Yellowfin’s Year in Review: Top 9 Business Intelligence developments of 2011

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Inexorable and unrelenting.  These words encapsulate the collective year that was in Business Intelligence (BI).  The constant interaction between marketplace and vendor, each hurtling towards the other at increasing speed, was reminiscent of The Joker’s infamous line in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – “An unstoppable force meets an immoveable object”.  Although, the fast-paced progression of 2011’s BI market delivered markedly

Inexorable and unrelenting.  These words encapsulate the collective year that was in Business Intelligence (BI).  The constant interaction between marketplace and vendor, each hurtling towards the other at increasing speed, was reminiscent of The Joker’s infamous line in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – “An unstoppable force meets an immoveable object”.  Although, the fast-paced progression of 2011’s BI market delivered markedly more buoyant viewing than the latest installment of the Batman saga.

So, strap yourself into your dark, metallic and oh-so-ridiculous vehicle of choice, as we dissect all the major elements of anarchy – the Joker’s, Penguin’s and Riddler’s – in BI city’s year that was.

1. Self-service BI was out to get us all…

Seemingly chasing everyone down the dank and dark backstreets of BI city was the ever-prevalent concept of self-service.  Also discussed under the banner of ‘gamification’, the consumerization of BI – the emergence of consumer-oriented features and functionality to support ease-of-use and independent data analysis by non-technical business-users – captured the aspirations and endeavors of vendors.  Independent research firm, Gartner, helped drive the intensification of this trend, stating that consumerization, and resultant increase in user-adoption, had the potential to deliver organizations better BI Return on Investment (ROI).

“The consumerization of BI technology offers a means for it to break out and reach many more users, by offering faster, more user-friendly and more relevant BI,” said James Richardson, research director at Gartner. 

“The fact of the matter is that BI is not pervasive and adoption is not in line with the investment made by most firms,” said Richardson.  “Almost every organization could improve, if its stakeholders had easier access to well-integrated information, and if they analyzed that information to manage performance and make decisions. “

Gartner listed the three key BI product-oriented factors for sustained user adoption as:

  • Ease of use: If BI is difficult to learn, use, maintain or simply looks unappealing, significant user drop-off will result
  • Performance: If query response times are slow, report production/building arduous, end-users will stop using the BI tool
  • Relevance: If the BI platform does not present relevant information to the right users, in an easily understandable and consumable format, then frustration and abandonment will occur

“A failure in any one of these areas can be the cause of poor take-up, and goes some way toward explaining why just 28 percent of users have adopted the organization’s standard BI platform of choice,” said Richardson.

“Ensuring a better match to end-user needs [will enable] a greater Return on Investment in BI.”

2011 was the first year in which Gartner’s famed BI Magic Quadrant listed ease-of-use as the number one selection criteria for organizations to consider when purchasing a BI application.

TDWI best practices report – Self-Service Business Intelligence: Empowering Users to Generate Insights – supports this view, arguing that: “Access to BI is what gives companies their competitive edge and allows them to discover new business opportunities.”  The report simultaneously laments the fact that “in too many organizations, decisions are still not based on business intelligence because of the inability to keep up with demand for information and analytics.”

2. Mobile BI struck again, and again, and…

Much of the hype surrounding Mobile BI over the previous 24 months turned into action in 2011, with a further corresponding increase in planned Mobile BI implementations for 2012.  According to Dresner Advisory Services’ (DAS) October 2011 Mobile Business Intelligence Market Study, organizations are now placing increasingly importance on Mobile BI as a delivery mechanism for corporate data assets. 

Sixty-eight percent of survey participants listed Mobile BI as ‘critical’ or ‘very important’, compared to 52 percent from the original 2010 study.  The number of respondents listing Mobile BI as ‘unimportant’ dropped from 11 to two percent over the same period.  Seventy-five percent of respondents to the October 2011 version stated that 21 – 81 percent of BI users within their organization will consume reporting and analytics exclusively via mobile devices by 2013.

Report author, Howard Dresner, suggested that Mobile BI is now set to revolutionize the way people use and consume business information:  “This latest findings report shows strong evidence that Mobile BI is taking hold – broadly,” said Dresner.  “We believe that we’re in the midst of a profound shift toward Mobile BI (and mobile computing).  We believe this paradigm shift will affect everyone and have as much impact as the Internet did, over time.”

Gartner’s recent Gartner Predicts 2011 report backs these findings, suggesting that “By 2013, 33 percent of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices.”

The tablet revolution

Gartner stated that the emergence of tablets as a business device has provided an ideal platform for the delivery and dissemination of business analytics and dashboard reports.

In a special report providing advice for CIOs on best practice usage and integration of tablets into the workplace, Gartner said that whilst tablets were not ‘better’ than laptops or smartphones, they complemented existing technologies by offering unique features for the delivery, consumption and analysis of corporate information.

