The Non-Technical Revolution: How Business Intelligence Came to the People

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Saar BitnerIn this special guest feature,  Saar Bitner of SiSense discusses the history and current state of BI software, and how things are starting to change to better address the needs of the business user. Saar Bitner is VP of Marketing at SiSense, the award-winning business analytics software that lets non-techies easily analyze and visualize big data sets from multiple sources.

Think of a world where all you have to know are the questions you want to ask your data. Though powerful business intelligence (BI) technology has made extracting meaning from big data sets a reality, data analytics doesn’t end there. The myriad of technologies have realized the #1 problem with BI today is business adoption, as tools are either too complicated for business users to use, or the core technology of the BI product is not built to scale to a large number of users, dashboards, or queries without getting sluggish and compromising the user experience.  But everything is starting to change.

Along with addressing growing data volumes and data set complexity, BI tools have started to connect the dots and bring a top-notch user experience into the equation, allowing non-technical users to truly practice business intelligence–and it’s paying off. In fact, A.T. Kearney-Carnegie Mellon’s recent LEAP study determined that businesses getting the most value out of data analytics have leaders that concentrate on: team collaboration enabled by the ability to easily share insights, instilling confidence in their teams, and creating an active analytics community across all departments.

In order to grasp the most important capabilities of BI tools today, let’s look back and see how we got here by understanding how business intelligence is successfully closing the gap between the research scientists and the people who are actually looking for insight in their data.

Historically, Business Users Were Never Truly Independent

Historically, businesses hired a technical team, such as an IT team, in order to manage, clean, and provide access to company data. This method meant that business users would receive a limited service from their data analytics: Though a marketing manager could request a report that combines Salesforce data and Google Analytics data from the IT team, the marketing department would also have to wait for IT to get to that task. Once IT did provide the report, if marketing saw that they needed to drill down, filter, or add more data in order to investigate further and gain a different perspective–the basis for all business intelligence–they would be forced to send the report back to IT and wait once again for results.

In this way, static reporting just doesn’t fulfill the burning need for the business users to play with data, investigate deeper, and receive real-time insights in order to gain a competitive advantage. Depending on how many departments are requesting data reports, IT usually becomes a bottleneck and the information in reports become irrelevant by they time they reach the department that requested the information.

The Problem That Broke the Camel’s Back: Flexibility

After recognizing the problems that arise from forcing business users to depend on IT, many businesses ask the question: so what do business users actually need? And the answer is quite simple: business users don’t know what they need. Which is why they need a BI dashboard software that is flexible and gives them control–so business users can actually practice business intelligence when analyzing their data.

This revelation pinpoints a precise need and the biggest problem technologies must deal with today: Flexibility. Business users need to be able to investigate data further by adding more data, changing data and playing with the filters on a dashboard to discover underlying trends and correlations. Business intelligence is all about trying to find meaningful and useful information for a specific business purpose. It is not an equation, and therefore it needs to work the same way a human brain would–with total flexibility and control to explore new possibilities and ideas.

Big, Scattered Data Rubs Salt to the Wound

BI companies today are faced with finding creative solutions to handle more data that is increasingly decentralize, all while keeping data manageable to the business users. In the 21st century, digital information is being created, analyzed, and stored at such a fast rate it is reported that 90% of the world’s data has been produced in just the last two years. Big data is commonly characterized by the three Vs— volume, velocity, and variety– all of which pose technical challenges that must be addressed in order to be managed by a business user:

  • Volume: The sum total of data of all types (i.e. Salesforce data, financial records, social media posts), which means crunching large data sizes.
  • Velocity: The speed of data communication which for time-sensitive processes such as catching fraud or monitoring emerging trends means on-time reporting.
  • Variety: Multiple data sets in a range of formats and locations, including both structured and unstructured data.

Business intelligence tools have different ways of addresses these problems, some with new technology to maximize storage and processes to accommodate data size and speed, such as In-Chip Technology, while other tools opt to compromise business user capabilities by continuing to require IT involvement for certain processes.

How BI Tools Are Addressing the Business User

Many BI tools are trying to meet the needs of business users by providing a complete self-service B solution Self-service in BI means giving independence to any user to ask any question, and thereby relieving the technical departments of serving as a middleman. The combination of an intuitive user experience together with powerful data crunching technology truly allows the average business user to access and analyze large, unstructured data, and conduct data analytics. Though self-service can be tricky, requiring businesses to define their environment before implementing self-service, it’s worth adding aspects such as: self-service, flexibility, and business friendly user experience the the top of your list when searching for a BI tool that will be a game changer in your organization.


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  1. As a business user I have been saying it for years: we don’t know everything we need before a data analysis project! Our needs often change as we discover insights and are tempted to research a different or broader area. Great article –I am happy the BI world is finally closing the gap and coming to meet business users need.