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Power to the People -- Big Data for Everyone has Arrived

By equipping business users with the right user-centric solution, big data can help organizations create a richer model of their business, recognize events they might not have discovered otherwise, and discover enterprise-specific trends that can help them gain a competitive edge.

By Anthony Deighton, CTO, QlikTech

Big data -- data sets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, manage, and process it within a tolerable timeframe -- is everywhere. Data sets can range, depending on the industry, from terabytes to petabytes, and can be hugely varied – structured or unstructured. In short, if it's too big to manage, it's big data.

Hospitals, schools, government agencies, and enterprises large and small are beginning to recognize big data's potential and have started funneling valuable resources into collecting and storing every piece of data possible. In fact, according to a recent Gartner study, 42 percent of IT leaders have already invested in big data technology or plan to within the next year.

Amid all this hype, organizations have a tendency to forget the truly important benefits of big data. It's one thing to store the data; it's another to analyze it and put it to use. True business value comes from being able to make sense of the data with granular analysis that separates the data wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, up to this point, many organizations have yet to employ the solutions they need to truly make the most of their information.

The Big Data Bottleneck

Once organizations realize the importance of deep-dive analytics, they are faced with determining best practices for uncovering insights. Many turn to small teams of highly skilled data scientists to wade through their seas of data and pick out the useful nuggets. This creates a big data bottleneck -- a small group of "experts" analyzing the data and distributing their findings to business users. This process rarely happens in real time, diminishing the timeliness and value of the data and ultimately not giving front-line users much, if anything, to work with. By the time even one report is generated, the data has changed and its findings are obsolete.

Is this really the most efficient way to empower employees with information? How can the power of big data enable the people who make critical business decisions every day? Wouldn't it make more sense for the people who will actually be using the information to analyze the data themselves? Enter the power of user-centric business intelligence.

User-centric or self-service business intelligence (BI) enables decision makers to monitor and react to everything happening in and directly affecting their business in real-time. Delivered via easy to use apps, user-centric solutions are quick and light, social and mobile, facilitating collaborative decision making across an entire organization. This is a far cry from traditional BI tools that are static and anchored to reports and dashboards that limit users to a pre-defined set of filters. Users ask what they need to ask, and explore up, down, and sideways rather than only drilling down.

This kind of ease of use means everyone in an organization can create insight from information and analysis. Businesses can extend insight to the edges of their organization, enabling every person to do their jobs smarter and faster. With user-centric BI, it's all about an "aha!" moment when the user is able to discover something they never knew they should be looking for.

Gartner predicts that by 2015, 30 percent of analytics projects will deliver insights based on structured and unstructured data. User-centric BI goes a step further by incorporating real-time sources of data so users can be sure they are seeing the entire, most up-to-date picture. User-centric BI also makes it easier to identify the small bits of data that are most important, which can be difficult when you're faced with terabytes of the stuff. Each data point is connected and associated, giving users the ability to quickly identify correlations and act on them.

Collaboration is another key component in enabling highly effective business users. Most BI tools trap users in rigid tables and charts, prohibiting interaction within a team and making it harder to work together. Users need to be able to drill down without having to create new visualizations each time a data point changes, and they need to be able to share these insights seamlessly with other members of their team. With a user-centric platform, teams can share insights, either in real time or on their time, by annotating on the data when they see it. This capability is vital, especially for global teams that need to stay in contact.

User-Centric BI in the Real World

Companies around the world use user-centric BI to empower their front lines and make sense of the data they collect each day. For example, one large pizza chain wanted to identify unpopular menu items to discontinue. Acknowledging that these products would be different from franchise to franchise, the company deployed a self-service solution to each of its 500 stores around the country. With the platform, each store manager was able to individually analyze their transactions to identify which pizzas weren't selling. The platform also enabled collaboration with other franchisees in the area so they could compare their findings. In the end, the company was able to quickly identify the unprofitable items at each store and take them off the menu, saving an impressive $500,000.

Education is another industry working to incorporate big data and user-centric BI into their everyday procedures. One network of charter schools in New Orleans needed a solution that would help its teachers better monitor students' progress. The goal was to empower the teachers themselves, so the organization chose a user-centric BI platform. The platform has put the data in the hands of the teachers who need it, providing visibility into student and school performance. The solution helps simplify managing and interacting with data, improving information availability needed for decision-making. Teachers can now adjust the interventions each student receives, helping students to quickly get back on the path of higher academic achievement.

Both of these examples demonstrate how user-centric BI can enable employees to turn important insights into not only time and cost savings but also improved performance regardless of industry. The key is enabling the right users – the users who are actually making the decisions – with the data they need readily at their fingertips and making it easy and intuitive to identify what's truly important to their organization.

Big Data is for Everyone

Large volumes of data are being generated every day, and that data needs to be properly understood and analyzed in order to make sense and good business use of the information. IDC expects the business analytics services market, which includes BI, to grow over 14 percent through 2016. Big data is living, breathing, and constantly changing. If big data is to deliver on its promise of value, it can't wait for experts. It can't wait for 100-page reports.

By equipping business users with the right user-centric solution, big data can help organizations create a richer model of their business, recognize events they might not have discovered otherwise, and discover enterprise-specific trends that can help them gain a competitive edge.

As chief technology officer and senior vice president, products, Anthony Deighton is responsible for guiding product strategy and leads all aspects of the company's R&D efforts. Since joining QlikTech in 2005, he has played a critical role in evolving and driving QlikView's product evolution to maximize the potential of business user-driven BI. Previously, Anthony was the general manager of Siebel System's employee relationship management (ERM) business unit. Anthony holds a B.A. in Economics from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard Business School. You can contact the author in care of

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