Why The Future of Analytics Is About More Than Self-Service

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The latest edition of the Gartner BI Summit rolls out this week in Mumbai, India.

The latest edition of the Gartner BI Summit rolls out this week in Mumbai, India.

It seems an appropriate time to talk about why it’s important for business people to have Modern BI tools that let them handle end-to-end business intelligence themselves, without having to call IT — but also to point out that the future of Analytics is about much more than that.

BI and Analytics is booming. It’s yet again the #1 priority for CIOs this year, for the ninth time in eleven years. But the obvious question is: if it’s been such a priority for so long, why haven’t we fixed it yet?!

I believe that it’s because even as technology has surged forward, business expectations have risen even faster.

Analytics is now no longer only about helping organizations make better decisions — it provides the foundation for the business models of the future. It’s not just essential for our decision makers, but also for our customers.

As consumers, we now expect organizations to know who we are, what we’ve purchased in the past, and to make personalized recommendations. We expect instant information about problems: a cancelled plane, a delayed order, or an out-of-stock product. And we expect organizations to to correct those problems quickly and flexibly.

In other words, information is now part of the products and services we buy and sell. And this means that real-time, contextual, personalized data — also known as “analytics” — is now an essential ingredient of the optimized customer experience.

This has two big consequences. First, it means business people need to be able to quickly experiment and adapt the new information-embedded products and services to changing customer needs. They can’t wait days or weeks to get the answer to new questions. And they need as much information from outside the company as they do from corporate systems.

So self-service access to IT-created reports and dashboards is not longer enough. Business people need easy tools that let them mash together data from anywhere, on the fly. And if these tools aren’t provided by IT, they’ll go out and buy their own.

Modern BI with SAP BusinessObjects Cloud

Of course, if everybody does that, the result is chaos, with each department making up their own incompatible performance metrics based on dubious data, and lots of expensive duplication of resources.

So the future is about governed self-service access to data, and every vendor in the industry is trying to provide the best of governance with the best of flexibility for business people.

And it’s time to give company executives what they’ve been dreaming of since the dawn of computers.

They don’t want endless meetings, discussing what extra data they need to make a decision. They want interactive, real-time access to corporate data from high-level objectives down to the most granular transactions. They want to do collaborative what-if analysis and make strategic decisions based on what’s going on right now in the business. And of course this should be based on the same technology that powers self-service access to information elsewhere. 

SAP Digital Boardroom, based on SAP BusinessObjects Cloud

But thinking about BI only in terms of data for staff risks missing the bigger picture. 

Your customers also now need your analytics system to work for them. No just in terms of “extranet” reporting and analysis, but fueling the customer experience itself.

To be competitive in the future, you need a strong analytics foundation for Live Business that let you anticipate and fix problems before they happen, rather than just reporting on the past:

  • Instead of using analytics to analyze why your customers are leaving, you implement business processes to detect potential churn and test ways to keep the customers you want.
  • Instead of providing reports of how many planes were stranded last time there was an Icelandic ash-cloud, you give the airlines the systems they need to analyze and change their flight plans to avoid the cloud as it billows out.
  • Instead of analyzing the effect of train breakdowns on customer satisfaction, you predict breakdowns in advance and automatically shift customers to different trains, thus minimizing costs and improving customer service.

Live Business systems require powerful, consistent information systems that tie information across many different aspects of the customer journey.

This in turn tips analytics needs towards greater consistency and governance.

Individual departments may have rapid success with individual projects using a variety of loosely connected “best of breed” self-service systems. But the company as a whole loses visibility at the time it’s most needed and it makes it even harder to provide an optimized customer experience.

Today’s BI organizations are facing digital disruption, just like the taxi companies faced with Uber. There are now new customers and new needs for what used to be a largely back-office function.

Analytics organizations should use both traditional business intelligence and the latest visual exploration, but above all should ensure that there are tight links with new real-time, predictive business processes.

The future of analytics is about governed self-service from data collection all the way through to collaborative decisions and about providing Live Business experiences for customers. 

IT organizations that only look at half of that equation are creating new silos that are damaging the business — and will likely to face their own disruptions in the future.


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