By Cindi Howson for informationweek
Many people seem to want to stick a sexier name on business intelligence, whether that's "business analytics" or "big data." To me, it's still business intelligence, a top-priority technology that can help companies boost revenues, improve customer service or control costs by making better, faster decisions.
Whatever you want to call this still-vital category, here are my predictions for the top BI trends of 2013, along with a few looks back at highlights of 2012.
- Dashboards Evolve, Expand
You would think that there's not much room for dashboard innovation now that they're the bread-and-butter BI interface, already in use among most large and midsized companies. And yet dashboards were rated the top priority for expansion and innovation in the BI Scorecard 2012 Successful BI Survey. The dashboard's rise to prominence is a confluence of next-generation technology along with a recognition that BI must be aligned to business goals to be successful.
Access to data alone doesn't help a company improve. Next-generation dashboards keep workers focused on the right metrics and inform in a way that lets employees take preemptive action. Key features enabling such dashboards include in-memory processing, the ability for users to mash data together and to assemble their own dashboards, KPIs, faceted (filter-by-category) search, mobile, and the ability to link insight to action.
With big BI platform vendors IBM, Microsoft, and SAP generally lagging the dashboard capabilities provided by specialty vendors, customers will continue to mix and match systems from different providers in 2013. Differentiated leaders include QlikTech, which supports rapid deployment and intuitive "associative" analysis, JackBe, which has strong operational dashboards, and Metric Insight, which offers top-notch KPIs.
Look for all vendors in this space to continue to improve their capabilities in 2013. SAP, for example, recently released its next-generation dashboard tool, Design Studio, though data-source support is initially limited to SAP BW and the Hana in-memory database. Look for SAP to improve related mobile and data-visualization capabilities. SAP will also eventually integrate and merge its once-leading Xcelsius dashboarding product, now rebranded "Dashboards," into Design Studio. QlikTech also is expected to release a next-generation dashboarding product this year.
Looking back, one important dashboard release in 2012 was Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, acquired by Oracle at the end of 2011 and adapted to run on its Exalytics appliance. Oracle classifies this product as a discovery tool, but in my view it's best positioned as a dashboard application uniquely positioned to explore unstructured data using faceted search.
- Self-Service BI Gets Real
Self-service BI continues to be a vision for many companies in which users are empowered to explore new data sets without much IT support. Visual-data-discovery tools have become synonymous with self-service BI and are growing at three times the pace of the overall BI market. Unfortunately, some vendors are too quick to attach the visual discovery moniker to their products. As I wrote in the latest BI Scorecard Strategic and Product Summary report, there's a continuum of self-service BI capabilities that ranges from interactive reporting to business query to visual data discovery, and yes, even to tools such as spreadsheets.
My hope in 2013 is that practitioners recognize this range of self-service, and that vendors help educate rather than just jumping on whatever bandwagon has the most hype. Leading companies will make the shift to self-service BI, both to empower workers and to ensure the smartest allocation of constrained IT resources. In our Successful BI Survey, 44% of respondents say BI teams do not have adequate time, funding or resources to keep up with BI demand. With the fight for BI talent, simply hiring more people is not the solution. Instead, business users have to embrace responsibility for routine BI tasks. At the same time, IT has to let go of some of the mundane enhancement requests and focus on complex data challenges and leveraging innovations.
In 2013 Tableau will release version 8 of its software, which will include browser and iPad-based authoring, a relative rarity in the visual data discovery category. Also look for improvements in other first-generation visual discovery products:
-- SAS Visual Analytics Explorer, first released in February 2012, is due out with a new version that will support calculated columns, forecasting, decision trees, and maps.
-- Microsoft's Power View via SharePoint (released in Q1 2012) will reemerge as an Excel add-in.
-- AP Visual Intelligence, first released for Hana in March 2012, is now on a six-week release cycle, gaining support for more data sources and capabilities.
- Mobile BI Boosts BI Adoption
Just when you thought the dust had settled on the question of tablet leadership (the iPad), Microsoft released the Windows Surface and Apple missed Wall Street earnings estimates. Prime-time ads for the Surface abound! And oh, how I would love to more easily synch my Outlook calendar!
- In-Memory Goes Mainstream
In-memory technology saw several major releases in 2012, and that makes 2013 an opportune year for companies to implement this technology. In-memory was initially an approach leveraged by a few OLAP systems (like TM1, now part of IBM Cognos) and a few specialty vendors (like QlikTech and Tibco Spotfire).
