State of Business Intelligence in Todayís Enterprises

Originally published March 6, 2018

Ron Powell, independent analyst and industry expert for the BeyeNETWORK and executive producer of The World Transformed FastForward Series. Ronís focus is on business intelligence, analytics, big data and data warehousing. Ron interviews Donald Farmer, principal† of TreeHive Strategy, to discuss the state of business intelligence (BI) and information governance.

Welcome Donald.

Donald Farmer: Thanks Ron. Itís great to be here.

Donald, what do you see as the major trends in BI today?

Donald Farmer: There are a number of trends that are diverging and converging. Itís a very interesting time to be in BI. One of the key trends that I see is the diversity of front-end applications that people are using. As business users become more empowered by self-service to do their own work, they are choosing their own tools. Theyíll choose tools such as Tableau, Qlik, Power BI, ClearStory and many other tools to get their jobs done. That is a pretty interesting time because it used to be that these tools were always provisioned by IT, and now business users are in the driverís seat and theyíll choose the technologies they want to use.†

Most business users have their own preference, donít they?

Donald Farmer: They absolutely do. They have their own style of analytics. They have their own style of thinking and interpretation, so itís no longer one size fits all. Business users get to use the tool of their choice and I think thatís exciting for them.

Donald, youíve been in business intelligence for a long time. What do you see as the challenges for enterprises today when doing BI?

Donald Farmer: There is a key challenge that has emerged. It has always been there to an extent, but when business users were less empowered it was less of an issue. That challenge is governance. By governance I mean simply knowing that your data is being used in a way that you approve of, that is responsible and that is safe. At one time, that wasnít much of an issue because IT controlled access to all the data. But now business users have these front-end tools. We have data warehouses, operational data stores and data lakes Ė all of which are governed by IT. What happens when the data is now in the analytic world where itís being consumed by Tableau, Qlik or ClearStory Ė all in the same applications. What do you do about that? How do you know how your data is being used and how decisions are being made? Thatís the critical challenge now for business intelligence.

With the utilization of all of these tools, there must be other challenges in addition to governance?

Donald Farmer: There are issues with inconsistencies. There may be differences in the ways that calculations are being performed in the front-end tools. There may be different visualizations that† lead you to different conclusions because you have different analytic styles. And different tools have different facilities for export or different facilities for data manipulation. So itís actually quite an issue.

There are a number of ways in which the interpretation of data can change from the data store to how it is being utilized by the front-end tool. Thatís a really interesting problem to face.††

Based on all of these challenges, what is an enterprise to look for in a BI solution?

Donald Farmer: There are a number of things they need to look for in their BI solution. The first is good integration with their back-end data store Ė whatever data store is their choice. So increasingly youíre seeing the BI tools like Tableau with its new Hyper data engine. Qlik and Power BI also have their own data engines. Youíre seeing integration with back-end systems and BI tools creating their own data stores.

So, first of all, you have to tackle that problem. Where is your data going to reside, how is it going to be governed and who understands that data? This is one of the reasons that weíve see data catalogs like Alation becoming very popular.†

But in front of that is this question: How is the data going to be consumed by the decision makers? How are they going to make their decisions. So what you need to look for, first of all,† is a tool that suits your decision makersí analytic styles and a platform that supports them at the backend. But increasingly now, you need something else. You need a tool or a platform that will enable you to govern that diversity. Rather than looking now to one solution, you now need to, if you like, manage the mess. And thatís what people should be looking for Ė an answer to the problem of how to govern a diversity of tools and decision-making styles.

So youíre really looking for a BI tool over a BI tool, right?

Donald Farmer: Exactly that. In the old days we would have looked to the back end to solve that problem. Now we need to look at the front end. And Iím seeing some of these tools emerge. For example, Zenoptics had a booth at the recent TDWI Conference.† Zenoptics is addressing exactly this problem: How do you consolidate the front-end BI Ė your MicroStrategy reports, your BusinessObjects dashboard and your Tableau visualizations Ė all into a single portal, if you like, that can be accessed, searched, and governed so that you understand not only where the data is coming from but also how it is being consumed and how people are interpreting that data.

So from a feature perspective, what does Zenoptics have that you feel really meets this need?

Donald Farmer: First of all, they have a portal that wraps this. But, more than that, they have the search capabilities to go into the metadata of the front-end tools and ask what the business purpose is of having the dashboard in Tableau or the MicroStrategy report and then being able to search.† For example, you can go in and search for sales reports, and it will show you not only the ďofficialĒ sales reports that are in MicroStrategy, but also the informal analyses of sales that might be done on a campaign basis or by an individual sales manager to manage his own team or by a sales operations support analyst and her team. Itís able to search across all of these and determine where the sales data is being consumed across the entire organization. Thatís much more insightful, and itís also much better governance than having to go into each tool individually and ask that question.

Sounds like a single command center.

Donald Farmer: It feels like a command center Ė that one place where you can ask: Show me whatís happening across my enterprise. I think thatís actually very cool.

Great! Donald, it has been a pleasure talking to you about the state of the BI market.

SOURCE: State of Business Intelligence in Todayís Enterprises

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward Show. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.† Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at†

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel. Be sure to visit today!

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