Renowned Forrester Research analyst, Boris Evelson, colorfully conveyed his parallel opinion that tablet PCs have swung the door to Mobile BI wide open, stating in his now infamous blog post – Mobile Tablet PCs, Not Phones, Will Create Critical Mass for Enterprise BI Adoption – that “Just like Baby Bear’s porridge in the Goldilocks and The Three Bears fairy tale, tablet PCs are ‘just right’ for mobile BI end users.”

IDC’s European business analytics program manager, Alys Woodward, has also said that consuming BI via tablet computers will empower organizations to realize pervasive BI adoption and BI ROI.

Speaking at IDC’s Business Intelligence Conference 2011, Woodward suggested that the natural interactivity and uninhibited functionality (large screen), in conjunction with their portability, made tablets “the answer to BI execution in business”.

iPad domination

Twenty-eight percent of respondents to DAS’ inaugural June 2010 Mobile Business Intelligence Market Study named the iPad as their first choice device for the delivery of mobile analytics.  The latest results show that almost 55 percent of organizations now list the iPad as their favored platform for Mobile BI rollouts.

In the initial 2010 study, just 16 percent of respondents were actually using the iPad to satisfy their mobile reporting and analytics needs.  However, a whopping 44 percent planned on instigating iPad driven initiatives.  And, somewhat surprisingly, all these plans appear to have come to fruition, with 61 percent of 2011 survey contributors stating that their organizations have established iPad-oriented Mobile BI programs.  Furthermore, an additional 21 percent of respondents said they planned on deploying Mobile BI projects on the iPad within the next 12 months.  iPad-based Mobile BI implementations have proved the most widely deployed during the last year, and seem set to enjoy strong and continued growth over the ensuing 12 months.

Recent IDC figures on tablet shipments confirm the iPad’s dominance.  The iPad held 68.3 percent (shipping 9.3 million units) of the global tablet market during Q2 2011, with the IDC citing strong demand for the iPad 2 for the 88.9 percent (303.8 percent year-over-year) rise in worldwide media tablet shipments.  The unprecedented growth prompted the firm to increase its 2011 shipment forest from 53.5 to 62.5 million units.

Apple CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, claimed in Q4 2011 that the iPad enjoyed almost complete penetration across the Fortune 500. 

And, to emphasize the potential scope for Mobile BI in general, Forrester Research reports that “enterprise mobile workers will make up 73 percent of the workforce in 2012”.

3. Collaborative BI was on all our minds.  Or was it?  Discuss…

Collaborative decision-making (CDM) modules, or Collaborative BI, held the BI market captive for much of 2011.  CDM software, and the concept of Collaborative BI, is about harnessing and applying the functions and features of social media to the enterprise to enable better CDM processes and bridge the gap between insight and action.  The collaborative conversation built and intensified towards Close of Business 2011, and one can assume this trending topic – a debate and technical capability perhaps 18 months behind Mobile BI – will blossom into a must-have check-list item in 2012. 

Analyst and industry thought leader, Wayne Eckerson, believes that Collaborative BI is set to go from a niche-nice-to-have feature, to an industry-defining component of leading BI solutions:

The Aberdeen Group’s recent report on Collaborative BI – Collaborative BI: Harnessing the Extended Enterprise to Boost Productivity – claims Collaborative BI deployments have the ability to improve productivity and visibility across the breadth of organizational operations via enhanced knowledge sharing.

The research report divides respondent organizations into three categories based on the maturity of their Collaborative BI rollouts:

  • Best-in-Class (Top 20% of aggregate performance scorers)
  • Industry Average (Middle 50% of aggregate performance scorers)
  • Laggard (Bottom 30% of aggregate performance scorers)

The report identified several significant benefits of Collaborative BI, including:

  • Improved customer responsiveness (73% of Best-in-Class organizations said that Collaborative BI had “improved” or “substantially improved” customer responsiveness over the previous 12 months, compared with 64% for the Industry Average and 42% for Laggards)
  • Improved business process cycle times (71% of Best-in-Class organizations reported a “substantially improved” or “improved” timeframe to complete key business processes, compared to 55% of Industry Average organizations and 37% of Laggard companies)
  • Improved cross-functional collaboration (80% of Best-in-Class companies have “improved” or “substantially improved” cross-functional collaboration over the two years post-implementation, compared to 63% of Industry Average organizations and 38% for Laggards)
  • Improved external stakeholder collaboration (78% of respondents from Best-in-Class organizations report using their company’s Collaborative BI capabilities to share information and ideas with at least one external stakeholder, compared to 64% of respondents from Industry Average organizations, and just 31% of survey participants from Laggards)
  • Improved employee retention rates (Best-in-Class organizations report an impressive 95% employee retention rate over the previous year, with companies classified within the Industry Average bracket reporting an 88% retention rate, and 81% for Laggards)
  • Improved customer retention rates (Best-in-Class organizations experienced a 97% employee retention rate over the previous 12 months, compared to 91% for Industry Average companies, and 69% for Laggards)

4. Social media analytics

As social media cemented its position as a vital and growing marketing tool for many corporations, the desire to apply analytics to the social media activities of customers also blossomed.

