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Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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5 Big Business Intelligence Trends For 2014

Visual data discovery, cloud computing, and mobile lead the BI trends to watch in 2014. Take a closer look.

What's in store for business intelligence in 2014?

In some respects, 2014 will echo themes heard in 2013, but the message is getting louder when it comes to visual data discovery, cloud, and mobile. Big data also will continue to garner attention, but people will take a pragmatic approach to adoption. Simplicity, meanwhile, will experience a second coming.

Visual data discovery and self-service BI
Visual data discovery took center stage in 2013, with specialty vendors (Tableau, QlikView, TIBCO Spotfire) growing rapidly, and mega vendors (SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, MicroStrategy, SAS) stagnating. BI heavyweights have taken notice that agile, visual solutions have eaten into their bread-and-butter query-and-reporting market share. All responded with new interfaces and solutions. The initial visual data discovery releases from the mega vendors tended to have limited capabilities, but the gap is slowly closing. The specialty vendors and the heavyweights are trying to find the right balance between agile analysis and trusted data. It has to be a user-driven experience but with IT control over the data. It's not an easy line to straddle.

[Want more on business intelligence? Download our 2014 Analytics, BI, and Information Management Survey.]

The BI tools market was founded on the concept of self-service business intelligence: Let users create their own queries without having to know SQL. The difference is in how much IT is involved upfront and to what degree users are able and willing to do things on their own. Visual data discovery tools have brought a greater degree of ease and flexibility than conventional BI modules for production reporting, business query, and building dashboards.

Here's what to expect in visual data discovery in the year ahead:

  • Tableau, TIBCO Spotfire, and MicroStrategy released major new versions in 2013 that they will be pushing customers to adopt in 2014. Actuate also released a new version of its platform, Actuate Analytics, with integrated capabilities for customer clustering and segmentation.

  • LogiAnalytics released a LogiVision interface in early January aimed at business users and competing with visual discovery products.

  • The concept of storytelling is increasingly appearing in BI products whereby information and analyses are presented to support a decision-making process, a bit like PowerPoint. Look for it in SAP Lumira, Tableau, and QlikView products due in 2014.

  • As visual data discovery deployments expand, roles and responsibilities for BI teams must change to ensure agility doesn't degenerate into data chaos with multiple versions of the truth. BI teams have to ensure rigorous data provisioning and best-practices while users who have relied on IT for every last sort, filter, and customization will need to learn to fish for themselves.

Tip: If you haven't already made visual data discovery part of your BI portfolio, your company is missing an opportunity to empower business users. Make it a priority to adopt in 2014.

Cloud-based BI
Cloud computing has been hot in almost every software segment except BI. and NetSuite have put a dent in the sales of business application market leaders SAP and Oracle. But the same cannot be said in BI, where cloud vendors such as Birst, GoodData, and Indicee have remained niche players. 

I think 2014 will be the year that cloud finally takes hold in BI. Part of the change will be due to market maturity, but the degree of pain for BI teams to maintain infrastructure has reached a tipping point. BI resources are limited. Would your company rather have available talent spend time accessing and exploring data, testing innovative ideas, and bringing in more data, or do you want them bogged down maintaining infrastructure and upgrading software?

What are the signs that 2014 will be a pivotal year in cloud BI?

  • Birst and Gooddata gained additional VC funding in the second half of 2013.

  • JasperSoft launched Cloud Analytics as a pay-as-you-go option on Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2013, and it's showing strong momentum.

  • Look for MicroStrategy to unveil a similar initiative to make its software available through a broad set of public cloud providers including AWS, with users subscribing by the month, day, or even hour.

  • Microsoft Power BI, a SaaS solution for self-service business intelligence, is currently in technology preview and is expected to be available in 2014.
  • Oracle intends to launch a SaaS-based BI offering this year.

With more choices and scalable databases offered in cloud environments, concerns about cloud BI scalability seem less valid than in the past. Some BI vendors let you keep your data on premises while using the cloud exclusively for software delivery, giving customers the best of both worlds.

Tip: To get started in cloud, consider a proof-of-concept project  for a line of business looking for particular functionality not available through your on-premises BI platform.

Mobile BI
For years we've been hearing "mobile first" from a number of BI vendors, so you'd expect a degree of maturity and stability in this segment. However, the market is still debating how to deliver mobile, what capabilities to offer, and which devices to support. And despite all the hype, mobile is still something BI teams have to push users to embrace.

There's significant room for improvement in mobile BI, with big differences in functionality in four areas:

  • HTML5 versus native apps. To date, native apps have provided the best user experience, but might 2014 be the year that HTML5 takes over? Developers would like to develop once and deploy anywhere, which is an advantage for HTML5. Users want the best user experience, with full touch-screen functionality, rich graphics, and great performance, traits that have been confined to native apps.

