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Cool BI: Rating the Latest Innovations

Rich, interactive reporting interfaces, in-memory analytics and social networking may be cool, but how much value do they add to business intelligence. This article examines the maturity, value and mainstream appeal of leading innovations.

For those who thought last year's industry consolidation meant boring business intelligence (BI), think again. Vendors large and small are continuing to innovate at a rapid pace, often faster than customers can respond. In this article, I offer a framework for evaluating innovations and highlight three that are highest on my radar: rich interfaces, in-memory analytics, and social networking.

Figuring Out What Matters

Some BI innovations are simply cool and make the BI interface more appealing. Others make BI smarter and more actionable. With new technologies, the key is figuring out which innovations will bring the most value with minimal technical challenges. To evaluate these innovations and prioritize BI investments and upgrades, think about them in terms of maturity, value, and pervasiveness (MVP):

Maturity: Consider the technology's maturity, particularly in its integration with BI. Some innovations have been making inroads into BI for years, whereas others are more recent introductions. If the industry doesn't yet agree on standards, early adopters will face greater deployment challenges. Yet when innovation brings significant value to a business, early adopters gain a competitive, first-mover advantage. Consider whether your company has a culture of being "bleeding edge" or "leading edge."

Value: Consider the value of the innovation, to either reduce BI's cost of ownership, improve productivity or increase BI's contribution to business performance. Some BI deployments focus on the value of a single, big decision. At these companies, BI is often deployed first to the experts and analysts. Other firms look for improvement on all the little decisions that may have a small individual impact yet a huge aggregate contribution to results. Some innovations may have a high dollar value per insight, as is the case when a predictive analytic spots fraud or reduces customer churn. Innovations like embedded BI may help increase sales, yet only in aggregate when all front-line workers can leverage the technology. In addition to the value an innovation brings to the decisions supported by BI, new deployment models such as Software as a Service (SaaS) and open source are driving down costs and, with SaaS in particular, implementation time.

Which Innovations Impact Which Users
Which Innovations Impact Which Users
(click image for larger view)
Pervasiveness: Though many vendors have trumpeted the rallying cry for "mainstream BI" or "pervasive BI," BI adoption even among established practitioners is relatively low at 25 percent of employees within the company. In evaluating innovations, recognize that each will appeal to different user segments as illustrated in the chart at right. Advanced visualization, for example, is powerful for business analysts, whereas BI search is ideal for casual users and embedded BI helps front-line workers. Mobile BI has big potential for executives and front-line workers, but the business analysts who are currently the largest BI constituency may say it's not at all important. Innovations that make BI more pervasive are not necessarily more important than those that benefit power users; the point is to recognize that different user segments will benefit more from certain innovations.

Evaluating BI Innovations
Evaluating BI Innovations
(click image for larger view)
The quadrant chart at right positions several BI innovations according to these three factors. Maturity is along the X axis, pervasiveness is along the Y axis, and the size and color of the bubble indicates the financial value.

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