Traditional BI has always promised better information visibility and time savings through analytics. Unfortunately this came at a cost – it required a large data warehousing infrastructure, pre-defined reports and OLAP cubes for analysis, high-level technical skills, and dedicated IT staff to maintain the constant state of development and requests from users.
The benefits of traditional BI were a consolidated reporting system, less demand on transactional databases, and the ability to analyze performance trends. Based on the fact that limited employees had access to or could benefit from large BI deployments, and that costs were exponential, the tangible BI benefits remained difficult to identify. Adding to these challenges was a lack of data infrastructure with the ability to handle large and complex data sets without eating away at big chunks of budgets while remaining outside the reach of many companies. Basically, although BI was considered strategic by many, the real challenge was finding a way to get value out of a BI infrastructure that expanded beyond the creation of a standard reporting environment.
Fast forward to today’s market. Technology is more advanced, storage is less expensive, and processing power has greatly increased. The terms big data, agile BI, and self-service BI abound, creating the vision of interactive analytics that expand the borders of the organization and enable business user-driven data discovery based on dynamic questions and the ability to address business challenges.
However, much is still lacking. Flexibility, autonomy, collaboration, and pre-defined value are still relatively limited – except in the case of a few vendors that are starting to push the boundaries of BI through social networking integration. The market at large still lags behind in developing BI that can really be adopted by the masses. However, for companies looking at how to get the most value out of BI, these newer features cannot be overlooked.
Enter the social company. To really get the most out of business intelligence, organizations require the ability to interact with BI in the same way they do with their social networking applications . . . but is this a dream or does it actually exist? As mentioned, there are a few vendors that get it right, but many are still struggling with the challenges of expanding their features and functionality to include collaboration, interactive data discovery, and easy-to-use interfaces. On the vendor side, it will take years for solutions to get up to par and provide these features evenly across platforms. For organizations, however, there are three initial factors to look for when trying to lay the groundwork for expansion toward social BI:
- When vendors state they offer collaboration, what does that mean? Social BI requires interactivity that includes sharing analytics, chatting with colleagues, annotating points within charts and graphs, etc.
- Self-service offerings should include the flexibility required for users at various comfort levels with technology to develop their own analytics experiences. Vendors may state that they provide self-service BI, but their definitions are as unique as the number of solution offerings available (this might be an over statement, but hopefully this helps state the point).
- Data needs to be easily accessible. Yes, security and privacy issues will continue to exist. Even so, business users have to be able to utilize data in a way that supports data discovery and business visibility.
Overall, the value proposition of social BI should be its ability to put the power of analytics in the hands of end users without having to rely on technical resources to guide the outputs. Whether this includes enabling them to create their own reports, or add new data, social BI will continue to be individualized to the organization. This is because different businesses are managed differently and have unique business requirements. Social networking aims to provide the platform for people to create their own experiences using common frameworks. Until BI offerings do this effectively, their promise of selling social BI to the organization will fall short.