The field of business intelligence is nothing like when it got started many years ago; quarterly and month-end reports are minimally relevant when it comes to creating competitive advantage. Today, business people need analytics on an hourly or faster basis. Modern BI systems must be able to incorporate information from many different internal and external systems and data sources with accuracy and speed. To achieve those goals, we are in the midst of a wholesale transformation of the way companies procure, deploy and distribute BI tools to users.
First, let’s look at the ongoing issues with traditional BI platforms. Many of the legacy systems in use today were designed with IT users in mind – not business people. In days of old, IT delivered reports on predictable schedules, in tune with financial reporting needs primarily. Business users have depended upon IT teams to create and run queries on warehoused data to derive insights– a slow, inflexible process.
The Challenge with BI Systems is Three-Fold:
- Data integration across platforms is difficult and expensive.
- Analytics solutions are not designed for the average business user.
- Components critical to helping business users understand patterns–simplified data modeling and visualizations—are painfully lacking.
Today, business and marketing leaders need access to richer data sets that reflect what’s going on right now with customers and partners. Combining data from internal and external sources helps companies predict whether segments of customers will respond to particular campaigns or new services. Data analysis can show marketers how to target offerings contextually, correlating offers with location, weather, economic news and seasonal trends. Operations managers benefit from real-time information, such as sudden spikes in energy consumption or mobile phone usage. Business users need easy, quick ways to access data and create their own reports and alerts as needed, without requiring IT intervention.
The Cloud: Delivering Self-Service and Speed for BI Users
Gartner Research recently updated its Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Solutions assessment criteria to address the fundamental IT/business disconnect which has plagued BI solutions. The Magic Quadrant now gives more weight to solutions which empower business people to quickly derive insights from their data. A select few solutions delivering greater ease of use and cleaner visualizations rose to the top of the quadrant. Those leader companies all offer cloud-based versions of their products.
The cloud is helping organizations connect any number of valuable data sources, including social media, CRM and ERP systems, legacy databases and e-commerce systems to business intelligence solutions. This process used to require a lot of heavy lifting from the IT department, but now, cloud-based platforms are enabling companies to plug data sources together with relative ease. As a result, we are finally moving toward a self-service reality where business users can click a few buttons to connect preferred data sources and get answers to the questions they’re asking in a clean, simple format. Microsoft’s Power BI offering—part of the Office 365 cloud suite that also includes OneDrive and Skype for Business, is a leading solution in this shift toward business-oriented, cloud-based BI tools.
Benefits for IT
Even though the latest wave of BI tools were designed with users in mind, these systems will also be easier for IT to manage and secure. The cloud can largely eliminate the headaches of installation, configuration, integration, optimization, maintenance and management processes which can complicate the immediate use of new tools, as explained in this Forrester Research report.
For many companies, change is not only inevitable but imperative. Corporate infrastructure is reaching the breaking point from the volume of data coming in a daily basis—data that can’t be analyzed, filtered or delivered fast enough to bring much value. Through leveraging the cloud, however, IT can bring BI capabilities to the business faster than ever, to employees at all levels across the organization.