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Analytics 2014: Five Trends that will Shape Business Intelligence this Year

How will your enterprise handle analytics this year? These five trends are worth watching in the months ahead.

By Bob Potter, Vice President and General Manager, Rocket Software

As we roll into 2014, companies that rely on large amounts of data to guide their businesses are wondering what the next big thing will be in the coming year. There is no crystal ball that can accurately predict what the future holds, but there are several trends we feel are going to drive the next 12 months in the business intelligence and analytics arena. Here are five things to look out for.

1. Enterprises Get a Handle on Unstructured Data

Search is becoming the heart of business intelligence, but most BI products only perform one kind of search: executing predefined queries of relational databases. That's just not good enough anymore for two reasons:

  • There is a reasonable chance someone else in your organization has already performed some analytics on the same data you want to analyze. Wouldn't it be great to search for those data applications and see if you can reuse any of that work?

  • Because so much information isn't stored in convenient relational fields, a modern BI system needs access to all data, both structured and unstructured. It's one thing to analyze tables of numbers and text, but it's quite another to also derive insight from news articles, Web content and logs, social media, e-mail, machine-generated data, and other data types that exist outside the typical SQL database world.

BI is already making big strides in unstructured data, but 2014 is going to be a pivotal year because access to all data -- not just what's in table structures -- is now mission-critical, and organizations are demanding the ability to access, analyze, and use the information. A great example of this is in the healthcare industry, where doctors generate massive amounts of data in the form of handwritten patient notes, prescriptions, X-rays, MRI scans, diagnostic lab results, and other traditional physician-generated patient data. BI solutions must be able to handle this information just as easily as they track patient billing, payment collection, hospital staffing, and other hospital management functions.

2. Search Will Improve Dramatically

Traditional search (going back to the Dewey decimal system) has been based on looking for keywords, and the paradigm is so dominant that it is often difficult to think about search without defaulting to this mindset. Although there is a place for simple keyword search, it should be thought of as a starting point rather than an end goal. In the next 12 months, we fully expect to see dramatic improvement to content processing and refinement included in search technologies that will allow us to rely less on finding specific words while still leading us to the right place.

What will the future of search look like? It will need to be based on context. This includes everything from natural language search to auto-classification of data through tags and filters. From using industry-specific ontologies to improving result ranking based on semantic content analysis, search will help organizations access only the relevant information they need to make good decisions. BI search must be capable of content deduplication and ambiguity resolution, such as inconsistent references to the same person, thing, or process in multiple sources.

3. Mobility Will Become Bidirectional

Five years ago, mobility was a "nice to have" BI feature. Today, it is an absolutely essential component of any useful analytics solution. The first mobile BI products allowed users to look at data remotely on their tablets and mobile phones, and as devices improved, dashboards and other visual representations made it easier for people to access the information they needed.

In 2014, access isn't the coin of the realm. Whata's valuable is the ability to use data, modify, and add data from any location. This two-way street is the future of mobile BI, and it's radically changing how organizations build their applications, staff their teams, and manage expectations.

Real-time alerting and access to data are still important, but today that's only half of the equation. A perfect example of this is energy consumption and the relationship between the consumer and the public utility that generates the power. With smart meters and advanced HVAC systems, building managers now get instant feedback on energy consumption and can make on-demand decisions about curtailment and conservation that can generate significant savings for the business during a power crisis. The ability to use a BI solution to act on data immediately is pivotal in turning intelligence into actual business benefit.

4. Enterprises Will Come to Terms with Big Data

Everyone is talking about big data, but in the business intelligence world it means one thing: organizations are being overwhelmed by massive amounts of new information that they need to be able to analyze quickly and accurately. In 2014, unstructured data will be a big part of this change because the ability to look at information not stored in spreadsheets and databases is letting organizations analyze information that they couldn't truly leverage five years ago.

Even if we leave unstructured data out of the discussion, the sheer volume of information that organizations capture can now be accessed, and the fact that they can get insight almost instantly rather than waiting for reports to be generated is putting major pressure on analytics teams. BI tools that aren't able to handle the increasing amount of data that lives at the heart of every enterprise are going to get left in the dust. The metric of total time taken from data creation to being captured and analyzed, also known as latency, has dropped dramatically. What used to be good in eight hours is now expected in five minutes.

5. Analytics Tools Vendors Recognize Their Solutions Must be Up and Running Quickly and Easily

In a world of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and apps that work at the push of a button, users of software tools have an expectation of being able to use their new software products in a couple of hours. This also goes for learning brand new paradigms in analytics, and -- whether fair and reasonable or not -- developers of BI products need to keep that in mind. One of the major trends that we predict for 2014 is the continuing evolution of analytics tools that end users can master in a few hours rather than through extensive hands-on training.

That also applies to IT folks. Enterprises are more likely to invest in solutions that don't require huge learning curves and training for the staff responsible for running and maintaining software. BI products that are tedious to learn, cumbersome to install, or difficult to maintain are going to fall to the bottom of the pile. Whether the vendor offers a BI SaaS solution or not, they'll have to offer a hosted trial sandbox for the customer to experiment with their real data. Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have forever changed the way BI vendors sell their products. Today, vendors don't sell. Instead, the customer buys the user experience that delivers the most value in the fastest way possible.

Bob Potter is vice president and general manager of Rocket Software's business intelligence/analytics business unit. He has spent 33 years in the software industry with start-ups, mid-size and large public companies with a focus on BI and data analytics.
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