Forrester Research’s Senior Analyst, James Kobielus, wrote in January this year that: “Social media are the intelligence powering modern marketing” because social media has shifted much of the work involved in traditional market research – interviews, surveys, focus groups – and “intelligence-gathering to the customer.”  We actively divulge information pertaining to brand sentiments and interactions, and naturally, organizations are all-too-keen to apply business analytics to our social media activities to harvest this potentially (highly) valuable information.

A recent UBM research report into social media analytics backed Kobielus’ assertions.  The survey – How IT Decision Makers and Tech Marketers Are Using Social Media Today – surveyed ‘IT Decision-Makers’ and ‘Tech Marketers’ to uncover the usages for, and perceived importance of, social media platforms as information sources in the technology industry.

The survey found that IT Decision-Makers are spending 13 percent of their time on social networking sites to learn about industry trends and news, with 40 percent planning to increase their usage.

Unsurprisingly, Tech Marketers also placed heavy emphasis on social media platforms, with 43 percent agreeing that marketers must have a social media strategy in place, or be rendered uncompetitive.

5. Big Data

Big Data received an immense amount of attention during 2011.  For the purpose of this discussion, Big Data has been defined as: “The overall volume of active data an organization stores as well as the size of the data sets it uses for its business intelligence and analysis”.

The continued and rapid expansion of corporate data assets has been well documented and discussed within the business analytics industry and the analyst community.  However, much of the discussion revolved around hype.  This was clearly evidenced by the inclusion of Big Data on Gartner’s 2011 Hype Cycle, which, according to Gartner, is already crescendoing towards the “peak of inflated expectations”.  Now, does this mean that Big Data is somehow irrelevant?  Not at all – just overhyped.  Big Data doesn’t just mean attempting to collate and meaningfully interpret terabytes and terabytes and terabytes of data.  Big Data is relative – if an SMB is struggling to work with gigabytes worth of data, then they (relative to their situation) have a Big Data challenge to resolve.  Solutions and discussions need to be appropriately matched to reflect that truth.  As industry expert Colin White said: “Stop debating size of big data and focus on use cases.  It’s not just size.  Data variety and workload types are more important.”  For more on this topic, check out Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie’s presentation at the Australian Software Innovation Forum’s The New World of Data conference:

A recent benchmark report by Aberdeen Group (June 2011) – Future Integration Needs: Embracing Complex Data – revealed the biggest drivers / challenges for companies attempting to leverage value from Big Data (respondent organizations with data sets from 500 gigabytes to over 20 terabytes) as:

  • Increasing demand for management information (69%)
  • New analytic needs not well suited to existing data warehouse (67%)
  • Growing volumes of source data (41%)
  • Rapidly changing business needs require different management information (31%)

6. Agile BI

People talked about, but continued to fail in their attempts to define, Agile BI.  Essentially, it can be encapsulated like this:  Agile BI is the desire to swiftly respond to changing information needs and place fact-based solutions to critical business problems in the hands of appropriate decision-makers – a desire that was evidenced strongly by the continued ‘consumerization’ of BI.  Now, Agile BI of course encompasses technologies, processes and cultures.  Previously, we (Yellowfin) have attempted to define Agile BI in these three ways:

  • Technology:  Actual easy-to-use and deploy technology and its capabilities and capacity to underpin agile development
  • Culture:  A supportive environment for the introduction of a BI solution and its continued use
  • Process: The way in which BI is deployed and developed should be agile to meet the specific and changing needs of any given organization

A poll, conducted on TDWI’s official LinkedIn group last month, suggested something similar, with the majority of respondents stating that Agile BI encompassed:

  • Agile software methods in a BI setting;
  • Agile project management methods; and
  • Self-service BI with faster reporting capabilities

Recent Aberdeen Group research, Agile BI: Three Steps to Analytics Heaven, defined Agile BI as a technical capability – empowering decision-makers with self-service access to business-critical information in shorter timeframes.  The report distinguished a company’s ability to deliver Agile BI based on:

  • The availability of timely information to managerial decision-makers
  • The average time taken to add a column to an existing report
  • The average time needed to create a new dashboard

 Survey respondents identified the top three strategic enablers for successfully delivering Agile BI as:

