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Dresner’s Point: What’s the Right Approach to BI Data Discovery Tools?

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Dresner’s Point: What’s the Right Approach to BI Data Discovery Tools?

By Howard Dresner, President and Founder, Dresner Advisory Services

We had an interesting conversation at my Friday #BIWisdom tweetchat recently. When I asked the tribe for opinions on where the business intelligence space saw progress in 2012, they agreed that business discovery tools, or data discovery tools, really took off and were a positive. But sifting through their thoughts to answer my question on which areas were disappointing in their impact in 2012, discovery tools were the answer again.

So what happened? What made it difficult to get the anticipated “juice” out of the discovery tools? As a group we concluded that:

  • As with any tools, there are multiple classes of users and one tool doesn’t fit all. But management tends to generalize (“It worked in this case, so let’s deploy it everywhere.”).
  • Tools fit for business users, requires common access to data; this is contrary to the explosion of in-memory proprietary data engines/structures.
  • Self-service BI tools are more than tools — it starts with a company mindset and acceptance to that approach.
  • Self-service tools should be immersive; users shouldn’t know the difference between self-service and being served by a concierge.

Contrary to our hopes, collaborative BI is another area that didn’t move into the mainstream in 2012, but I believe it will evolve significantly in 2013. Evidence: One member tweeted that his company has recently experienced a higher demand from clients for self-service visualization tools, with the demand coming from the marketing director level. And I recently saw a product that is a collaboration tool with some BI built into it versus the other way around.

Again, the tribe concluded that collaborative tools should be part of the data discovery process but must be intuitive and easy for all users.

Ease of use of BI tools brought forth differences in opinion. One of the group tweeted: “Ease of use needs to be defined as usability by a single user. It’s a mistake to define ease of use as how easy it is to integrate the tool with a group and their work.” Another disagreed and said that the single user and group are equally important.

Some said the industry hasn’t tackled the ease-of-use problem because the vendors don’t understand it. Another commented that the vendors understand but don’t think it’s relevant and aren’t prioritizing it. Yet another tweeted: “Will the vendors overcome this, or is this the beginning of natural selection for bandwagon vendors?”

Get ready for an exciting year in BI. In 2013, we expect to see the growing prominence of data-driven culture. Business intelligence solutions will be led by applications and systems that enable end users to interact with data easier and faster. Speed will be key!

Bottom line: I think we’ll see more data discovery implementation in 2013. But the question is: will business users, IT groups — and the vendors developing tools — take the right approach? Or will they take a one-size-fits-all approach, like taking a multivitamin when a person’s health situation needs a different dose of some vitamins?

There are different contexts, different landscapes that we’ll need to cater to within organizations, and different users need different BI tools. As a tweetchat member pointed out, “you can get tool abuse from subject matter experts. Both the IT and biz user sides need new thinking.” Care needs to be applied to ensure that IT is part of the solution and is not frozen out by the tools.

A prominent tribe member’s suggestion: “Follow the four A’s — access, actionable insights, accountability and acceptance of results. Enabling easier access to users will lead to actionable insights, which will lead to greater acceptance of tools in 2013.”

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

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