5 Macro Trends Shaping Next-generation BI and Analytics

By George Mathew, President and COO, Alteryx

Although the business intelligence (BI) market is growing again at a lightning-fast pace, it has so far failed to deliver a great experience to the designers and consumers of modern analytics. Yesterday's BI solutions are being displaced by "agile" providers that move beyond basic reporting, dashboards, and ad hoc analysis. Yesterday's BI stack (e.g., the layering of OLAP engines, ETL technologies, and data warehouse solutions) is completely incapable of solving modern analytical challenges.

Today's BI and analytical apps are built and consumed by the line-of-business owners. These analytic creators and consumers are supported by five key trends that are disrupting the traditional BI stack: big data, cloud computing, location intelligence, the social enterprise, and mobility. Together, these macro-trends are shaping the next generation of BI and analytics solutions.

Macro Trend #1: Radically different data

There's been a massive evolution in data in the last decade, and the analytics market has finally reached a tipping point. The data we have today isn't merely a step above what we had ten years ago -- it's radically different, incredibly complete, and shockingly precise.

As an example, suppose you run a manufacturing company that produces baby bottles. In 2001, you probably focused on just two data points: how many bottles your plants produced and how much money you made from that production. Today, however, you're likely to track how many bottles you manufacture and how much money you make as well as how satisfied your customers are, what percentage are repeat customers, and what people are saying about your bottles on social networks.

You need to track news feeds related to baby bottles and gather materials lists and documents related to the production process in case you or someone else discovers a traceability issue in your manufacturing processes. You need all of this information in a single, cohesive view -- not in relational tables ready to be queried.

Ten years ago this seemed about as likely as George Jetson's flying car; today this information is not only out there, it's actually readily available.

Macro Trend #2: Delivering analytics in the cloud

The way we work in the cloud has changed our BI expectations. The information itself has shifted, and the way we gather and analyze data has dramatically evolved.

Business intelligence in the not too distant past was nothing more than a simple report, printed out to the soothing grind of a dot-matrix printer. Over time, that simple report turned into a smattering of reports and ad hoc analysis with a layer of dashboards. People became accustomed to asking for information, only to get it three weeks later when it was no longer relevant. Today, the movement of BI into the cloud opens the information to enrichment and social context, all in real time.

Although cloud computing is inspiring, we still have hurdles to overcome in using the cloud as an analytics delivery model. The single, overriding factors for companies thinking about putting their data in the cloud is security and trust. Users ask themselves, "Am I comfortable with putting something into a public cloud?"

Dig deeper into trust and security issues and you'll find a traditional perspective: "important" data resides on premise, and the public cloud remains untrusted for many organizations. I anticipate the evolution of a hybrid cloud to a model that stretches elastically across public and private cloud deployments, making information available when and where people need it.

Macro Trend #3: Increasing demand for location intelligence

Adding to the complexity/simplicity paradox of BI and analytics is spatial information. For the end user, the ability to mash up location-based intelligence with other shapes of data is a tremendous advantage. Users can literally map out marketing strategies, sites for future stores or restaurants, or desired locations for new cellular towers. At the same time, the demand for geo-spatial analytics creates a challenge for BI vendors: these systems were not designed to join spatial data with the rest of your enterprise's data. Agile BI vendors can make it happen, but the traditional BI stack is woefully illiterate when it comes to spatial data.

For those who say that location intelligence is little more than a nice-to-have feature, consider this: when the U.S. Special Forces unit (i.e., Seal Team 6) entered the now-famous compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the information accuracy it gathered was literally mission critical. This operation required sifting through structured and unstructured data, then integrating it with targeted geo-spatial analytics and location intelligence. After analyzing massive quantities of data, the team was able to build an exact duplicate of Osama Bin Laden's compound in Afghanistan to train, test, and experiment before making their actual execution flawless. Mission: accomplished.

Now take a minute to imagine what business leaders can do with that level of iteration, planning, and precision around all the data that envelops them.

Macro Trend #4: The rise of the social enterprise

New generations of millennials enter the workforce every year, expecting -- if not demanding -- access to social media. According to a recent study by Cisco, two-thirds of college students will ask about social media policies during job interviews, and 56 percent will either decline a job offer from a company that bans social media or circumvent the policy.

This new generation has been socialized in an almost incomprehensively different manner than the older generation of workers. The social experience around Twitter is a natural part of their lives. They've never known a world without instant messaging, Facebook, or LOLs. Digital cameras and smartphones are a very part of their beings. When they walk into the workplace and look at traditional BI, there is dissonance between the workers' expectations and the tools provided. Marc Benioff aptly refers to this as a "Corporate Spring," inspired by the pervasive sociality of the recent events in Arab nations.

BI and analytics are inherently social activities. People design analytics to gain insight into their businesses; they want to share their findings with a broader audience, to reveal their ideas to inspire change. Like hipsters with their funky glasses, analytics is the ultimate form of social expression in the enterprise. Can BI and analytics become even more social? Of course, it's a natural progression, and, indeed, we're already well on our way. On the other hand, ignoring how analytics and the social enterprise are converging is setting you up to be the corporate equivalent of the LA Clippers or the Arizona Cardinals.

Macro Trend #5: Mobility becomes essential

Easy and instant access to information is no longer a nice-to-have feature. It's downright essential to the workforce. Information and how we look at it changed, as has where we look at information. The phrase "I'm not at my computer right now" is all but extinct as people easily rely on the latest mobile devices to retrieve and display the information they need. We expect the information needed to make decisions to be available instantly at any time.

It's no surprise, then, that these massive changes in how we consume information have also affected the way BI and analytics applications are developed. Like some of the world's greatest masterpieces, today's mobile software and applications often appear unbelievably simple to the user, yet are powerfully satisfying upon deeper inspection.

A Final Word

The confluence of these trends calls for a new generation of analytic apps -- apps that are even more agile and offer how'd-you-do-that strategic insights. Users demand experiences that are mobile, social, geo-spatial, and elastic -- and users can ingest large amounts of any data type. It's a tall order for the traditional BI stack.

The future of BI and analytics is here; it is just unevenly distributed. I look forward to continuing this incredible journey with everyone.

George Mathew is the president and COO of Alteryx. You can watch a video of his recent conversation with senior Forrester research analyst Boris Evelson to learn more about the future of the BI and analytics marketplace, from our ever-evolving data management needs to the critical role of the data artisan. You can contact the author at COO@alteryx.com