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December 24, 2012

Guest Blog: 2013 – A year for big changes in BI

Former Business Intellegence guru at Microsoft and QlikTech's VP of management, Donald Farmer, writes for CBR on significant changes in the world of business computing for 2013.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

At the beginning of a new year, I always enjoy looking ahead to the changes I expect to see in my business life. This year may see some dramatic shifts in the world of business computing, but …

The biggest change has happened already

This is the most important change in IT since the Personal Computer. Today, you have better information technology at home than you do in the office.

Your home PC, your smartphones, your connected gaming system, your tablet, and your digital video recorder pack more power than ever before. Even advanced companies cannot compare their business IT to this consumer technology. If you want ease-of-use, connectivity, or to navigate and interpret complex information, stay at home.

Why can’t you search your enterprise documents as easily as you Google the web? Why can’t you look up your business information as naturally as you navigate WikiPedia? Why is finding a new report so awkward compared to searching for new apps on the AppStore?

The implications of such a change are deep. Business users are hungry, impatient and tired of the clumsy and slow experience of workplace computing. They will serve themselves and no-one can stop them. In 2013, consumers have the all the advantages. They expect a better experience, and if that cannot be provided by corporate systems, they will find their own solution.

IT’s transforms

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Naturally, this dramatic change confronts IT directly. And IT departments cannot simply ignore it, because these demanding users are often senior executives. We are not talking about a junior employee connecting their smartphone to corporate email. When the CEO receives an iPad for her birthday, IT will make it work.

In effect, IT transforms from gatekeepers to enablers. They no longer control and deploy every application and report: instead, they provide data and services so business users can serve themselves.

IT still owns data quality, availability and security. But the uses of data will be so varied and fast-moving that IT will do best to understand and manage the process rather than struggle to control it.

So, IT will need new tools. Rather than imposing complex business rules and building prescriptive models, they need to discover patterns and difficulties in how data is used and how apps are shared. In short, IT need tools to work with business users rather than against them, making self-service manageable.

Big Data? Not such a big problem anymore

You may think the world of Big Data has no role for self-service. The data is, after all, Big, and complex. However, there are many myths about Big Data.

Even when an organisation has massive volumes of data from transactions, the web, and social networks, the data is not stored in one huge chunk. Technologies such as MapReduce distribute it across many servers to make it more manageable. Today, power users use advanced tools to issue queries against this distributed data. But Hadoop queries are slow and Big Data systems were not designed for user-driven analytics and certainly not for consumers.

I compare the challenge facing IT to a common problem for telecom companies. A vast infrastructure brings telephone, cable and internet to every city, but the biggest obstacle is the "last mile" – delivering these services to an end point in every home and business. IT must now face the "last mile" of Big Data: bringing it home to business users.

These users are not data scientists, with advanced analytic skills. And they want to "mash up" previously mysterious Big Data with other sources which they know really well such as CRM systems and local spreadsheets.

2013 will be the year when business users bring easy-to-use business discovery tools to the complexities of Big Data.

Mobile is not just about mobility

I recently bought my wife’s mother an iPad. She’s 87 years old, and I taught her the basics for just one hour. Now, she uses it every day. This "mobile device" has changed her life, but never leaves her house. Being mobile is handy, but the iPad, and other tablets and smartphones, have another, even better, feature: the touch interface.

Touch is satisfyingly intuitive. Everyone, from babies to grandparents, can learn and enjoy with a natural interface. Even gorillas and cats love to play with iPads, as you can see in many viral videos.

Now, with new operating systems such as Windows 8 and OSX Mountain Lion, rich touch interfaces are available on laptops and desktops too.

Touch will change our business software. From my own work with customers I know they spend more time exploring data when using a touch application. More exploration means more discoveries and insights. In 2013, touch experiences will come to your business software.

Business Intelligence is everywhere
Some analysts say that Business Intelligence only reaches about 30% of the possible number of business users. I think they are right. So, have we failed in our aim of delivering pervasive BI? Not at all.

Most people have many apps installed on their smartphone. I have an app which records my running and training. I have an app which monitors my sleep patterns: very handy for managing jet lag on my business travel. One app connects to my investment account and to my bank. Each of these apps features well-designed, useful reports and charts. Even my electricity bill now includes analytic views.

We really have delivered pervasive BI. But business users often do not see these benefits. They are stuck with older, less agile and less usable applications and architectures.

You can expect to see important changes now, as users demand, and the industry delivers, the ability to make discoveries everywhere.

In the new world of BI, no one should be stuck as a passive "end users" of canned reports and pre-built dashboards. Every user today, even without special skills can explore data to find new suggestions. They can investigate exceptions and uncover hidden relationships. They start new process and begin new analytics. I can see the most exciting change in my Business Intelligence career: the end of the end user.


Donald Farmer, VP of Management, QlikTech

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