  • Security. Mobile device management (MDM) systems let customers grant authentication at the device level in addition to supporting user names and passwords. MDM also supports remote wipe and lockout in the event a device is lost or stolen. Only some BI vendors provide these security functions within their own platforms while others rely on third-party MDM systems.

  • Access vs. authoring. I've surveyed many users and found that (for now) they want interactive consumption of BI with view, refresh, sort, filter, and drill capabilities. Authoring new reports and capturing new data might be cool capabilities, but most users are still waiting for the basics.

  • Offline support. Airplane mode aside, there are many locations -- remote buildings, warehouses, and so on -- that have limited cell service. In these situations offline capabilities are important, yet few BI vendors provide them. If offline support is available, determine whether it's viewing of static page images (meh) or interactive exploration of cached data (much better). When offline use is supported, security clearly needs to be robust.

Tip: Just because users aren't asking for mobile BI doesn't mean there is no business value. Identify mobile workers and pilot available capabilities so users understand the potential.

Big data and little data
Big data may be a mainstream topic, but we're nowhere near mainstream deployment. According to a recent TDWI survey, only 10 percent of companies have deployed big data technologies.

As I discuss in my book, Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI & Big Data, there is still confusion about what "big data" means. Many consider the term to be synonymous with Hadoop and NoSQL technologies, and, in the early days, they predicted the demise of the data warehouse. Fortunately, even providers of Hadoop solutions, such as Cloudera, are increasingly recognizing that Hadoop is only one part of a big data ecosystem. Analytic appliances such as IBM PureData System for Analytics (formerly Netezza), Pivotal Greenplum,  and HP Vertica  (to name a few) are also part of the big data market.  As are in-memory computing options including SAP Hana, Oracle Exalytics, and Microsoft Hekaton (due in 2014).

[Want more on business intelligence? Download our "2014 Analytics, BI, and Information Management Survey."]

The earliest adopters of these technologies may have large data volumes, but others have small data volumes. These organizations, too, are looking to mine insight from unstructured content such as sensor data, Tweets, Facebook posts, and email messages that are not easy to explore with traditional relational databases. They, too, need new technologies, even if it's not about "big data."

In the year ahead, big data developments in BI will bring:

  • Tighter integration between Hadoop technologies and traditional data warehouse storage, with a greater emphasis on the right use cases

  • Better support from BI vendors for a wider range of big data sources

  • Maturing products from Hadoop-world startups such as Datameer, Platfora, and others

  • In-memory advances running transactional applications from SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, threatening traditional disk-based storage

  • Education of BI teams still trying to keep up with vendor innovation

My dad was a disc jockey when I was growing up, and our stereo system was so complicated, with so many knobs and dials, that I didn’t dare go near it. In much the same way, many business people tend to shy away from BI tools. There have been attempts to achieve simplicity in this software category, but with lackluster success. 

Expect 2014 to be the year for simpler BI interfaces that don't sacrifice smarts. These products will be driven in part by visual data discovery, but also by search, improved dashboard interfaces, and embedded BI.

In the area of search, the year ahead will bring:

  • Oracle Endeca 3.0, released late last year, with cleaner visualizations and faceted navigation of both structured and unstructured content

  • Microsoft Q&A, an interface for the upcoming PowerBI release that will let users enter simple search terms to find existing content or to create new data visualizations

  • IBM Project Neo, a SaaS-based offering that combines search, smart visualization, and advanced analytics

  • New tools form NeutrinoBI and DataRPM, startups using search and natural language processing to bring simplicity to a broader base of users.

Other trends
It's tough to limit this list to five trends. A top-10 list would have to include advanced analytics, collaboration, social data, the talent shortage, and privacy. We saw a lot of activity in advanced analytics in 2013, including SAP's acquisition of KXEN and broader support for R. The analytic talent shortage has limited adoption of advanced analytic techniques, but vendors are trying to address this gap by embedding the expertise directly in the software.

With the success of Facebook and Twitter IPOs, I would have thought that collaborative BI would be showing strong momentum. It made my top-trend list last year, but this trend has yet to gain traction. The mining of social data, meanwhile, has become part of the savvy marketer’s toolkit.  I’ve seen good solutions from BI vendors, particularly Information Builders and IBM, but also from Attivio, which integrates with a number of visual data discovery system vendors.

Privacy, though, just might throw a big wrench in the works where big data and social data is concerned. From NSA phone tapping to the Target data breach, consumers have had a big education on just how much data we're creating, how much it’s being mined, and how easy it is to steal. The greater good in the use of all this data needs to be weighed against the need for privacy. Expect more breaches and a backlash.

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.

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