Experts interviewed by Enterprise Apps Today believe Big Data will remain the biggest trend in business intelligence for the foreseeable future. While Big Data is still an emerging concept, those using it are exhibiting a growing maturity, the experts say.
Big Data, Big Claims
Richard Daley, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Pentaho Corporation, said that Big Data has the potential to provide more value to business intelligence users of all sizes than all of the value aggregated over the last 20 years.
“The dominant trend for 2013 will, again, be Big Data,” said Daley. “It’s growing at astronomical rates in almost all verticals, and people are realizing that it is not just a more affordable, scalable way to do data warehousing and BI, but it’s also the competitive weapon of this decade.”
Big Data’s Second Wave
Despite the hype surrounding Big Data, some believe we are only in the early stages of its analytics potential. Awareness has begun to move away from the fact that there is Big Data and that it should be mined, to defining more clearly how it can be harnessed to gain an edge.
“In 2012 we saw the first wave of Big Data,” said Dr. Nabil Abu El Ata, president and CEO of Accretive Technologies. “Companies are beginning to see that by leveraging these technologies, transformation of their business could be cheaper and faster enabling them to really focus on gaining a competitive advantage in their market vs. keeping just their company running.”
More Sophisticated Analytics
As part of this growing connection between Big Data and business value, El Ata foresees developers becoming more sophisticated in their attempts to glean value from vast repositories of unstructured data.
“Instead of analytics derived from basic statistical correlations, Big Data technologies will evolve and leverage highly sophisticated algorithms that enable successful what-if decisions,” said El Ata. “This will help drive the adoption of these types of algorithmic analytics and enable Big Data to become a major tool for overcoming risk and complexity.”
Advanced Analytics Difference
Steven Hillion, chief data officer for Alpine Data Labs, believes the advent of Big Data has exposed the difference between traditional business intelligence and advanced analytics that dig deeper into data.
“In a sense, traditional BI has become the 'question generator,' and analytics is becoming the 'answer machine,' ” said Hillion. “With reports and dashboards now running against larger datasets and increasingly in real time, you are able to get a snapshot of your business and identify where you need to pay attention in sales, support, marketing and finance.”
Once you know that sales are down, or customer calls are up, or advertising costs are too high, what do you do about it? You start to ask more questions. Why are sales down in one region but not the other? What are customers telling us? How do we reduce marketing costs without impacting revenue?
“These are the kinds of questions that advanced analytics is capable of answering, and there's an increasing push for organizations to go beyond simple dashboards and reports,” Hillion said.
Simplified Big Data Tools
Hillion thinks we are still in the early stages of determining how to uncover insights with Big Data. Doing so currently requires complex tools working on small samples of data, wielded by expensive consultants or hard-to-hire data scientists. Or you need an army of engineers working at the cutting edge of high-performance computing and analytics such as Hadoop.
“If you went to any of the Hadoop conferences this year, you'd think that Hadoop was ubiquitous and everyone was using beautiful visual tools to mine their big data for hidden gems of insight,” Hillion said. “But the reality is that most people are struggling to get the full potential out of all the new Big Data technologies. I think 2013 is the year in which Big Data has to reach a level of maturity with applications that give us the depth of insight and performance and ease-of-use that we've come to expect from traditional BI running on traditional data sources.”
Beyond Data Scientists
There was lots of talk in 2012 about the rise of the data scientist. At Data Science Summits held around the world, people discussed the shortage of professionals trained to make sense of mind-numbing streams of social chatter and other data. But like everything else in technology, simplicity will eventually reign. Just as traditional business intelligence has been taken out of the hands of the few and given to the many, the same is likely to happen with Big Data analytics.
“We’ll see Big Data move beyond the data scientist in 2013,” said Brad Peters, CEO and co-founder of Birst. “Big Data is going to fuse more and more with traditional BI, providing insights to business people who can couple information from unstructured sources with structured ones. You won’t have to have a Ph.D., allowing the business analyst to start taking advantage of everything Big Data has to offer.”
Emergence of the Data Analyst
An alternate future is surmised by George Mathew, president and COO of Alteryx. Instead of doing away with the need for data scientists by making Big Data analytics simpler, he sees a middle ground where a new breed of analyst will emerge. In support of this, he cites Gartner research numbers: By 2015, 4.4 million IT jobs globally will be created to support Big Data. Yet the limited application of Big Data in universities and colleges today will contribute to a skills gap.
“Due to the ubiquity of data, companies require a new set of specialists who can bridge the gap between IT and business by evolving their core thinking and approach to analytics decision-making,” said Mathew. “Alteryx calls them ‘data artisans’ and predicts an emerging generation of analysts that can provide answers to complex business questions in a short amount of time, using whatever data is required.”
New Players, New Innovation
According to Peters, another big trend in 2012 was traditional legacy BI mega vendors (SAP Business Objects, IBM Cognos, Oracle OBIEE and MicroStrategy) losing their stranglehold on the market. He believes the business intelligence marketplace is now more diverse than ever, with numerous new start-ups competing in the space and contributing innovative ideas.
“When you look at the recent earnings from the legacy BI vendors, you see that growth has tapered tremendously and that net new revenue is coming from auxiliary areas such as database licenses,” said Peters. “The BI market went through a consolidation, but is now going through a second spring of innovation and diversity.”
Big Data, Consumerization and the Cloud
Mathew forecasts 2013 becoming the year of monetizing Big Data, thanks to growing use of cloud platforms. He predicts corporate analytic applications will get a facelift in 2013, when organizations begin adopting user-friendly consumption models for analytics. “Cloud-based platforms will give users the tools to access, share, and curate collections of analytics applications,” he said.
Context via Data Connections
Maintaining stores of Big Data won't add value without context. That context includes business strategy, competitive shifts, market perception and more. Companies have found, for example, that trying to adjust to negative feedback on Twitter can make them manically reactive. The answer is blending such information with other data sources.
“Companies will be better equipped to take advantage of data that wasn’t available before through connectors to data sources like Hadoop, Salesforce.com, MongoDB and Teradata,” said Mathew.” By combining this data with other internal or even social media data, companies will get the context they need to make the right decisions.”
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).