The last Dodo bird was killed in 1681. Darwin told us that “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. The world in which Dodo birds existed changed with the arrival of humans and they, the birds, did not adapt. The world in which business intelligence (BI) exists is changing, changing pretty drastically. Will BI go the way of the Dodo bird?
It wasn’t that long ago when C-level execs would ask simple questions like who are my top ten most profitable customers or what are my least profitable products. Then people like me would go off to build large enterprise data warehouses in an attempt to provide them answers. These projects were big and expensive with high failure rates. It was at about this time, the mid-1990’s, that I had made the observation that companies such as Oracle or SAP could pre-build a data warehouse using their ERP applications as the source. After all, the source data from one customer to the next was the same, for the most part. So were many of the questions. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who saw this opportunity. Eventually, Oracle offered Daily Business Intelligence, SAP had The Business Warehouse, and Siebel provided prebuilt analytics for a number of different ERP applications.
While these systems were a step forward, they were not the hoped-for cornucopia of business insights. They were still IT-centric systems. They also needed to be integrated with other systems, systems outside of traditional ERP. A packaged data warehouse would also have to be extended to include data that wasn’t necessarily part of the packaged BI application, even though that data might be in the original source system. In addition, the systems may have been integrated on the back end, but the dashboards and reports still seemed to be a separate thing, a separate application to which the user needed to navigate.
Of course, as BI evolves so too does the business environment. We hear young lions roar; “The business environment is changing at an exponential rate! Organizations are becoming more customer centric! The Internet changes everything! Wait… I mean the cloud changes everything! Nope, I meant the Internet of Things (IoT) changes everything!” We have heard these grumblings ad nauseam. Behind these clichés, however, are some very real truths.
The variety of data sources has grown as well as the types of data. With IoT the scope of connectedness has exploded. There are approximately 2.5 devices for every person on Earth. Yet, only slightly half of the world’s population has Internet access which would lead us to conclude that the average number of devices for people with Internet access is roughly five devices. The variety of device types has driven a diversity of data as well. Data has grown drastically from simple structured data locked within internal systems to unstructured text data, images, and videos to give just a few examples. Not only have we been told of these changes on every blog and in vendor presentations, we have lived through it. We have been part of this changing ecosystem. The real question for BI is how do we adapt to meet this changing environment.
First, we need to create an environment in which the user can truly interact with the data. Understand that this is more than just drilling down, more than merely slicing and dicing. By interacting with the data, I mean that the user can go places in the data that may not have been anticipated by the system architect. The user should be able to do more than simply create a new report, but to be able to explore the data possibly defining new relationships within it.
Second, the data with which these users interact need to go beyond the walls of the organization. BI data now exists in the cloud. BI systems will need to access the data within cloud applications and data sources. This will drive an increase in the volume, diversity, and complexity of data.
Third, greater connectedness will also mean an increase in speed. Organizations will need to respond much more quickly to trends that are both market and individual based. To deal with this we expect to see a growth in the use of both predictive and prescriptive analytics.
It is pretty obvious that BI has changed over the years, and it continues to do so. Although Gartner has declared BI dead, I do not believe it to be the case. With all due respect to Gartner, far from being dead, we are on the cusp of a new stage in the evolution of business intelligence. As BI adapts to this changing environment people are empowered to be more effective through information, from the board room to the loading dock. BI is far from the Dodo bird of information systems.