Seth Grimes is an analytics strategy consultant at Alta Plana Corporation, located near Washington DC. Seth is also a leading industry observer, focusing on business intelligence, text analytics, and decision support as a long-time contributing editor for TechWeb’s Intelligent Enterprise, text analytics channel expert at the BeyeNetwork, and founding chair of the Text Analytics Summit.
Q: Analytics of everything from online sentiments to real-time object status means the field is moving into non-traditional departments including marketing where people don’t use Excel or math much. Is BI becoming mainstream, not just for data-crunchers?
A: Oh, we’re there — marketers along with a gamut of other business users ranging from executives who need a strategic view to folks on the proverbial shop floor, by which I mean the folks who do the real, productive work. These aren’t non-traditional departments; they’re at the core of any and every business. And they don’t (necessarily) use math a lot, at least not directly, much less Excel. Instead, they’re getting analytics delivered in consumable, relevant forms that are tailored to their job functions.
Marketing analytics and Web analytics report on Web site performance, including for critical on-line advertising and commerce functions; marketing campaign analytics that reports on the open and response rates to e-mail; competitive intelligence that scours the Web to help marketers refine product design and positioning.
Other departments are like marketing in the sense that they’re similarly getting analytics, often embedded in line-of-business applications, tailored to meet their needs. You just have to stop thinking of analytics as developed and delivered exclusively (or even primarily) through reports, dashboards, and spreadsheets. And it’s great stuff by the way: real-time if appropriate, predictive, visual, embedded… .
Q: Is virtualization and data security/storage giving companies greater confidence in using real-time analytics or in-memory apps?
A: Virtualization provides a mechanism for more efficient, economical enterprise-scale computing, supported by strong data security protocols. It’s part of the infrastructure, as is (increasingly) service oriented architecture (SOA), the use of Web services and content feeds, and the marvelous growth in computing and networking power that we’ve been experiencing.
All this creates opportunity to get data faster, from new and disparate sources, in newly-accessible forms such as text, and to crunch it in real-time, on-the-fly, allowing us to build analytics into operational applications – where appropriate – as well as to do an even better job with good ol’ after-action historical analyses.
Q: How are larger players (SAP, IBM, Oracle) that preached company-wide platforms being affected by smaller, nimbler providers with focused vertical or application-level solutions. Does it resemble the usual way IT incumbents get challenged?
A: When those large players see that a new technology is poised for enterprise-scale impact, they buy the provider — except on those relatively rare occasions when they’ve actually developed new technologies in-house. Don’t get me wrong: enhancing a product line via acquisitions is a valid approach –one that TIBCO itself pursued in acquiring Talarian and their messaging solutions back in 2002, Velosel for master data management in 2005, Spotfire for BI and visualization in 2007, Insightful for analytics in 2008, and DataSynapse just a few months ago. Where I take issue is when the acquisition is really about padding the customer list and preempting competitors rather than about delivering greater value to customers.
When acquisitions happen, whatever the motivation, customers who did need focused or vertical applications rather than a broader platform or suite may be abandoned or priced out of solutions they rely on. The risk is definite, which is why user organizations should adhere to open, standards based architectures wherever feasible. Open architectures and standards have an additional benefit for users in that they minimize disruption when it comes to bringing on-line new capacity and new capabilities.
As for challenges to IT incumbents: those are a good thing – affirming that the incumbent is in the right place, delivering value, and keeping the incumbent responsive and competitive.
Q: Big-stakes industries that place big bets (pharma, airlines, oil/gas) are often first to embrace new technologies and gain the biggest benefits. What other sectors are seeing unusual results from BI and analytics?
A: Financial traders and telecoms have been among the very earliest and quickest adopters of new information technologies, among them data feeds and operational analytics and the technologies we’re now calling complex event processing (CEP). Organizations in those sectors have big data, fast data and require extremely low processing latency (delay). These elements have pointed them to event-driven analytics, an approach that’s now being picked up by enterprises in disparate domains, posing a growing challenge to established DBMS and BI providers.
And there are military and intelligence, domains that have been analytics consumers for years, even if quietly and even if political concerns have conflicted with what the numbers indicated.
But those sectors are well established. Some of the most interesting innovations are happening in on-line commerce, where embedded analytics works behind the scenes, within user-facing applications. Innovative use of analytics helps adopters personalize a shopping experience via stuff like customized views, recommendations, and special offers. And it can reduce negatives such as shopping-cart abandonment; and automate and speed handling of customer inquiries.
Then there’s the whole new text analytics category, which enables organizations to hear and respond to the “voice of the customer” (or employee, patient, or market). That technology is being adopted across a wide array of business domains.
Q: What are the prospects for Green Energy, Government/Security other emerging areas?
A: Analytical technologies are of course a huge asset on the security front although to match every new tool available to analysts, there’s a new threat and new data to analyze. New data creates new opportunities, within government and for the gamut of stakeholders. I’m thinking here of government operational data and statistics that are newly accessible. Here in the U.S., through systems and portals such as Recovery.gov and Data.gov it sometimes takes the government a while to get these systems working right. Open government isn’t easy, especially in the face of decades of entrenched, less-than-open practices – but it creates great value for everyone.
Q: Are there particular features or new BI tools you’d wish for at the holidays?
A: Innovation in and, especially, around, BI is constant. I don’t need to wish for any new tools, because I will get them without having to ask.
My wish would be that people – especially government officials and key corporate decision makers – would use the tools already available – just better and more wisely. Why were GM and other automakers caught flat-footed by changing demand and by the true long-term costs of their management policies? Why didn’t governments act to stop sub-prime mortgage and other financial shenanigans before they tanked our economy? We had the numbers; we have the analytical technologies.
What has been in short supply is the will to use the data correctly. Instead, our use of analytics and intelligence is too often selective and distorted. I don’t mean to sound too negative a note. Overall, things are looking good in the world of BI and analytics!
Spotfire Blogging Team
Image Credit: Courtesy of Seth Grimes