Anyone keeping tabs knows that business intelligence is evolving at breathtaking speeds and transforming business in the process. Digital technologies remain a number one priority for businesses in all sectors, according to a recent Gartner, Inc. survey of more than 2,000 Chief Information Officers, the most comprehensive of look at business priorities and CIO budgets and strategies to date. The study, Hunting and Harvesting in a Digital World: The 2013 CIO Agenda, also revealed that a majority of enterprises are not realising the full business potential BI technology can offer.
So why is business intelligence important? Eric Lundquist, in Business Intelligence is Transforming into Intelligent Businesses, likens business intelligence to that of recruiting pro-football players in that both are about discovering the “odd realities”:
Recently The New York Times published an interactive guide to the draft that allowed users to explore the relationship between an early pick and star performance and found early picks were not a particularly good indicator.
In an explanation about the guide, the developers explained, “Our goal was to show an odd reality: Even though N.F.L. teams do tend to pick the ‘best’ players early in the draft, there’s a tremendous amount of chance involved. The best 10 eventual N.F.L. performers will not be the first 10 players drafted—or even close.” Picking the best players is often an internal analysis performed by NFL teams. Too bad that picking doesn’t always pay off.
Discovering that “odd reality” is the goal of the intelligent business. The opportunity to use the outside world to find a new market, a new price level or a new product that was simply impossible to achieve via traditional inside-the-company product development or seat-of-the-pants wild guesses by company founders.
Whichever metaphor one prefers, whether it is NFL drafts or financial trading, it is clear that CIO’s are increasingly required to lead in areas outside of their traditional IT roles and champion a new digital vision for businesses. Recent advances in technology have allowed companies to not only make better use of internal data, but to also have granted greater access to the big data sets that are beyond the confines of a firm.
The shift towards more intelligent businesses means using the right tools to discover the “odd reality,” using non-traditional business analytics to innovate and hunt for new opportunities as well as taking advantage of raised business performance that results from having a transformed IT structure. As Lundquist notes, “the flip from data-driven decisions beginning inside your company and pushed to the outside world to outside data happening in real time being the driver of your company’s inside operations means big changes for the traditional business intelligence and business analysis vendors. And, of course, those changes present opportunity for the intelligence upstarts.”
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The Gartner study reflects an understanding amongst CIO businesses that a greater emphasis on “externally oriented digital technologies, as opposed to traditional IT/operationally oriented systems,” will continue to be a top global technology priority of 2013 as the demand for analytics and BI continues to grow. According to Lundquist, finding the optimal balance between maximizing usage of internal data and tapping into vast pools of external data allows businesses to better “capitalise on customer sentiment, buying patterns and economic indicators.” The key, he says, is to ask simple questions over massive real-time data sets,”Creating simple queries over huge data sets can provide insights much more quickly and with more accuracy than trying to create sophisticated algorithms narrowed towards smaller samples.”
Established BI analytics providers and intelligence upstarts have also been working diligently to accommodate the rapidly changing technology needs of CIO’s and firms. This includes efforts by SAS Institute, who unveiled new technologies aimed at providing access to big data sources to SAS users without having to leave the SAS environment, at its recent SAS Global Forum Executive Conference. Part of their work has been to “shift to faster analysis using solid state data storage drives and moving the analytics processing closer to where the data is stored,” says Lundquist.
In the meantime, many CIO’s are struggling to keep up with their already expanding roles. Even as the industry demand for digital technologies increases, CIOs surveyed by Gartner say they see some of the very same technologies as fundamentally disrupting business over the course of the next decade: “When asked which digital technologies would be most disruptive, 70 percent of CIOs cited mobile technologies, followed by big data/analytics at 55 percent, social media at 54 percent and public cloud at 51 percent. The disruptiveness of each of these technologies is real, but CIOs see their greatest disruptive power coming in combination, rather than isolation.”
Like consumers, CIO’s want a seamless mobile BI experience and options for using the cloud platform. However, as the Gartner study points out, CIO IT budgets have suffered since the dot-com bust more than a decade ago. Dave Aron, vice president and Gartner Fellow, says that assuming wider responsibilities for amplifying enterprise with digital technologies while improving IT structures and governance is part of the changing environment that requires businesses to continue to evolve successfully in a new digital context, “IT cannot expect to secure additional funding without assuming new responsibilities or producing new results … Adapting to, and leading, in the digital world requires doing things differently, yet in ways consistent with the demands of digital technologies. CIOs need to make the case that mainstream emerging mobile, big data, social and cloud technologies justify revisiting IT budget and investment levels.”
However, the study notes that many CIO’s do not see ITs enterprise roll changing over the next several years. Mark McDonald, group vice president and Gartner Fellow, warns that if CIOs fail to “adopt new roles and behaviors to find digital value,” CIOs and IT will “consign themselves to tending a garden of legacy assets and responsibilities.” CIOs must respond to the ever dynamic digital demands to deliver cost-effective quality services and create a new agenda, argues McDonald, that “incorporates hunting for new digital innovations and opportunities, and harvesting value from products, services and operations.”
Heather Turner is a writer based in London who has worked in the fields of print and broadcast journalism, PR and film. Turner moved to London in 2009 from the rural Ozark Mountain region of Missouri to pursue a B.A. in Mass Communications and to gain more hands-on experience in film and marketing. She currently writes about trends in digital media and maintains a blog in her spare time on subjects including politics and media criticism.