Now all leading BI platform vendors have in-memory solutions, with Oracle being the last to join the ranks with its Exalytics appliance, which runs the TimesTen in-memory database. Kicking off 2013, SAP announced the ability to run its core transactional (OLTP) applications on the Hana in-memory database. Nonetheless, debate about when to use in-memory or when to use an analytic appliance, columnar database or disk-based data warehouse will continue, driven by constraints including available expertise, analytic demands and cost.
- Big Data Generates Big Interest
Reminiscent of the Gold Rush era, there's money to be had (and to invest) in big data, but only a few, as of yet, are striking it rich.
Big data such as Web clicks, tweets, and genomic data are critical in certain industries, such as ecommerce, gaming, advertising, and healthcare. Some associate big data only with Hadoop and with the demise of the data warehouse. However, I see Hadoop and NoSQL solutions as being only a part of the architecture for handling structured and unstructured data. The traditional data warehouse, analytic appliances and BI vendors all have roles to play here.
So in 2013, companies in certain industries will indeed embrace new solutions from big data startups including Datameer, Karmasphere, Platfora, and SiSense. Others will leverage big-data connectors from their existing BI tools. The majority of companies are still grappling with basic data access, so big data will continue to be just an interesting cover story.
- Cloud Becomes Just Another Option
Cloud is another area of BI that is grabbing a lot of headlines, but to date, not a lot of deployments. Cloud accounts for only 3% of total BI revenues, according to Gartner. Cloud BI would seem to fall, then, in the domain of "nice to have." But if you talk to CIOs, many would welcome the chance to outsource the problem of infrastructure maintenance and instead focus on higher-value IT investments. BI in the cloud provides that opportunity, along with flexibility to handle elastic (variable) workload demands.
Security concerns were initially the biggest barrier to cloud BI deployments. There's now greater acceptance that cloud BI can be secure. The question becomes whether a cloud provider can do a better job than you can in ensuring reliability and security, though doubts were recently raised by yet another Amazon blipduring the make-or-break Christmas season.
BI vendors have had to re-architect their products to be cloud-ready, both with multitenancy and the ability to work with data retained on premises. In 2013 we will see more POCs and trial-use of BI cloud products. Cloud will increasingly become a routine deployment option rather than a product differentiator. Oracle says it will preview a cloud-based reporting and analytics offering in the first half of the year. Also look for Pentaho to release a new, multitenant architecture.
- Collaboration Goes Beyond Social
Did you think that social networking and collaboration would just be passing fads -- or ways to share photos and look up old flames? In the midst of Hurricane Sandy, many used Facebook and Twitter to find hotel rooms, places to shower and to charge cell phones. It was a study of contrasts of those who knew how to use the technology and those who didn't -- I couldn't find Jersey Central Power & Light's Twitter handle. New Jersey Governor Christie started off with useless tweets, like "watch my live stream" -- uh, not on limited battery power. But he eventually provided more useful tweets, such as when specific communities would get power restored.
I still get the sense that most vendors add collaboration without a clear vision or passion for what sharing can bring. A few BI vendors seem to get it, most notably Panorama and Lyzasoft. Some BI buyers tell me their users don't ask for these types of features, to which I recall that nobody initially asked for mobile phones, either. When I read about how, for example, United Health Group and the Mayo Clinic will be sharing and mining data across boundaries, I think collaboration in BI has the potential to bring the best data to the best analysts.
These are my predictions for the biggest trends in the year ahead. Wherever your priorities lie, enjoy the journey!
Gone are the days when corporate IT can set mobile device standards. Instead, users are increasingly bringing their own devices, forcing IT (and BI vendors) to support a broad swath of smartphones and tablets. The most promising way to support diversity is to support HTML5, but the best user experience continues to be through device-native apps. Just what those apps need to support is a moving target, as user requirements evolve. For example, availability of offline data-interaction capabilities -- rare in 2011, but supported by specialty vendor RoamBI -- increased in 2012 with MicroStrategy, SAP Mobile and Oracle Mobile HD adding such capabilities.
Will we see native support for Microsoft Surface in 2013, or will vendors use the HTML5 approach for this device? It's too early to tell, but I don't anticipate any broad shift. The debate about which capabilities to provide on smartphones versus tablets will continue. Mobile Device Management will remain a separate market segment, but savvy mobile BI providers and customers will integrate with these solutions so that when a device is lost or stolen, there is additional security beyond just a user name and password so that offline data can be wiped.
Mobile will also continue to drive BI adoption in 2013, re-igniting executive interest and making BI more relevant to field and front-line workers. In last year's Successful BI Survey, only 11% of respondents said their firms had successfully deployed mobile BI. BI adoption at those firms stood at 39% of employees, far ahead of the industry average of 24% of employees.
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