Pushing the Boundaries of Analytic Software

by John Joseph

For more than 20 years one of the biggest complaints about business intelligence tools and data analytic solutions is that their power typically resides in the IT and Finance departments. However, Gartner’s  recent BI/analytics market size report may indicate a shift in this thinking. According to the firm, sales of BI and analytics platforms grew more than 16% last year. This may be due to a “renewed interest in BI and performance management” from CFOs, as noted by Gartner analyst Dan Sommer. This made me wonder just how far we can push analytics within the enterprise.

The traditional consumers of enterprise BI and analytic software are the finance group and senior executives.  In a typical scenario they receive standard monthly reports on things like product sales, expenses, and manufacturing output. Their interface is a static report or maybe a few filters for ad-hoc views, and there isn’t much query ability. At the other extreme we find a data scientist who is very familiar with SQL interfaces and other technical tools.  These people are a scarce resource throughout the enterprise and because there are so few of them, chances are slim they’ll make analytics pervasive.

So how can we push the boundaries of analytics beyond the traditional IT borders so that those on the business side can realize their power?  How far can analytics go? In my opinion, it has the potential to reach every employee within an organization. I subscribe to a philosophy advocated by Cindi Howson of BIScorecard, who believes that self-service BI doesn’t mean putting a single query tool on everyone’s desktop. Instead, it’s about customizing BI for each person’s needs.

Every single person has different skills and, therefore, the tools used have to be matched to the skills of the user and the type of questions they need to answer. People doing investigations need a data discovery tool with the ability to question broadly.  Some need a simple interface –a static report – while others need more data analytic control and the ability to transform, aggregate, and correlate data.

A major opportunity is in addressing the needs of the analysts and information workers within an organization as there is great potential for this audience to affect business performance.  The challenge, however, is that there is a wide spectrum of skills that demand multiple business query interfaces to serve the needs of the audience.

What are your thoughts on the future of self-service BI programs?

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