Top 10 trends in business intelligence: To visualise or not, that is the question

It is rare to see all the players in a particular industry agreeing on the trends shaping their world, beyond one or two of the big ones. After all, they will all believe that their particular niche is the best way forward. So it is no surprise to see a little bit of disagreement on what will be driving the business intelligence (BI) space over the next twelve months.

Tableau Software’s VP for Europe, Bruno Saint-Cast, has sent its predictions for 2012 through and nestling at nine is:

Interactive data visualisation becomes a requirement
The wide variety of data visualised on the web will make business users expect that capability inside their organisation as well. And with the trend of bigger data, interactive data visualisation will become a critical tool in sifting through all that data. Reports filled with endless rows and columns of numbers or static, boring charts that take hours to sift through and weeks to change won’t cut it anymore.

It echoes what CEO Christian Chabot told CBR earlier this year when talking about why his company is so heavily focused on the visualisation side of BI. "We all agree that pictures are almost always your end destination of analytical work – you want to turn it into a picture so you can understand it," he said. "So why is that saved to the end? Why not start with it?"

Well, because, as Pentaho’s CEO Quentin Gallivan recently told CBR: "The idea of visualisation is like eye candy. How visual do you want the data to be? It’s not an arms race. Many customers want a simple way to look at data but it’s a question of eye candy versus what’s actually being used."

Gallivan continued: "We want to be the best at delivering a BI platform, not the best at visualisation. If there are lots of different data sources they will need to be integrated and that’s a job for IT, where we sell to, and not the end-user. You need all structured and unstructured data in one place to be able to get the right decision. The end-user doesn’t care about that. Yes, right data is important and you need to help IT to get it."

OK, so visualisation is splitting the BI camp. What about any other of Tableau’s predictions? In at six is:

Companies explore the cloud
Lower TCO, easier setup — these factors will drive some companies to the cloud for business intelligence. In 2012 we see adopters primarily in small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have a lot of IT resources. BI cloud offerings will also get more diverse and more mature.

This is backed up by Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy. "I think there are three electric waves, if not tsunamis, that are striking the technology world right now, and they’re remaking everything. One of them is the mobile network transformation, the second is the cloud network transformation, and the third is the social network transformation," he told CBR.

"The significance of the cloud network tsunami is that we’re seeing incredible, almost unlimited computing power being unleashed into the cloud where it can be accessed on demand in real time, in an ad hoc fashion by any random person. Another way to say that is that the locus of server-side processing is moving from the data centre out into the cloud where you can bring it to bear for a variety of tasks that weren’t structured before," Saylor added.

So can we say we have agreement on this? Nope.

"Cloud is less important than Saylor would say," QlikView product advocate and a former Microsoft employee Donald Farmer told us recently. "He’s put a big investment in so it’s important to him. We’re ready for cloud in the sense that we have partners who can deploy on the cloud and our demo site is hosted on Amazon," he told CBR. "But for me BI follows data and right now if you put BI in the cloud either you load your data there to analyse it or if you have BI on-premise you have to download the data to analyse it."

"When data is in the cloud it makes sense to have BI there but there isn’t enough data there at the moment. It’s an important trend and we’re ready for it but I don’t see it as critical for BI yet," BI guru Farmer continued. "Until there are more operational apps in the cloud why would you move a workload there to analyse it?"

There are a couple of areas where there is agreement between Tableau and Donald Farmer. The impact of the consumer world on BI, for example.

Tableau’s third prediction for 2012 is:

The pace toward the "Consumerisation of Enterprise Software" accelerates
You’ve already heard it: consumer software is faster, easier and often more sophisticated than enterprise software. Why? Consumer software typically puts more thought into design. And software that’s well-designed with fewer features is more useful than poorly-designed software that is packed with options.

People want their business software to work as easily and as smoothly as their personal software – to the point where they use personal software to accomplish business objectives. This trend is going to speed up and IT needs to be ready. Traditional enterprise software deployments beware.

QlikView’s product advocate agrees: "The relationship between users and technology… is fundamentally changing the industry. That’s important because that’s the way the new consumer thinks about technology – it’s what you choose to do your job better. [BI is] ultimately about decision making. Decisions are not centralised, faceless things; they are personal and social activities. So you want the software to support you when making your decisions."

Mobile is another where these BI firms agree. Tableau’s fourth prediction for 2012 is:

Mobile adoption goes mainstream
Apple claims that 92% of the Fortune 500 will be testing or deploying iPads in the 2012 timeframe. Companies are moving from the experimentation stage with mobile into real, IT-supported deployments. And the tablet finally offers a form factor that makes sense for BI. Expect to be a laggard if you’re not using mobile for BI by the end of 2012.

"I’ve been enthusiastic since really the iPhone 3," MicroStrategy’s Saylor told us. "I think it was an inflection point because it was really the first smartphone with the full power of a computer that could start to run software applications that otherwise you’d have gone on to the web for. Since that point we’ve seen a progressive transformation and migration from computation on the desktop in the Windows API to computation in the mobile API, with iOS [from Apple] being the most successful but with Android following."

Tableau’s top ten predications in full:

  1. Big data gets even bigger
  2. Self-reliance is the new self-service
  3. The pace toward the "Consumerisation of Enterprise Software" accelerates
  4. Mobile adoption goes mainstream
  5. Companies get (a little more) comfortable with social
  6. Companies explore the cloud
  7. Analytical talent will become a required part of many jobs… leading to talent shortages
  8. IT and business users continue to dance around "alignment"
  9. Interactive data visualisation becomes a requirement
  10. Hadoop gathers momentum
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