  • Empowering end-users with greater self-service (64%)
  • Creating a repeatable process-oriented approach to BI projects and their ongoing assessment (50%)
  • Empowering IT with the ability to react to BI demands with greater responsiveness (24%)

A recent Forrester Research report – Trends 2011 And Beyond: Agility Will Shape Business Intelligence For The Next Decade – authored by Principal Analyst, Boris Evelson, identifies four major technological areas / enablers of “next-generation” BI solutions that it believes are vital for achieving successful, agile, BI deployments:

  • Devoid of limitations: Encompassing adaptive data models, unlimited dimensionality, as well as data exploration and analysis
  • Automated: All BI processes and components wherever possible
  • Pervasive: Make BI available to all decision-makers wherever, and whenever it’s needed, via online self-service, mobile, social and integrated components
  • Unified: To eliminate knowledge silos

Speaking at the recent Gartner BI Summit in Sydney during 2011, Gartner analyst, James Richardson, said that Agile BI was more about people and processes than the underpinning technology.  Richardson said the success of Agile BI projects depended, to a large extent, on the ability to close the gap between the business and IT portions of the organization, and that securing executive backing from across different business functions aided the process.

“Business people and developers must work together to make sure the gap between IT and the business is reduced,” he said.

Richardson also explained that business and IT needed to collaborate closely to construct an environment conducive to an Agile BI implementation, because the agile methodology states that reporting needs are constantly changing, and this state of constant change must be embraced.

“BI is the art of trying to hit a moving target,” he said. “About half of BI requirements change in the first year of a BI project.”

7. SaaS: BI in the cloud spurs SMB adoption

IDC research indicates that the SaaS BI market will experience triple the growth of the overall market, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 22.4 percent through to 2013.

Another recent survey of 500 US based IT end-user clients by non-profit trade association, CompTIA, reflected those predictions, with almost 75 percent of respondents saying they intended to increase spending on Cloud programs.

Research by the Aberdeen Group – Fast, Affordable, Agile: The Case for SaaS BI – has revealed that the primary motivations for utilizing BI as a SaaS deployment are to:

  • Reduce capital expenditure
  • Reduce ongoing costs
  • Enhance technical capabilities
  • Increase employee access to reporting and analytics with minimal IT involvement and support/maintenance requirements

According to a new report from AMI-Partners, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are flocking to SaaS BI due to the lower achievable Total Cost of Ownership.  Overall, the U.S. SMB Cloud Playbook study found that SMB usage of cloud-based BI is set to increase by 25 percent during the next four years.  This projected increase would see the US SaaS BI market reach $500 million in 2015.

“The study’s findings reflect two factors,” Donald Best of AMI-Partners said.  “SMBs are becoming more aware of the benefits of mining their data for insights that can result in savings and competitive advantage.  In addition, the availability of BI/SaaS, as part of a larger bundle, makes this a very attractive and cost-effective proposition.”

A new report by Channel Insider said that BI vendors have, and will continue to develop products and offerings aimed at the SMB market, as they realize the value in this emergent niche.  The report suggests that these tailored – most often cloud-based – solutions spurred SMB BI adoption in 2011 and will continue to do so during 2012.

“With big business intelligence vendors … offering more modular solutions, and SaaS vendors offering SMB-specific solutions, 2011 will continue to make it easier for SMBs to sift through their intelligence data,” the report states.

8. Business users dominate purchase decisions and implementation strategies

The continued consumerization of BI, and enterprise technologies at large, saw companies and vendors turn to business-user oriented BI solutions and deployment strategies during 2011 – all in an attempt to reach that elusive Holy Grail of ‘widespread and sustainable user adoption’.  As a result, these new user groups – most residing outside the IT department – found themselves with an increasing number of seats at the BI purchasing table.  This trend was reflected in comments made by Gartner in their 2011 BI Platforms User Survey:  “…Vocal, demanding and influential business users are increasingly driving BI purchasing decisions, most often choosing easier to use data discovery tools over traditional BI platforms — with or without IT’s consent.”

DAS’ 2011 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study also noted that 2011 had seen BI adoption and usage move into the hands of business users:  “Business users appear to be increasingly driving BI adoption. We believe that the trend towards business-dominated BI is a global trend, with other geographies lagging behind North America by several years,” wrote report author and former Gartner research fellow, Howard Dresner

9. Me-too-ism

Did you notice the mad scramble to reinvent and reorient during 2011?  Traditional players in the BI space suddenly became experts in Agile and Self-Service (consumer-oriented) BI, as the Big Boys’ marketing teams screamed into overdrive (and hyperventilation) in an attempt to meet demand for product usability. 

Where to next?

Look out for our next post, containing our vision and predictions for 2012’s BI marketplace.


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