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.
1. 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.
[ Want more on trends in the year ahead? Read 5 Cloud App Trends To Expect In 2013. ]
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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
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.