BI Goes Wild: Business Intelligence Becoming Ubiquitous

BI and analytics use now extends way beyond finance and marketing to include HR, R&D and other functions.

If you were wondering if other IT pros also had been getting more “help me” calls from BI users outside of the normal finance and marketing crowd in the past year, rest assured you’re not alone.

A new survey by Dresner Advisory Services quantifies the surging uses of BI and analytics in human resources, research and development, supply chain management and a myriad of other corporate functions.

Notice the huge bump of new BI applications by the “other” category in the survey results table below:

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Source: Dresner Advisory Services, 2012 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study

The data is significant because of the size of the global survey sample and who did the survey. Of the 859 respondents in the 2012 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study, more than half are from the United States, with more than a quarter from Europe and the Middle East and the remainder from Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.

Half of the respondents were IT professionals, about a fifth were senior executives from various non-IT departments, while the rest either had roles in sales, marketing, finance, R&D, operations or other corporate functions. They represent a wide range of industries, including high tech, health care, consulting and financial services. Almost half of the respondents were from companies with at least 1,000 employees, with a sizeable group of respondents from extremely large and extremely small companies. For more information about the new survey, please visit

The proliferation of nontraditional uses of BI in the past few years is due to a number of factors, including ease of use, lower cost thanks to cloud-based offerings and increased sophistication among the "other" category. This ‘other’ category is comprised of business executives and managers, according to Howard Dresner, proprietor of Dresner Advisory Services and the former Gartner analyst who coined the phrase business intelligence.

“The largest group within the ‘other’ category is executives,” explains Dresner. “Typically they are using a mobile device and have never used BI before.” During our interview, he scanned the survey respondent database and called out the titles of the executives who responded to the survey, and the frequency of CEO citations was striking.

While many of them were from medium-sized or smaller companies, it is clear that general managerial uses of BI by C-level execs from a broad range of companies, such as healthcare, are becoming the norm.

Outside of the C-suite, Dresner reports that BI use is growing substantially in the human resources, supply chain and the research and development departments. While bio-statisticians in pharmaceutical companies have traditionally been big users of BI to sort through clinical trial data to identify new drug uses, isolate side effects and glean other insights from drug test results, BI use has expanded to a wider variety of R&D applications.

A gaming company’s R&D department uses BI to improve the user experience by deeply analyzing the clicks, according to Rosanne Saccone, chief marketing officer at data integration and analytics vendor Pentaho. She said the gaming company, Travian Games, is also using predictive analytics to provide diagnostic insights to direct preventive maintenance.

And it’s not just R&D taking a deep dive into BI and analytics. A predictive analytics start up called Lex Machina (with origins at Stanford University) offers stats and analysis of patent court decisions as well as judges and attorneys. A recent article noted that the firm reviewed settlement patterns and win rates for specific types of cases and is able to predict the outcome of similar cases.

Another growing area for BI use is in strategic planning. While many companies shuttered their strategic planning offices during the recession, when day to day survival was all that mattered, Dresner says that now, “organizations are starting to take a look at real strategy, long range plans and scenarios, using BI.”

Saccone adds that use of the tools is changing even within the traditional use cases. “We still see a ton of sales/marketing implementations, but they are next generation sales and marketing, where companies are looking at behavior analytics,” she says. “They are trying to get a better understanding of what is driving revenue metrics, such as a view of the entire value chain.” She adds that the next generation of sales and marketing BI typically includes additional internal and external data sources and more cross organizational use cases.

The improving ease of use, even when mixing internal and external data, is behind a lot of the proliferation of BI and analytics use, especially among medium-sized organizations. “The tools do not require IT for support, so even smaller organizations can bite into that,” Dresner explains. “In the past, a company needed a consultant to get started. Now you can do some stuff pretty much out of the box. Eventually, though, you will get a lot more value if you get some help from a consultant.”

The improving ease of use and other factors are driving an increased number of BI tools in large companies.” The proliferation of multiple BI tools continues to accelerate as various lines of business independently invest in solutions,” Dresner notes in his report. “Nearly half of the largest organizations reported the use of four or more tools.”

Interestingly, the survey data probably under-reports the extent of maverick BI tool purchases, especially cloud BI adoption. While the proliferation of cloud-based BI vendors seems to accelerate every day, Dresner tells me they haven’t yet made a huge collective impact on the overall market. “They have a lot of users in a small number of organizations, though we believe there is great potential moving forward,” he notes.

Also, Dresner cautions that respondents only reported the tool use they were aware of. And many aren’t aware of the level of unauthorized BI purchasing within their own large organizations. Since half the respondents were from IT, they are frequently unaware of some uses of BI outside of the IT department.

Another factor leading to BI tool under-counting is embedding, Dresner adds. Many end users are not aware that a BI application is part of a churn app at a telco or an anti-shrinkage (theft) tool at a retailer.

So don’t be surprised when you get a call out of the blue from someone in the bowels of your company with a BI question. There will be a lot more of them.

Tags: business intelligence, BI, analytics

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