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Business Intelligence (BI) software has had a bit of a struggle as of late. Although the concept has been around for decades, it's been overshadowed by the shiny new thing, Big Data, which has its roots in BI but adds on much more.
Part of the problem centers around the fact many people don't even know the difference between BI software and Big Data tools, and if you don't know what they are, you don't know what they do. IT consultant Eric D. Brown summed it up nicelyby stating "Business Intelligence helps find answers to questions you know. Big Data helps you find the questions you don’t know you want to ask."
By that logic, BI software will always have a place and won't be supplanted by Big Data because they are both working toward two very different ends. One thing Big Data does have over BI is the tools. BI tools have not been terribly actionable and often couldn’t identify what was meaningful and what should be ignored. They just presented a report on everything, which can be no better than the raw data in some instances.
Gartner notes that the analytics market, the overarching umbrella that cover both BI and Big Data, is splitting into two groups: the traditional business intelligence market and the new data discovery market, which is primarily Big Data.
In its latest Business Intelligence Magic Quadrant report, Gartner noted the differences in the two markets. BI is driven by IT and queries existing repositories, using monitoring and reporting tools and primarily digested by consultants. Big Data is used by business groups on data that's coming in, and is primarily examined by line of business executives with visualization tools.
Where BI Software Has Been, Where it's Headed
So BI software is in no risk of being killed off by Big Data, but at the same time, it cannot stay as it is. BI must evolve, and in 2014, it went through its share of changes. So here's where BI has been and where it is going.
1) A more user-friendly UI: BI dashboards have traditionally been designed for IT pros, but the concept of easier to read, more user-friendly UIs is bleeding over from Big Data. Companies like Tableau, Qlikview, TIBCO and Microsoft (through Excel, no less) are putting a friendlier face on BI than has traditionally been.
In its Magic Quadrant report, Gartner states that by 2015, the shifting tide of BI platform requirements will move from reporting-centric to analysis-centric apps, which means the majority of BI vendors will make governed data discovery capabilities "an expansion of, and the prime competitive capability for, their BI platform offerings."
2) More analysis: Gartner says that by 2015, the shifting tide of BI platform requirements, moving from reporting-centric to analysis-centric, will mean the majority of BI vendors will make governed data discovery capabilities an expansion of, and the prime competitive capability for, their BI platform offerings.
In the wake of big data and its promise of real-time analytics and response, BI can't settle for generating a report and waiting for someone to read it and act upon the data. What there are for real-time dashboards only provide a small glimpse into business activity.
To improve situation awareness for decision makers, dashboards are being upgraded to include data from multiple sources and the data brought together in a broader view of events. New data sources, beyond the usual data warehouse, are now being considered, like news feeds, industry data feeds, weather feeds, and social media.
3) Going mobile: As part of this, BI software is moving into the mobile space as smartphones and tablets become standard issue for the workforce. These devices certainly can't do BI computation with their limited processors but they can certainly display it. This will allow for decisions to be made in the field and for remote workers to collaborate.
Already Oracle, SAP and Tableau have mobile offerings and there are undoubtedly more in the pipeline. By 2015, Gartner predicts more than 50 percent of mobile BI users will rely exclusively on mobile devices for insight delivery.
4) NoSQL is the new SQL: SQL will always be around, as will row and column databases. But NoS, the unstructured database, is used to store pretty much anything. NoSQL databases have virtually no data model restrictions and can hold anything. This means that application changes and database schema changes can be done far more easily than in a SQL environment.
Another thing that makes NoSQL popular is that it scales out, rather than up. In an Oracle database, you buy a big iron system and run the database on that machine. If it gets too slow, you replace it with a bigger piece of iron. For NoSQL, you can scale out and distribute the database across multiple commodity hosts as the load increases. With BI coming from a variety of sources, this makes NoSQL increasingly popular.
5) Move to the cloud: Like everything else, BI should start moving to the cloud, and users are ready. Forty-five percent of respondents to Gartner's 2014 BI and analytics platform Magic Quadrant survey said they would put their mission-critical BI in the cloud, a big jump from 30 percent in the prior four years.
Of course, the software isn't quite there yet. Gartner says BI vendors with cloud offerings are working toward meeting critical market requirements for things like strong product functionality, positive customer experiences and high business value to customers. By 2016, Gartner estimates 25% of net-new BI and analytics deployments will be in the cloud.
Most BI vendors have announced one of two types of cloud strategies; their own cloud offering and data centers and/or by integrating with existing cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure and RackSpace.
6) Collaboration: BI tools can be solitary, used by one person who then shares the findings with others. Vendors like Tableau, Qlik, SAP and Microsoft have been working on collaborative BI for enterprise-wide reporting and analytics, making the process of sharing data easier and enabling more efficient decision making among team members.
Collaborative BI emphasizes the problem-solving process. Tools allow peers to analyze data and exchange information and ideas through Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis. Modern tools also support brainstorming through social networking-like features, which continue to gain popularity for both business and personal use.
7) Going embedded: In some instances, one of the best ways to get the necessary data is to embed analytics right into the systems they use every day and give people analytics they previously did not have. For example, using Salesforce's Canvas to integrate third-party applications with Tableau software, it's possible to embed a BI dashboard to give the salesperson an overview of their accounts that Salesforce does not provide.
TIBCO also offers embedding of BI into commercial software, custom software and cloud/SaaS apps to give end users better insight into the application's data and provide data visualization reports.
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