Data keeps growing, and along with it, opportunities for unprecedented insights into customers, sales, markets, and processes.With information now being generated from all corners of the enterprise, executives, managers, and professionals can ask and get answers to questions they have never been able to consider. For companies that are able to offer business decision makers rapid and easy access to business intelligence (BI) or analytic data from which they can assemble their own interfaces and reports, this means competitive advantage. However, today’s BI systems still present obstacles to realizing this vision.
These are some of the findings of a new survey of 250 data managers and professionals, conducted by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc., for Tableau Software. The new research confirms a movement toward self-service BI systems that can potentially help decision makers gain insights where and when they are needed. However, organizations are still lagging when it comes to making such capabilities pervasive across their organizations, and questions about data quality, data timeliness, and organizational support need to be addressed.
Respondents to the survey—who are among the readership base of Database Trends and Applications—represent a range of organization types and sizes. A total of 27% are in IT management positions (from project manager to CIO level). Another 19% consists of professionals on the front lines of database and system administration. About 16% are IT or data consultants, and 15% are developers. More than one-fourth of respondents come from very large organizations with more than 10,000 employees, but there is also a significant contingent of small-to-medium-size businesses represented in the survey as well. In terms of industry groups, the largest segment seen in this survey consists of organizations involved in technology services, identified by 14% of respondents, with another 11% in the business, consumer, and information services sector. Another leading category is financial services and insurance, identified by
10% of respondents.
The survey also uncovered these key findings:
- The latency of BI information, difficulty in using tools, and challenges in finding appropriate data are the main complaints heard about today’s business intelligence and analytic systems. In addition, only a handful of people in respondents’ organizations have direct access to the information they need.
- Self-service BI is now offered to some extent in half of the organizations surveyed. However, in most companies, fewer than one out of 10 employees have access to BI and analytic systems.
- Financial analysis, forecasting, and business activity monitoring are the areas most likely to be enabled through self-service BI. In the majority of cases, self-service BI is being extended to executives and managers, along with marketing departments. The main goal of the self-service approach is to make BI and analytics applications easy to use.
The survey documents the evolution to end-user-driven IT, in which users rely less on IT to provide reports and services. Many organizations see the benefit in enabling their end users to directly access self-service portals, view their own dashboards, run their own reports, and perform their own analyses. This is easier and faster for users, and reduces the IT workload. This is enabled by an increasingly lower entry cost for BI capabilities.
On the following pages are the results of this survey, highlighting the opportunities and challenges data managers and professionals are facing in supplying and accessing timely, actionable information to today’s data-driven enterprises.
Today's BI and Analytics Landscape
The latency of BI information, difficulty in using tools, and challenges in finding appropriate data are the main complaints heard about today’s business intelligence and analytic systems. In addition, only a handful of people in respondents’ organizations have direct access to the information they need.
As many survey respondents are typically the data managers in charge of information delivery for BI and analytics systems, they see first-hand the frustration many users are experiencing with their current environments. A majority of respondents, 52%, cite issues with the latency of information—which they say needs to be delivered faster or be more timely to make a difference. Another two-fifths of the group report that members of their organizations are experiencing difficulty with the complexity of the tools and solutions they have in place. A similar amount report that they and their end users have difficulty finding the right information needed in data stores across their organizations. In addition, 37% of respondents say they face budget headwinds.
As one respondent put it, his company's management just doesn’t understand the urgency in purchasing and installing more advanced BI solutions. “Analytics is not part of our core business so making a large capital purchase for an enterprise analytics platform is a hard sell,” the respondent says. “Executives believe in the information, they just don't want to pay for it.”
A lack of management support may undercut efforts to overcome latency in the timing of the information delivered as well. At another respondent’s company, the major challenge is an “inability to allow our users access to data closer to real time. Also, one of our major systems is not as reliable as desired. Our problem is that it will take a large investment to replace.”
Decision makers or information workers may be under-served by many existing BI solutions and environments, in which access to data is out of reach to all except IT and selected power users. Reliance on a few information gatekeepers to answer critical business questions results in decision makers’ frustration with time delays, while burdening already stressed IT departments. Efforts to introduce wider access to traditional IT tools are often
hampered by complexity and long training cycles.
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Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets.