Is the BI promise turning into a BIg problem?
Added Monday 19 March 2018
Many organisations are finding themselves in the tricky position of needing to curb the explosion of self-serve BI technology within their business without stifling their teams’ productivity or denying them freedom of choice. Will Boyle, Head of Business Development at business analytics specialists Assimil8, looks at some of the developments fuelling this state of affairs.
The democratisation of BI
BI is nothing new. At its simplest, it’s about collating information to make the right decisions. The technology to support BI and, in turn, help organisations to become data-driven, goes back further than you might think. The earliest example Assimil8 can find of BI is from around 1953, when Lyons Teacakes commissioned its ‘Lyons Electronic Office’. LEO gathered the necessary information from across the company to produce those tasty little tea-time treats and deliver them to hundreds of Lyons tea shops country-wide.
Next stop, the 60s and 70s. These decades saw the development of so-called decision support systems. The launch of large enterprise solutions, such as Business Objects and Cognos, followed in the 80s and 90s.
All these tools were aimed mainly at an IT-centric market. But as we moved into the 21st century, there was a sharp rise in BI tools developed for specific business audiences. Manufacturing, sales, finance, HR, marketing... today these departments can circumvent their company’s enterprise systems by implementing and using niche self-serve products, tools they can just pick up and use.
At the last count, we found over 250 tools for BI on the market. In one organisation, we uncovered a total of 24 different BI-type products in use. While this is an extreme example, encountering 15 to 20 is not unusual. Meanwhile, corporate investment in the larger enterprise BI systems is underutilised in many offices with average adoption levels between 20-25%.
The growing popularity of BI and the numbers of software developers eager to get a share of the market undermine one of the major fundamentals of BI: that it should deliver a single version of the truth. With such a multiplicity of tools, complying with increasingly stringent regulation, such as the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, becomes much more onerous, too.
Avoiding a mutiny
Mandating the use of one tool above others is nigh on impossible. How can you standardise on a single tool without disempowering business users, who could be fiercely resistant to having their familiar tools wrenched from their hands?
Add into the mix the prospect of a merger or acquisition, with new colleagues bringing their own tools with them, and the challenge of trying to find a single enterprise BI system that keeps everyone happy and productive becomes seemingly insuperable.
In an industry teeming with vendors, none has ‘the silver bullet’ to solve all the BI needs of all departments. In fact, Gartner confirms that there is no single solution that covers all the bases on BI (source: Gartner Magic Quadrant, BI and Analytics Platforms).
Restore BI harmony
So how can organisations get value, security and speed without embarking on hugely expensive and risky standardisation projects?
However much BI, AI and machine-learning technology you adopt, you still need human beings to make the decisions. You need to equip those people with accurate, timely and complete information. Yet the current proliferation of tools makes it difficult for the business to know which way to turn in making intelligence-based decisions.
This led Assimil8 to bring Theia to the UK. An enterprise-class tool, Theia provides a single pane of glass that sits on top of all the BI solutions a company has in place. Cognos, Power BI, Qlik, Tableau, Spotfire, Excel…Theia brings these tools together and integrates it into a single version of the truth for the business.
Theia is branded with the organisation’s corporate identity and colour palette, so it has a familiar look and feel that makes it easier for users to adopt and accept.
Theia searches all the underlying BI content for the most credible information buried in different systems. Soon users will also be ‘nudged’ into looking at content and reports that colleagues in different locations have consulted, which they might otherwise be unaware of. Theia encourages them to be open to new possibilities through a ‘portal’, while retaining access to the tools they know and love.
At the same time, security remains paramount: users receive only the information they are cleared to see, so the IT department is happy, too!
By the way, Theia is named after the goddess of sight. According to some theories, it was also a planet-like mass that may have collided with Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Both connotations work for us! We’ve seen Theia bring new insights to light and equip organisations with the information to stay bang up to date and avoid becoming dinosaurs themselves.