Are we attempting to view 21st-century organizations through a 1990s window? Decision makers’ ability to understand what customers are thinking and to be able to deliver service that dazzles and amazes them, depends on their organization’s ability to sift through all the available data. However, organizations are not doing a very good job of competing on analytics. Efforts to introduce more analytic power across enterprises to analytics-driven cultures appear to be lukewarm at best. What is needed is a way to embed analytics deeper into day-to-day business operations.
In a number of surveys conducted by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc., executives still report that spreadsheets are the interface of choice across their organizations. But gradually, enterprises are moving into a new era of big data and rapid access. They are learning to provide highly graphical views of data that can be grasped at a glance. There’s the recognition that an abundance of new data types now enable much richer views of customers and markets. There’s almost limitless processing power now available over the internet to quickly scale up and process analytical workloads. There’s the simplicity of providing mobile apps that provide easy-to-follow, essential data on any mobile device. Call it the era of the “New BI.”
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There are four key trends that are converging that make the “New BI” an emerging reality—taking BI from a world in which analytics is monopolized by quants with Ph.D.s to one in which information is made available to the decision makers in the front lines of change. These four key trends are taking BI interfaces from static bar charts to actionable information that really is valuable to businesses, now.
Visual analytics—also referred to as 3D data visualization—helps meet the need for analytics to be more clearly communicated to business decision makers. Visual analytics provides a way to explore and understand data at a much deeper level, to answer any question with a visual, spatial representation of the data. Users can even move forward and backward in time as they explore the data. Spreadsheets may offer rows of numbers, but data visualization brings those numbers alive and puts them in a context that can be quickly digested and understood. Data patterns will almost literally pop out of the screen at users. An example of visual analytics at work would be providing a visual map that enables accounting managers to quickly spot anomalies with purchase orders. The outliers would immediately stand out from the standard transactions. The key to making the most of data visualization is to identify pressing business issues that have been difficult for decision makers to grasp as candidates for visual analytics. This is the low-hanging fruit, and those executives who are able to zero in on and address one problem can then build successful business cases that will get the rest of the organization energized.
Unstructured data is a vast unrealized and untapped natural resource. Everyone recognizes it’s out there, and it’s a rich vein to be mined, but many executives may be 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 conducted among 264 data managers and professionals who are subscribers to Database Trends and Applications, 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. The Unisphere survey, which was sponsored by MarkLogic, finds that relational, structured data is still key to the business, as it ought to be—that’s what all the systems out there are built to handle. But a majority of respondents also recognize that business documents such as spreadsheets are essential to competing on analytics. But this data can’t be shoe-horned into the relational database systems that have been built up over the years. Add to that web log and audit log data, which also typically isn’t captured within standard database environments. That’s why there is so much interest in new approaches such as Hadoop and NoSQL databases.
The benefits of being able to leverage big data into business value are far-reaching, and respondents are generally optimistic as to what it can provide for them. The initial business case starts with competitive differentiation and marketing. Some examples of the kinds of insights this data delivers range from customer profitability analysis to call center interactions to text analytics. The key to capitalizing on unstructured data is to understand that this data already exists in abundance—from users, from applications, and from devices. The challenge is to identify the nuggets of data that are of value to the business.
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