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How BI’s Past Will Reflect Product Offerings In The Future

by Lyndsay WiseMonday, January 11, 2010

Business intelligence offerings and market solutions are constantly changing.  Technological advancements and the maturity of BI use enable organizations to create continual demands for improvements and upgrades to their overall offerings.  Couple this with a vendor’s drive to stay ahead of the competition and BI applications are ripe for continuous improvement.  In addition to software development itself, vendors have started to reap the benefits of consolidations because of the ability to integrate multiple technologies.  With all of the advantages of stronger performance, features and functionality, how many of these changes actually get translated to organizations and the actual work that they do?

This article explores emerging technologies, the advancements within consolidated product offerings, and what companies can expect based on their BI maturity.  Because there is much to cover within this topic, this article provides a first look into how emerging technologies and product advancements affect the general use of business intelligence.

Where BI is headed and how advancements in technology are helping

As mentioned, technology is constantly becoming more powerful, enabling better overall performance..  Within business intelligence, three areas are specifically affected:

  1. Data warehousing.  In the past, organizations used data warehouses as a way to capture operational data and store transactional information to help identify trends, create reports, etc. without affecting production systems.  This enabled businesses to get more information about sales trends and financial transactions but required a lot of time, money and provided limited benefits to the business overall.  With expansion in storage size, speed and the use of open standards, organizations are now able to combine terabytes of data and analyze that data in-memory without the additional development time required.  In addition, without the previous development constraints, organizations can look beyond historical data and towards forward-looking analyses.  Obviously, companies have been taking a proactive approach to analytics for the past couple of years; however, the technology now available makes the process more intuitive.  For instance, Teradata offers analytical applications for sales and marketing within their data warehousing framework.  These types of applications will only continue to increase as BI components become more synthesized.
  2. Analytics.  Similar types of advancements have taken place within the analytics space.  As speed and storage issues are overcome, developers focus on the creation of increasingly dynamic applications and algorithms out of the box.  This lets business users answer difficult business questions.  Several years ago, this type of functionality was available only to super users and scientists.  Now analytics are included within general applications and work as a link between dashboards and data warehouse use.  Also, many analytics offerings are available in-memory, meaning that end users can ask questions on the fly without having to pre-develop the types of inquiries they will make.  Not only does this create a more dynamic environment, it also offers companies the ability to create scenarios or address issues extremely quickly.
  3. Dashboards.  Dashboards represent the front-end access to rich analytics, but also make BI more user friendly.  Consequently, the use of dashboards and the ability to interact with them and deploy them to many types of employees across the organization is making the use of BI more attractive on the whole.  Aside from the ability to visually interpret data, the types of data visualizations available are becoming more robust.  For instance, retailers can integrate in-store POS data with supply chain information and chart the results on interactive geo-spatial maps.  This information can then be combined with customer demographics to get a view of the types of products being sold to specific customers and how those customers are similar or different across disparate geographical regions.  This is one example out of many of the types of use dashboards can provide businesses.  In addition, the use of tools such as Silverlight enables more dynamic development and interaction with business information.

Putting it all together

Organizations looking at the full range of BI, combine data warehouse use with analytics and front-end dashboards.  For corporations looking at BI expansion, use might actually be more limited than companies implementing business intelligence for the first time.  Companies with a strong BI infrastructure tend to be limited in relation to the types of advancements they can make based on the technology already available in-house.  Either way, new solutions available take the overall concepts of BI to the next level.  Vendors are beginning to focus on usability and interactivity, moving away from the need to have strong developer skills in-house.  This push away from IT means that more people can use these applications, thereby increasing the overall TCO and value proposition of adopting BI.

The ability to use BI components separately or as part of a full solution increases the flexibility organizations have to pick and choose what aspects they want to deploy.  Businesses can choose to simply develop a dashboard that uses operational data feeds as opposed to implementing a BI infrastructure that involves a data warehouse on the back end.  Overall, the key implication for organizations when it comes to advancements in technology and within business intelligence applications is that as solutions continue to grow in functionality and performance, more flexibility exists that allows companies to decide the way in which they want to use business intelligence or best-of-breed offerings.

Consolidation – good or bad for business?

The recent string of consolidations within BI has increased the market penetration of vendors already considered mega-vendors within the market.  Even though at first glance, the market may appear less diverse because of these consolidations, in reality, many newer entrants have emerged to meet perceived industry gaps.  This has actually created more diversity within the market and increases overall choice for organizations. Therefore, even though mega-vendors have increased their market share by acquiring competitive or complementary solution offerings, overall BI penetration among organizations has not occurred.

When considering consolidations and their benefits to customers, it becomes important to look at how vendors are working to integrate various technologies.  Vendors such as SAP try to integrate technology from their varying technologies to develop solutions that combine operations with analytics.  These types of solutions blur the lines between business intelligence and general business operations.  In some cases, these offerings may be considered the same as operational BI, but despite naming conventions, the benefits to organizations include the ability to widen the scope of analytics within the organization.  By using analytics on top of operations and as part of business processes, companies no longer have to separate their insights and actions from their transactions and processing.

Looking to the future of BI

Overall, business intelligence has come a long way to help provide businesses with valuable insights into what is happening on a daily basis within their organizations.  BI can now be used more broadly across departments and industry verticals.  With the expansion of many offerings and with the increasing number of newer entrants to the market, companies can pick and choose the types of solutions they want to deploy and implement these solutions quickly to gain immediate benefits.  The increase in interoperability and ease of use will continue to provide business and IT users with more options as vendors work to improve upon their current offerings by taking advantage of enhancements within technology.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.

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