Business Intelligence Trends: LyzaSoft Champions Social Media

The current debate about social media in the context of BI presages its inevitable acceptance, Lyza officials argue. Five years from now, they claim, social BI will be a reality -- and Lyza 2.0 aptly demonstrates its promise.

LyzaSoft Inc., developer of the Lyza analytic workbench, likes to position its Lyza 2.0 release as a tool in a brand new category -- one that incorporates social media concepts and methods. It's one thing to integrate blog entries or concepts such as sharing, tagging, linking, or embedding into a BI tool, argues LyzaSoft principal Scott Davis; it's quite another thing to do so elegantly and intelligently.

Put another way, there's a world of difference between kludgey and smooth.

Back in February, LyzaSoft unveiled Lyza 2.0. In a previous release, LyzaSoft had introduced a workgroup-like BI experience, dubbed Lyza Commons.

The Lyza 2.0 release augmented the Commons experience -- which was designed to foster collaboration between and among business users -- with Web 2.0 concepts or methods. The company trumpeted the meaningful integration of social media mainstays -- features such as search; bookmarks; mixing, matching, and combining; tagging; sharing; commenting; and rating -- with BI analytics.

There are important differences, of course. In many respects, social media is characterized by a kind of borrow-first, apologize-later ethic: users frequently borrow (or link to) content without first obtaining approval. That kind of ethic won't wash in an enterprise context, so Lyza 2.0 implements several layers of context-sensitive security controls -- including both overarching directory-level security and what Davis calls "mesh trust." The latter is a LyzaSoft innovation that Davis claims both accommodates the expectations of Web 2.0 users and ensures effective security. He offers the following thought experiment:

"Mesh trust is a very important piece of our collaborative experience. Say I prepare a chart and [I] say, 'Hey, this is really cool!' I … put it out on the [Lyza] Commons and I say, 'I'm going to let anyone in marketing see this chart.' Say that [a marketing analyst] sees this chart and says, 'This really is a cool chart!' and they put [this chart] into a blog post, and they provide a link. The question is, if the CFO finds my blog post, can [the CFO] see the chart?"

There are actually several questions in the mix here, according to Davis. Technologically, they're somewhat involved. First, he asks, can the CFO easily find the hypothetical blog post? Yes. Secondly, having found the blog post, can the CFO then read what the marketing analyst has written? Yes, again. Third, can the CFO view the original chart? Remember, Davis points out, the person who created the chart specified that it could only be viewed by folks in the marketing department. "No, the CFO can't see [the] chart because [it belongs to someone else].

"It's really like Russian dolls," he explains, invoking the example of dolls stacked inside of one another. "You're just stacking and matching and remixing all the way down. We are interested in making everything transparent and traceable. We're interested in making it clear where data came from. I have trace lineage inside the Web, not just in the workstation," he says.

"The other major concern for data management is making sure that permissions are enforced, [that] people can't see things that they shouldn't see. Context is key. We're always talking about semantics, and we think the conversation is the ultimate richest semantics of all."

Scott cites other Web 2.0- or social media-like concepts -- such as articles or related links -- that likewise contribute to a more interactive and more collaborative Lyza 2.0 experience.

"It's really about link-based knowledge," he says, referring to the practice of embedding links (to supplementary, tangential, or enriching content) in the context of social media blogging or collaboration. "Now you can just engage in the conversation and it becomes a blog."

How Could You Not?

Back in March, savvy industry-watcher Ted Cuzzillo wrote that Lyza 2.0 "stole the show" at this winter's TDWI Winter World Conference in Las Vegas. Cuzzillo probably wasn't exaggerating: Lyza's social media retrofit had conference attendees, third-party vendors, and industry analysts buzzing.

Not all buzz was favorable, of course. Some BI industry players downplayed (or otherwise raised questions about) the integration of social media concepts or methods into a BI context.

A marketing manager with a prominent data warehousing specialty vendor, for example, questioned the "value of bringing all of that [social media] stuff into [BI]. I think it could potentially be more distracting than anything else."

This person conceded that they weren't familiar with the Lyza 2.0 release, however. As an alternative, they suggested a kind of gradualist approach -- incorporating a portal-based collaborative framework (or, similarly, automated e-mail collaboration) between business users and DM teams -- which, they argued, would be "less disruptive, less of a distraction." Not coincidentally, this vendor was touting something similar in its most recent product release.

Davis, not surprisingly, doesn't buy it. More to the point, he argues, the current debate -- if any -- about social media in the context of BI presages its inevitable acceptance. "Five years from now we're going to look back on these conversations and all of the hand-wringing -- you know, 'Should we have user-generated content?' -- and think, 'That was crazy talk! How could you not?" he argues.

"Everyone will come to accept that there has to be user-generated content and emergence and collaboration, and that that requires stuff like this. No, we cannot step away from security. No, we cannot step away from permissions. No, we cannot step away from traceability, and, no, it cannot be hack and slash. We also can't say 'The BI Competency Center will be the sole provider of all widgets.' … That's never going to work."

Inverting the Status Quo

In BI circles, Davis has a reputation as something of a philosopher. He thinks in terms of a Big Picture. He's opinionated. He's rigorous. He's occasionally polemical. He nonetheless makes a compelling case that social media concepts and methods are -- far from something that can simply (or opportunistically) be exploited by companies such as Lyza -- logically consistent with an evolving BI user experience.

In BI 2.0, users are ascendant, Davis and others argue; IT and DM stakeholders -- who have traditionally hoarded power -- are going to have to learn to relinquish some of their most cherished beliefs.

"You have to be realistic about it. You're not going to be able to impose a priori that sort of top-down model where you control everything centrally," he argues. "What you have to do is adopt that fast-follower approach that [gives you] … traceability and identity [and] allows [you] to see what is happening, understand what the best practices are, and exploit the best practices to bring them into the IT factory."

In other words, he concludes, you have to invert the status quo: "It's sort of turning everything upside down. You're saying that instead [of IT], the users become the incubation zone for new ideas and IT comes along and picks the best of them and migrates them into different places."

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