Putting Data to Work: Winning Approaches to BI, Analytics and Reporting

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Business intelligence (BI) and analytics are at the top of corporate agendas this year, and with good reason. The competitive environment is intense, and business leaders are demanding they have access to greater insights about their customers, markets, and internal operations to make better and faster decisions—often in real time.

There have also been dramatic changes with BI and analytics tools and platforms. The three Cs—cloud, consolidation, and collaboration—are elevating BI and analytics to new heights within enterprises and gaining newfound respect at the highest levels.

What's New

For starters, there are two types of analytics emerging in today’s environments, said Dennis Duckworth, director of product marketing at VoltDB. There are “fast” and “big” analytics. “Fast” analytics remains an elusive goal, according to Duckworth. “While analytics companies like to talk about operational analytics, most systems still operate too slowly to be considered operational.”

Then there’s the cloud, which is facilitating the growth of  the “big” analytics. BI and analytics are “moving to the cloud the same way everything else is,” said Jake Freivald, vice president of corporate marketing at Information Builders. “Analytical tools are moving there even faster. If an end user is data-savvy enough to manage their own data, the cloud makes it easy to host and manage their own data.” The rate of adoption, however, depends on corporate culture.

Another convergent trend is the blending of BI and data discovery tools. “BI and data discovery are complementary, not competitive,” said Marc Altshuller, general manager of IBM Business Analytics. He noted that BI provides “governed data and the most robust and secure set of report distribution capabilities” to data discovery sites.“Self-service discovery capabilities, which happen to be use-case driven, are also now showing up directly within BI as well,” he observed, noting that there has been a realization that “the first generation of data discovery offerings are very prone to user bias.” Data is needed to back up assumptions.

Adding to the growth of tools in the analytics space is the emergence of machine learning. Along with cloud, there has been a surge of “self-learning analytics systems, which combine insights from people, algorithms, and models, across vast and varied data to improve daily decisions,” said José Villacís, senior group manager, cloud product marketing, analytics, and big data discovery at Oracle.

There is also a concerted drive to create user-friendly BI and analytics tools that even the most non-technical user can easily navigate. This is critical, as everyone at all levels now demand access to analytics. “The business buyer wants analytics solutions that are simple to acquire and use,” said Nic Smith, global vice president of product marketing for cloud analytics at SAP. “The CIO needs end-to-end governance, security, and manageability of a trusted, enterprise analytics solution,” said Smith. To support both, he recommends opening up data access to everyone, ensuring self-service, and “simpli- fying the enterprise landscape by providing solutions that are, simple to use, simple to understand, and simple to manage.”

Tapan Patel, business intelligence marketing manager for SAS, wholeheartedly agrees that ease-of-use and self-service are the most sought-after aspects of BI and analytics these days. In addition, he added, data visualization continues to get enriched— boosted by features such as search and natural language query technology. “Natural language generation is slowly gaining popularity as a way to explain important findings in an easy-to-understand manner for over-stretched business users.”

Khalid Khan, who leads the analytics practice in the Americas for A.T. Kearney, agrees that ease-of-use is paramount.“There is continued growth in the market for BI and visualization tools that allow organizations to syndicate or share data in a self-serve fashion for the end business users,” he said. “Several emerging players provide flexible, easy-to-use interfaces to manipulate and visualize data without requiring a data science degree.” These services, delivered both via cloud and on-premises solutions, finally represent the democratization of analytics, he continued.

To the Cloud

While most BI and analytics solutions are offered through the cloud and through on-premises installations, there is clearly an emphasis on the cloud, industry experts agree. “We see our customers demanding cloud first,” said Villacís. He added that many functions still remain on-premises for many organizations as well.

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