Companies finally appear to be making business intelligence accessible to a broader group of users, according to at least one recent survey. Momentum is growing, thanks to an increase in self-service data discovery options, said Carsten Bange, CEO of BARC, a research firm that produces the annual survey that tracks usage of BI tools.
But do business intelligence providers risk alienating data scientists and more savvy users by focusing on making their products easy to use? Not at all, said Leslie Miller, Tibco Spotfire Marketing. Her company just released the latest iteration of Tibco Spotfire, which boasts several features designed to make analysis easy even for those with no experience working with data.
Data Visualization for Everyone
A new Tibco Spotfire feature called Recommendations leverages built-in intelligence to offer suggestions for visualizations based on a user's selected data, with the goal of letting non-experts quickly jump into analyses without knowing all of the data "rules." But seasoned Tibco Spotfire users really liked the tool while using it in beta, Miller said.
"Data scientists and data analysts love it because they often know what they are looking for, and with this tool they just see it faster," she said. "They see the picture, and in a few clicks they're done. It might save them six clicks compared to how they were doing it before."
While other data discovery products offer recommendation wizards, Miller said Recommendations differs from those tools because it shows live previews of data visualizations, which often highlight areas that users may want to further explore. "It's not just about creating a dashboard; it also gives you a jumpstart into your insights," Miller said.
Tibco Spotfire 7 also gives users more custom design options than before, Miller said, so they can tailor visualizations to their audience and to the types of data being consumed. They can also, for example, create visualizations that have the look and feel of a company brand. Miller showed the example of a visualization created for November's Tibco Now event that employed colors and images associated with that event.
"It looks nothing like a Spotfire dashboard, but it is a Spotfire dashboard," she said.
The release also includes several features designed to help users get to insights more quickly, Miller said, noting that, "A beautiful interface is great, but the point of analytics software is to get to insights more quickly in order to make data-driven decisions."
She likened one such feature, a data panel, to a shopping cart on a site like Amazon. It allows users to easily search for data, sort by data type, filter their visualizations and easily view which filters are being applied. "If a user wants to find all data tables related to revenue, it will do a search for you and offer options for sorting them. It makes it easier to get to insights faster without interrupting the flow of analysis," she said.
Another feature called dynamic grouping enables users to create groups from data directly from a visualization. "If you see something like columns you want to group together, you can right-click directly from the analysis and create a new group by putting the columns together. And it's just as easy to unmark groups to return to the original data view," she said. "You do not need to wait for someone else to change a data source if it isn't one you own or go back into your spreadsheet and change it. You can quickly find what you are looking for without worrying about how the data is structured underneath."
Both cloud and on-premise versions of Tibco Spotfire 7 will be available by the end of this month, Miller said. Tibco offers monthly updates for the cloud product, often features such as connectors for new data sources. The on-premise version gets two major refreshes a year.
Miller noted that the market for data discovery tools like Tibco Spotfire 7 is increasingly crowded and can seem confusing to enterprises. Look for data discovery tools with governance capabilities and make sure they can accommodate changing needs, she advised.
"People often select a tool with a particular project or two in mind," she said. "When they begin using a product, they find many more uses for it. So you want to make sure you get an analytics solution that can support you as you grow."
It is also important to consider the needs of different groups of users, she said, something that Tibco strives to do with its software. "Many organizations have a spectrum with data experts at one end, business users at the other, and people that span that spectrum. We are really focused now on making data discovery more accessible to non-experts, but we are trying to help that whole spectrum."
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.