Business Intelligence software’s biggest emerging technology over the next year or two will be from the smallest devices. Smartphones like the iPhone and the Android can access online data stores, analytical applications and other parts of the business intelligence stack. This provides senior executives, field sales teams and retail clerks with real-time access to sales trends, potential inventory issues or supply chain glitches.
For instance, the CEO of the MolsonCoors beer company uses his iPhone to check on key performance indicators and other business intelligence data, according to Katrina Coyle, global information officer.
Her comments were one of many examples of the rise of mobile device access to business intelligence software, data and analytics tools, and exemplified one of nine emerging technologies highlighted at the Gartner BI Summit, held last week in Las Vegas.
In more than a dozen interviews over the three days of the event, I did a fact check on the 9 emerging trends noted by Kurt Schlegel, Gartner VP for research and one of its top business intelligence seers. Some agreed with his list, others had their own lists.
Schlegel’s list, with my comments:
1) In memory analytics: Appliances, buckets of DRAM and software, oh my. The technologies have been around for several years, but are now a mainstream solution to the performance challenges posed by many existing business intelligence implementations.
2 )Columnar databases: Just focus on the columns, not the rows of data in your structured data stores. Vertica and others offer a solution to the big data problem.
3) Cloud: Offload the data created by your business intelligence software, spread out the storage and processing burden. Not new, but definitely gaining traction among big companies, not just the medium-sized companies initially signing up for cloud-based BI solutions.
For more information about the players and their plays, check my earlier column,
Business Intelligence-Software Industry Scorecard.
4) Interactive visualization: The right graphics deliver insight faster and deeper than simple pie charts. But can the front line troops really understand a scatter plot?
5) Integrated search: Forget SQL query, use the Google interface.
6) Mobile Business Intelligence: iPhone access to online data stores. (More on this below).
7) Analytical MDM: Master data management combined with brains and analytics can help solve the multiple version of truth problem plaguing most companies. This is the solution to the data quality morass, but it will take time.
8) Data mash-ups: Mixing internal structured data with external unstructured data will increasingly be standard operating procedure for companies that want to truly stay ahead of the competition.
9) Scenario modeling: What-if analysis on steroids. Combining internal and external data with in-memory analytics gives product planners, sales forecasters and other professionals the tools to spin out vast and complex prognostications.
The Gartner web site has more info about the event and barebones summaries of each session. Note that initially Schlegel planned to discuss twelve trends, but cut back to nine to stay within a one-hour time limit. And his presentation included different elements than what were touted in the online or printed programs.
HP’s Business Intelligence List
Hewlett Packard’s Business Intelligence team has its own top 10 list, and it includes some of the Schlegel hits along with two other notable tech trends:
Complex event processing: Operations are more than just data points in a data warehouse. Increasingly, companies need to monitor, track and forecast streams of unstructured data flowing across the Internet.
Semantic technologies: Automating the integration of data from different sources avoids the costly manual coding of metadata. Ontologies, taxonomies, classification and content monitoring filtering and analytics help organizations reconcile and normalize meaning, as HP notes in its Business Intelligence trends report.
Inside the Mobile BI Trend
Established players in the Business Intelligence software business – SAS, SAP Business Objects, Oracle and Microstrategy – as well as startups such as Roambi and Softmaster offer hardware and software for enterprises to provide BI system access for iPhones, Androids, Blackberries and other smartphones.
When pressed, vendor representatives all admit that very few customers currently access their BI systems via a smartphone. But the potential applications and need are clear, and some claim strong interest.
We’re not talking about just using the smartphone as an alert receiver or having mobile access to a pre-determined set of truncated reports. The really cool idea is to take advantage of two key smartphone hardware features and mate them to the data and analytics available in a business intelligence software system. Specifically, the touch screen and the GPS location chips.
Imagine a salesperson checking the status and shipment trends of suppliers from a local distribution center before meeting with a customer. A BI system tuned for mobile devices can provide salespeople with information, insights and trend data about the closest warehouse. It can also provide drilldown access so the salesperson can determine which other customers may be drawing down demand, so he or she can warn other customers in real time that a shortage of products may occur unless they agree to a pre-emptive order.
Anthony Deighton, senior VP at QlikTech, an in-memory BI software vendor offering mobile BI access, predicts that physicians in hospitals, retail clerks and other professionals will benefit greatly from a mobile BI experience based on smart use of the software.
I think he’s right. The smallest device may bring the biggest increase in business intelligence software use, as well as the largest return on investment.