informa
/
Information Management
Commentary

BI needs both architectural thinking and innovation

IBM buys Cognos. SAP buys Business Objects. I agree with Neil Raden: "One big yawn." Neil's analysis is spot on but calls for elaboration. Neil sees outmoded product (and process and business?) architectures as impeding innovation, for the established BI vendors and implicitly for the organizations that rely on their tools. But there's more to the picture... The more is imagination.
IBM buys Cognos. SAP buys Business Objects. I agree with Neil Raden: "One big yawn."

Neil's take:

[Hyperion, Business Objects, and Cognos] have made substantial progress in refurbishing their products for a completely new world, but refurbishing only goes so far. The architectures can't really cut it. They need to scale, they need to be intelligent, they need to react in real-time when necessary, unattended when appropriate. They need to live on the Web.
Products like that are coming from start-ups.

Neil's analysis is spot on but calls for elaboration. Neil sees outmoded product (and process and business?) architectures as impeding innovation, for the established BI vendors and implicitly for the organizations that rely on their tools. But there's more to the picture than scalability, "intelligence" (whatever that is), real-time reaction, autonomicity, and webification. The more is imagination: openness to, and the ability to deliver, new ways of analyzing data and using analytical findings.Imaginative products are coming from start-ups, and they are coming from established companies that haven't lost the start-up mentality, the desire to challenge and replace established work practices. The aphorism "If it works, it's obsolete" is attributed to Marshall McLuhan. The corollary is more interesting — I don't know who is responsible for it — "If it ain't broke, break it." The responsible party was surely not a CEO seeking to protect a billion dollars in annual revenues. (It also wasn't Meatloaf.)

Beyond what Neil wrote, imaginative products bring BI to new sources such as text and geographic and streaming data. They are data and purpose aware in that they guide you in performing analyses suitable to the data at hand and the intended uses. (Isn't such awareness the purpose of semantics?) And they can be used the way you want to use them: as a service, as a mash-up component, on real-time data (and not just in real-time on historical data), and/or embedded in a line-of-business application, also with support for collaboration. This is a tall order, really a grab-bag of hot-today properties that nonetheless should also be hot a year from now, but I can think of products, most from small companies, that fit some or many of these "imaginative" criteria.

But imagination isn't enough. For instance, I'm a great admirer of Tableau visual analytics, but it's apparent that their move toward Web-facilitated collaboration, which I wrote about recently, is hindered (per Neil's observation) by their product architecture. The company's flagship Desktop product was designed for stand-alone, Windows use. I learned about another innovative product earlier this week, MyGADs from text-analytics vendor Teragram. MyGADs allows you to fire off natural-language queries against shareable personal knowledge bases, supplemented with location-specific and reference information, from a Web interface and mobile devices. A developer interface is to come. So how many of my innovation points did I hit in those two sentences? Yet MyGADs apparently lacks the ability to assimilate or integrate with enterprise information sources: a major architectural impediment.

If my Tableau and MyGADs assessments are correct, we have innovative products, wonderful as they are, that represent BI stovepipes. Being new and innovative is not enough. You still have to get the architecture right.


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategist with Washington DC based Alta Plana Corporation. He consults on data management and analysis systems.

IBM buys Cognos. SAP buys Business Objects. I agree with Neil Raden: "One big yawn." Neil's analysis is spot on but calls for elaboration. Neil sees outmoded product (and process and business?) architectures as impeding innovation, for the established BI vendors and implicitly for the organizations that rely on their tools. But there's more to the picture... The more is imagination.