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6 Predictions For Business Intelligence In 2012

A look at in-memory analysis, visual discovery, big data, mobile BI, cloud and social BI achievements in 2011 and forecasts for the year ahead.

When we set New Year's resolutions in our house, we tend to tweak the list for a few weeks, figuring out what's more wishful thinking versus realistically achievable. Then up they go, taped to the kitchen cupboard over last year's lists. It's always a chuckle, sometimes an inspiration, to compare last year's list with this year's.

With this approach in mind, here's a look at the top BI trends from 2011 and what's in store for 2012.

In-Memory Analysis

In-memory technology continued to take center stage in 2011, with its ability to provide speed-of-thought analysis on ever-increasing amounts of data. SAP's in-memory appliance, HANA, became generally available in June. Oracle later announced its own in-memory appliance, Exalytics, at its Oracle Open World conference in October. The appliance combines capabilities from in-memory database TimesTen with new visual discovery capabilities. It was expected to be released late last year, but it's still not available, and Oracle has yet to provide an update on release plans. IBM Cognos released its dynamic query mode, or in-memory for relational databases, last fall. SAS has also begun supporting in-memory as part of its industry solutions.

[ Want more on business intelligence and analytics? Read our 2012 BI and Information Management Trends report. ]

In the year ahead, large enterprises may gradually adopt high-end appliances such as Hana and Exalytics, but the majority of customers will continue to embrace more nimble in-memory solutions from vendors such as QlikTech, Microsoft (Power Pivot), and Tableau or software-only solutions, such as the approach MicroStrategy and IBM Cognos uses. Microsoft will release a new version of PowerPivot with better security and support for hierarchies, capabilities lacking in the current release.

Visual Discovery

Visual discovery and in-memory are not synonymous, despite some industry confusion and the fact that many visual discovery tools have an in-memory engine. MicroStrategy entered this market last year with its Visual Insight product. Both QlikTech and TIBCO Spotfire released new versions of their products toward the end of 2011 with slightly different areas of focus. QlikTech touted collaboration and comparative analysis. TIBCO Spotfire's latest release simplifies dashboard design while also improving collaboration. Tableau 7 was released this week, bringing improvements in visualizations as well as enterprise deployability.

Visual discovery will be a busy segment in 2012. SAS (Visual Analytics Explorer), IBM Cognos, Oracle (Exalytics), and Microsoft (Crescent) have all been previewing visual discovery features to come in 2012. With BI platform vendors releasing capabilities and, in some instances, bundling those capabilities with existing licenses, customers will continue to wrestle with whether the distinct benefits of the new-breed tools (Tableau, QlikTech, TIBCO Spotfire) is worth a separate investment.

Customers have to closely assess what their requirements are and which product is most suitable; is there a payoff in visual appeal and clarity, self-service with no IT involvement, or rapid time to value?

Big Data

Both in-memory and visual discovery have a role to play with big data. So, too, do data warehouse appliances, columnar databases, and of course, broader support for NoSQL databases such as Hadoop and Cassandra. We had another busy year of acquisitions in 2011 with HP acquiring Vertica and Teradata acquiring Aster Data. No doubt, some of these acquisitions were driven by the 2010 moves of IBM acquiring Netezza and EMC acquiring Greenplum.

A number of BI tool vendors are adding support for Hadoop, including Pentaho 4, Jaspersoft 4.5, and Tableau 7, released this week. In addition, a new category of BI tools specifically for Hadoop seems to be emerging with startups such as Datameer and Karmasphere.

Splunk, which helps companies collect and analyze machine-generated data, has made a number of executive appointments, fueling speculation of an IPO in 2012. Also in the machine data realm, SAP BusinessObjects Event Insight was released in 2011, bringing real-time data feeds to the BI platform.

In the year ahead, expect the leading BI vendors to continue to add support for Hadoop. Don't look for a silver bullet or a single approach in addressing your big data needs.

Mobile BI

All BI vendors are touting mobile BI as the next big wave. But they continue to argue about development approaches, which content to deliver on which device, and of course, where to place bets on market share. Both Apple and Android devices have steadily eroded BlackBerry's dominance in corporations. The much-anticipated BlackBerry Playbook was a failure, and service interruptions worsened BlackBerry's decline. Meanwhile, some customers are still saying "who cares about Mobile BI," failing to see value beyond executive eye-candy.

Expect the confusion and skepticism to continue in 2012. Mobile BI capabilities will continue to improve, with more BI vendors adapting their apps so that tablets support offline or airline mode, better security, and better performance. Vendors who take a Web-app-only approach today will revisit this to provide customers with a better mobile experience. The decline of unlimited data plans will raise demands for better device-based caching.

BlackBerry faces an even tougher 2012. Who can rescue them? Which BI vendor will be the first to stop developing on that platform? I can't help but wonder if 2012 will be the year for BlackBerry to get acquired or die a slow death. I will miss my keyboard. And will Microsoft finally make headway in this market?

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