sets the tone

As an established market leader, Microsoft’s announcement last summer of its Power BI for Office 365 product may have been the most significant move toward democratizing BI capabilities across the enterprise. But the reshuffling and announcement of new vendor products has just begun.

Betting on Watson

Among the other established providers, IBM announced its Project NEO data visualization tool in December for mid-2014 availability. IBM then bet big this quarter on its Watson cognitive engine by announcing a $1 billion unit to advance its capabilities, draw in third-party developers, and market the machine-based, natural language learning solution to enterprises. IBM already has its traditional Cognos BI for very large data sets, but Watson has at least the potential to leapfrog the intelligence of even the challenger generation of self-service options.

The challengers are updating their offerings as well

Even Qlik, a leading challenger in data discovery, has felt the need to refresh its offerings, with the newly-architected QlikView.Next due for release later this year.

A bottom-up revolution?

BI is finding broader and more timely use in organizations as self-service capabilities make it possible to embed solutions in more enterprise applications. One benefit of this approach is to provide the greatest immediate return by simply operating on data that is contextual to the application being used. This also allows IT organizations to gradually phase in supplementary corporate or external data sets over time.

Ideally this approach will ultimately lead to the Holy Grail of integrated, cross-enterprise data access and analysis, as appropriate. Deloitte’s Andy Rusnak advocates taking a portfolio approach to collaborative data strategy and management in order to maximize such synergy. The trick, of course, is not to bog the emergent democratization of BI down with centralizing rules and committees that squelch the revolution.

Learning more

Gigaom Research’s recent report on self-service BI for the cloud looked at the importance of cloud and SaaS delivery for this next generation of BI. (Gigaom’s flash poll had 58% of respondents identifying self-service as the most disruptive factor in data discovery, with cloud second at 41%.) The report looks at the role of standalone, platform, and embedded solutions in bringing contextual BI to the enterprise masses.

Also, Gigaom’s upcoming Structure: Data 2014 will be held March 19 and 20 in New York. Along with two days of enterprise case studies and trend analysis, the conference will feature two ‘buyers-only’ sector mapping sessions, including one on visual data discovery at which findings from our latest Sector RoadMap report on the segment will be released.

Is data democracy coming to your enterprise?