Putting the business back into business intelligence

The market for business intelligence (BI) is in the early stages of a fundamental shift from specialist capability to mass-market tool.

A new breed of solutions – which I define as business-led BI – is handing people engaged in the day-to-day decision making of business access to the functionality of BI, helping them to explore, understand and act on their data on their terms. That’s important because BI has typically been in the hands of a few expert users and developed, managed and often ‘owned’ by IT and other specialists.

To understand why this isn’t just another spin of the technology marketing cycle, we need to consider the trends shaping the BI market environment and the barriers to adoption which have frustrated new growth.

Three super trends are influencing IT as a whole; data awareness – growing appreciation of the value of data; technology evolution – the availability of faster & cheaper hardware and more user-friendly software; and, the consumerisation of IT – blurring the lines between personal and professional use of technology. Together, they provide the right environment for data analysis tools which are explicitly defined by the needs of average users to flourish.

Alongside these trends lies growing frustration with the barriers to BI adoption which have traditionally been; cost – not just software & hardware, but deployment and on-going maintenance; accessibility – BI has generally been the realm of expert users; and, speed – long deployment projects and analysis bottlenecks frustrate new-found enthusiasm for data. Demand long-hindered by these barriers is compelling vendors to bring new and updated solutions to market which help address them.

BI goes mass market

It is still early days for business-led BI, but the value it offers in allowing more people more insight into their data to help make better decisions is so compelling that it marks the beginnings of BI’s transition from specialist capability to must have mass market technology. Our research underscores this view. We estimate the market for business-led BI will be worth some $4bn globally in 2013 (software & services), growing at a compound annual growth rate in excess of 35% (2012 – 17) leading it to nearly quadruple in size. This compares favourably with the wider BI market which we estimate growing at 16%; already an IT market-leading rate in cost-conscious times.

As an emerging part of the BI landscape business-led BI is still being defined.  Its attributes are, however, relatively easy to spot. They are a reflection of the trends and barriers which have prompted its emergence:

  • Low cost – a defining feature, it should be easy to acquire the tool and its basic functionality for minimal initial cost
  • Self-service – users should require limited IT support & training in order to use it
  • Visual – business-led BI should be visually appealing both in terms of the user interface and the results output
  • Universality – or ‘one size fits all’ means the tool needs to meet the requirements of both expert and non-expert users
  • Accessibility – any device and any location are must haves to suit an expanded user group

So what does this mean for business? Business-led BI has the potential to help put more fact-based intelligence into everyday decision-making by rendering it accessible to a far wider audience. It does this at a lower cost than before with tools useable by non-expert users and helps get them to results quicker. Putting the business in control of its data is a compelling proposition, but it’s not without risks.

Risks: who’s in control?

Two areas of risk strike me as the biggest challenge: non-expert use and existing deployments – both of which have the potential to cause real friction between the business and IT.

Users new to BI are unlikely to be aware of existing investments and policies surrounding data governance, quality and security, for example. Equally, while vendors of BI are working hard to hide analytical complexity in their solutions, making it more accessible, there’s a risk that users will conduct / act upon misguided analyses. In both cases, it rests with expert BI resource working with IT to create guidelines, processes and controls which provide enough flexibility to allow users to work with data yet manage the risk of them doing so.

It is my view that business-led BI is helping more users achieve the potential BI has always had: the integration of more fact-based intelligence into the majority of everyday decision making. By achieving this at lower cost, getting to results faster and with technology accessible to non-expert users business-led BI will become the new BI.

Tom Pringle is principal analyst and founder at Pringle & Company, an independent market analysis house focused on Business Intelligence software and services markets. Tom's research and publications focus on the market dynamics of business intelligence, highlighting the trends, future direction, opportunities and risks shaping the BI marketplace.