Both online and offline, business intelligence semantics have inspired many spirited debates in recent months. For example, what exactly is “social BI”? “Collaborative BI”? “Social analytics”?
We caught up with Lou Bajuk-Yorgan (@loubajuk), TIBCO Spotfire’s Senior Director of Product Management, to discuss the evolution of self-service BI and the importance of implementing advanced analytics solutions.
Q – BI has so many labels – pervasive, passive, real-time, self-service – how does a company researching a BI or analytics solution decide which label is most important to the company?
A – Ultimately a company has to decide what are its most important goals around BI, and what are the obstacles to reaching those goals now. Labels are just a convenient way of categorizing what sort of problems different platforms solve. For example, if a company’s goal is to provide useful analytic tools to a group of highly-motivated but frustrated knowledge workers, then “self-service” BI vendors are worth a look. If the company is looking to empower a wide range of users, then perhaps “pervasive” BI vendors should be investigated.
Q – Obviously, self-service BI gives nearly any user access to data when he wants it and in his context, but does it slow down the speed given the information on data processing outlined in the Search Business Analytics self-service BI whitepaper?
A – The key thing is to have a universal analytics platform that can handle multiple different use scenarios, since every organization will have different users with different users. It’s critical to deliver self-service BI so that users have flexibility to ask and answer their own questions, and investigate and pursue new questions when they arise. On the other hand, when the questions are well known, then you need to be able to encapsulate and share the “best practices” for quickly answering those questions every day. Ideally, you want a platform – like Spotfire – that can handle a broad range of use scenarios.
Q – There seems to be an arms race of sorts to get BI systems to the “real-time” advantage. Spotfire allows users the two-second advantage – knowing information before it matters. However, according to the Search Business Analytics self-service BI whitepaper, certain systems have to be in place for BI software to analyze data in an “event window.” What steps does Spotfire take toward giving users “right-now analysis”? Do you see this being a big push in the market over the next year?
A – I do see this as a major trend in the market over the next year, and there are several aspects of Spotfire that help with this. First (and most literally “right now”), our integration with the TIBCO infrastructure products, such as Business Events, enables us to provide event-triggered analytics – when something happens, the user is immediately presented with the “something,” along with all the relevant context in an analysis.
More generally, when something unexpected happens it’s critical that you have a flexible platform that helps you investigate and adapt. Spotfire’s ability to enable user-driven data mashups (to pull in all the data you need, when you need it), it’s free-dimensional data discovery nature (enabling the user to move smoothly from known to unknown questions), and the speed and simplicity of sharing and collaborating on these insights with others, enable our customers to quickly adapt to the unexpected.
Q – Making predictions puts companies ahead of the competition in today’s tough economy. How can BI empower these predictions and what new trends are you seeing in predictive analytics/Spotfire use?
A – Predictive analytics is a major trend in the BI market because it helps you quickly focus the most important relationships in your data, which might otherwise be obscured in hundreds of possible variables, and because it helps you get the most value out of your data by predicting the future behaviors of customers, products, prices, etc. We have seen more and more customers interested in doing this to further their competitive advantage.
It’s key to put the power of these predictive analytics in the hands of a wider group of users, but to also ensure these tools are used correctly. That is why Spotfire makes it easy for statisticians and data scientists to take the analyses they’ve developed and embed them in Spotfire applications – it’s a win-win. The end user leverages predictive analytics without needing a stat degree, and the statisticians know the end user is applying the right method at the right time.
Q – The main point of this Search Business Analytics self-service BI whitepaper is determining the “time-to-insight” window that will reduce “time-to-informed decisions.” Where do you think self-service BI helps move this to the next level? How will this help users get from data analysis to informed decision faster?
A – Just as valuable as the data in your organization is the collective expertise of your knowledge workers – the people who have the domain knowledge and the customer experience. To get to a meaningful insight most quickly, you need to make it easy for your users to combine their expertise with the company’s data. Self-service BI platforms like Spotfire – with its free-dimensional data discovery and its user-driven data mashups – enable your users to quickly dive into the data, understand it and generate insights that drive informed decision making.
There are two aspects to “informed” decision making – making sure the decision is informed by data, and that the organization is informed about the analysis and the recommended decision so that you can get consensus and alignment on what needs to done. For this, you need contextual and social collaboration – contextual so that the analysis and the relevant business information are closely tied together, and social so that everyone with an interest can view and participate in the process of discussion and analysis. Together, social and contextual collaboration yield not only superior analyses, but decisions that actually get implemented.