This post was originally published by Dave Reinke & Kevin Haas on Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Is Enterprise BI dying? That’s the question our colleagues have been debating the past few months. We’re heavily wired into the business intelligence marketplace and have seen the nature of our projects change recently. Fewer clients are asking for classic ad-hoc query, reporting and analysis provided by enterprise BI platforms such as BusinessObjects, Cognos, Microstrategy and Pentaho.
Rather, clients are obsessed with providing data services to a growing potpourri of visual analytic tools and custom built analytic apps. More organizations expect data-driven, tangible evidence to support their decisions. The fundamental shift is from an IT mandated common data semantic via a monolithic BI platform to an assortment of “BYO” analytics technologies that depend on the creativity and self-reliance of business analysts and data scientists to meet enterprise analytical needs. Perhaps we are seeing the rise of a new analytics philosophy. Are we witnessing the Rise of Enterprise Analytics?
A Brief History of Enterprise BI
Enterprise BI platforms began life in the 1990’s when upstart disrupters like BusinessObjects and Cognos promised to “democratize data access” and introduce “BI to the masses.” For the most part, they delivered on these promises.
The core concept was a centralized, shared data semantic, enabling users to interact with data without requiring an understanding of the underlying database structure or writing their own SQL. Yes, SQL. All data for these platforms had to be queried from relational databases, preferably dimensionalized data warehouses that were designed and populated by IT.
The Enterprise BI platforms provided tremendous value to organizations that were starved for consistent data access. Once the underlying data was organized and a semantic defined, users were guaranteed conformed data access via ad-hoc and canned query, reporting and analysis modules. Additionally, complex reports and dashboards could be stitched together from common components. Nirvana...unless you were paying the license fees or wanted to switch to a new platform.
Excessive licensing fees and lock-in began the undoing of the monolithic BI platforms as open source technologies like Pentaho and Jaspersoft aggressively commoditized. However, even the open source options were still bottlenecked by a dependence on centralized IT to organize data and define a common semantic. Time for the next disruption…
The Trend is not Enterprise BI’s Friend: Five Trends Sparking the Rise of Enterprise Analytics
For context, consider how radically user’s expectations of technology have changed since the Enterprise BI platforms took shape in the 1990’s. We’ve identified five “megatrends” that are particularly relevant for analytics. First, technology has become high touch and amazingly intuitive. High touch as in actually touching via tablets and phones. Apps and websites don’t come with binders or user manuals. You download and use, figuring it out along the way.
Second, technology is perpetually connected, enabling interaction with people and things anywhere. We expect to be able to do things at any time, any place and on any device. We change our home thermostat from across the country and speak with colleagues on the other side of the globe for little or no cost. Simply amazing if you stop to think about it.
Third, technology answers questions now. We’ve become impatient, no longer willing to wait even for the simple latency of an email exchange. Ubiquitous connectivity and Google are now taken for granted by a new generation of perpetually informed consumers.
Fourth, the increasing compute power in the hands of every business analyst is changing their problem solving approach. Data scientists can solve business problems by processing even more data with vastly more sophisticated algorithms than ever before. This has yielded technologies that visually depict these advanced analytics, resulting in greater experimentation, and an embrace of the scientific method.
Finally, technological sharing and collaboration is the new norm. Social networks have taught us that if we participate, then we will get more than we give. The open source software development model has spilled into just about every domain, harvesting the benefits of collaboration and improvement via derivative works. The trends empower and embolden the individual and stand in stark contrast to the command and control deployment inherent in classic Enterprise BI platforms.
Enter Enterprise Analytics
The legacy, centralized approach of Enterprise BI simply hasn’t recognized and responded to these trends.
Imagine an enterprise that leverages IT and engineering resources to provide a shared, secure data asset, but also fosters an ecosystem where analytics evolve through creativity, exploration, collaboration and sharing. An ecosystem where analytics take on a life of their own; where the “best-fit” analytics thrive and pass their “DNA” on to new generations built from an expanding data asset. Markets are won by data-driven organizations that learn faster and execute better than their competitors.
This is the vision for Enterprise Analytics.
As long time BI veterans, we were taught to root out siloed analytics, spreadmarts and the like. One of the commonly argued benefits for Enterprise BI platforms is that reported metrics are guaranteed to be consistent no matter how many users ask for them. There would be no more arguing over whose numbers are right. Rather, energy was to be spent interpreting and acting. We found this to be true with users rapidly absorbing the IT-managed metrics. However, just as quickly as we delivered the standardized, IT-governed metrics, users demanded new metrics requiring the rapid integration of increasingly varied and voluminous data. Few IT organizations could respond with the necessary agility, and innovation was stifled.
Adopting Enterprise Analytics changes the dynamic between user and IT. IT becomes an enabler, providing a shared and secure data infrastructure while users are empowered to create, share and improve analytics. For sure, the path is not straight. There are bumps along the way with arguments over whose metrics are more apt, etc. But the benefits of rapid innovation overpower the stagnation that comes from lack of analytical agility.
With a platform that enables collaboration, users are more apt to reuse and then extend metrics as they produce new analytics -- experimenting to improve an organization’s understanding. The costs of a little less governance are far outweighed by the benefits of rapidly improving actionable insight.
What's Next in Enterprise Analytics
Although the opportunity of Enterprise Analytics is staggering, Enterprise BI is not going to disappear overnight. We’ll still need pixel perfect and banded reports to satisfy regulations, official documents, operational norms and tailored communication. Privacy requirements still demand secured and managed access for wide swathes of enterprise data -- access that likely requires a stable, common semantic for which Enterprise BI platforms excel. And, we’ll increasingly see analytics delivered via “apps” with tightly scoped, but well-directed functionality to address a specific business process and targeted audience. Not everything will be 100% ad-hoc.
But, in our view, the reality of how business analysts and data scientists work, the tools they use, and the information they have access to is inciting a real change in the way that individuals are using information. Enterprise Analytics is at hand, and organizations that do not respond to this reality will find themselves increasingly irrelevant.
In future blogs, we’ll expand on the concepts introduced here, elaborating on the benefits of maintaining an Enterprise Analytics portfolio that consists of business-led Data Exploration, Data Science, Analytical Apps and governed data access and reporting. We’ll also discuss how to start and grow your own Enterprise Analytics ecosystem discussing technologies and techniques that work and the changed but still critical role of central IT. Along the way we’ll share insights and experiences as we enter this unquestionably exciting new age.