Business Intelligence Made Easy

October 15, 2015 • Blog Post • By Atlantic Re:think

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IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Business intelligence tools have ushered in an era of self-service in the business sector, allowing business leaders to explore and analyze their own data without hiring additional consultants or analysts
  • Correctly utilizing self-service insights can be complicated, as the experience varies from company to company. Self-service requires companies define their goals at the outset of the project and clearly build a program to fit its individual needs

The latest BI tools skip the consultants and IT departments and put the company's data warehouse and advanced analytics in the hands of decision-makers

In 2012, we generated 2.5 billion GB of data every day. In addition, the speed at which we create data is projected to increase every year. The amount and variety of that data, as well as the incredible rate at which it's being produced, raises a simple question: What are we going to do with it all?

At least in the business sector, the intention is to turn it into value. The chief goal of emerging business intelligence (BI) tools is to create insights and reports that can help company leaders not only streamline their operations, but also make decisions. Until recently, the data that businesses collected had served mostly as an internal measure of operational efficiency - an important cog in the business machine but void of predictive insight.

"Back in the '90s, companies realized we ought to create another system outside of our operational systems," Wayne Eckerson says. "The goal since then has been to liberate data from the operational systems and put it in the hands of decision-makers much more easily and quickly."

Eckerson, who studies BI and analytics as the director of research and principal consultant at Eckerson Group, says that the market now calls for BI tools that allow business leaders to explore and analyze their own data without hiring additional consultants or analysts. These tools are known as self-service, and they could be ushering in a new, user-friendly era of intelligent business.

The ideal self-service environment allows users to warehouse and query the data their business collects without going through an IT department or third party. The goal is to produce customizable, readable and informative reports and dashboards that can help cut costs, improve efficiency and ensure that future decisions are based on a combination of intuition and hard evidence.

Businesses have responded to the opportunities that kind of software offers. Gartner estimates that worldwide sales of BI software, including analytic applications, totaled $14.4 billion in 2013. Of all the BI software segments, advanced analytic platforms experienced the most significant growth from 2012 to 2013 - about 12.5 percent - and the trend continues.

Jeff Morris is the VP of product marketing at GoodData, the leading provider of business intelligence for data monetization to enterprises and ISVs in partnership with HP Vertica. According to Morris, self-service tools are making businesses more agile and independent. They are no longer reliant on internal or external IT groups to unlock valuable insights in their data. "Originally, there was a heavy dependence on IT staff to be the purveyors of data and analytics to their employee and customer bases," Morris says. "But stakeholders who request report changes from IT might have to wait weeks for a response, he says, and that turnaround time just isn't fast enough for businesses looking to gain an edge by unlocking the value in their big data investments."

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Studies show that self-service tools like GoodData's analytics distribution platform provide that edge. A Bain & Company report found that companies using advanced analytic platforms to mine value from their data are "twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries," and "five times as likely to make decisions faster than market peers."

But are self-service business analytics only a viable tool for large corporations? Are smaller businesses, with employees and leaders less familiar with technology and data manipulation, left out of the transition to advanced in-house analytics?

Morris doesn't think so. One of his clients, a facilities management company called ServiceChannel, brokers business between big retail groups and small supply-side businesses. While brick-and-mortar retailers - name-brand store branches in a mall, for example - use ServiceChannel to request local maintenance services, the local, smaller businesses that provide those services receive data through ServiceChannel about their performance and competition. "That's a really wonderful way that analytics improves the relationship between a big business and a little business," Morris says. "Brokering these kinds of relationships is exactly where the sale-service nature of everything is going to go."

Utilizing self-service business analytics can still be a complicated process, and the mere act of incorporating it requires serious, long-term planning. The Bain & Co. report recommends that any company thinking about using advanced analytics asks itself some big questions: "To what end? How is Big Data going to improve our performance as a business? What will the company focus on?"

The answers to these questions are going to vary from company to company, meaning that self-service will look different in every iteration. "Different users have different needs and different skills in terms of getting data, and certainly different appetites for technology," Eckerson says. "Self-service analytics is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor."

In a way, though, that's part of its appeal. The point and value of self-service is that the user defines the priorities, queries and recipients of the reports that platforms like GoodData produce. And it's becoming increasingly easy to use. GoodData's analytics distribution platform is loaded with tutorials and suggestions meant to ease the transition into the world of warehoused data. "We create an analytic experience that is very easy for an everyday person to jump into," Morris says. "Even at the first touch of the button, we're teaching them how to analyze in the product."

If self-service products can really embody both tutorial and analytic insight, they have the potential to act as a democratizing force in the world of business as data becomes synonymous with value. An everyday user - say, a plumber using ServiceChannel to find work - could use self-service to improve their business practices as easily as a national Fortune 500 company can query their data to gain insight into its profit margins.

According to Morris, all you really need to use self-service is a few driving questions and an appetite for information. "That's what creates the requirement for self-service," he says. "Your inquisitiveness steers you to your next moment of analytic value. We help unlock these moments across your entire business network, internal and external."

GoodData partners with HPE Vertica to unlock the full value of data. For more information, CLICK HERE.

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