Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Evolving Landscape of Business Intelligence

There will always be a need for business decision makers to access business data in order to understand what is going on in their organisations. The Business Intelligence (BI) tools available for this need have changed significantly within the last few years. This article looks at 3 issues that can be seen to be contributing towards the changing BI Landscape. First of all, there has been a shift of power from IT to the end business user. Secondly, there is a move from traditional BI to Business Discovery and lastly the changes in how businesses now actually operate and make decisions can be seen to be making an impact.

To start with, let's look at the new business user. Business users are increasingly becoming more vocal and demanding. The way that we consume, explore and share information has been redefined by the way we search on the internet, the easy to use consumer apps we access, new mobile technologies and social networks. Users now expect business software applications to be as simple, intuitive and user friendly as the applications they use outside the office. Business users are now seeking out tools themselves with or without the help or consent of IT.

Next let's look at Traditional BI. Originally BI was IT driven. Business users would request reports from IT and they would do the necessary work involved to extract, manipulate and present the required data. The Data requirements were pre-determined. IT could often take weeks or months to create the dashboards and reports required.

The new Business Discovery tools that are available put users back in control of data. Business Discovery allows you to explore data rather than drilling down through the data. Data does not have to be predetermined. It works the way your mind works, associatively. One question gives rise to a second question, which gives rise to a third question and so on. In essence, it enables you to ask the last question first and enables train of thought analysis. It allows you to uncover hidden trends in data by not only highlighting associated data, but by also highlighting what is not associated. (For example; how is it that we have sold product x to this customer, but not product y?)

In essence, the new business discovery applications have similar characteristics to the tools and applications that business users adopt outside of the workplace. Business Discovery is fast, simple & intuitive like internet search tools such as google. Business Discovery applications also include a global search facility which allows you to explore the entire data set. You can then manipulate and explore the data from a variety of different angles and visualise it in numerous charts, tables and graphs. The associative search feature enables users to define an experimental journey through the data. Business Discovery applications can pull in data from any source and can be accessed on the go via internet browsers on mobiles and tablets.

Lastly, let's look at how Traditional BI was managed. In the past BI Projects tended to be managed centrally and filtered out to different parts of organisation. For example, a management exec in finance would maybe approach IT to create a dashboard or report on specific financial metrics. The approach was hierarchical and specific to that particular department or area.

However, if you think about it, this doesn't actually fit how most businesses actually communicate and make decisions these days. Businesses actually communicate and make decisions in a much more devolved networked way. Decision making is more widely spread throughout the organisation. The new Business Discovery tools available match this framework. They empower, enable and encourage the end business users at all levels in an organisation to access and explore data to improve decision making.