Note to self: Business intelligence, analytics trends to watch in 2013

Businesses will tackle big data analytics, cloud BI, consumerization and collaboration in the New Year alongside beloved classics like data quality.

For the business intelligence and analytics industry, the New Year doesn't mean pushing the reset button. Instead, it'll continue to ride the wave of niche and mainstream successes it saw in 2012 -- none more prominent than the role of analytics in the presidential election.

"It's a good time to be a nerd," said Jeff Zeanah, president of the Atlanta, Ga.-based consultancy Z Solutions Inc. "The economy, by all accounts, is going to be slow in its recovery. And having to think harder about how to run your business is a real positive for the field of analytics."

As a new year marches forward, buzzwords that swallowed the spotlight in 2012 like "big data" will continue to have a presence, but not without those old, persistent standbys like data quality, according to analysts and consultants. Here are a few trends to keep an eye on.

Big data, big hype

Big data was arguably the star of 2012. The topic headlined a slew of industry-related conferences and the media just couldn't get enough. Yes, the year brought more big data buzz, but it also brought skepticism. "I smirk to myself when people talk about it," Zeanah said. "I wonder at what point when they actually get big data [will they begin to] wonder what the heck they're going to do with it."

Experts agreed that big data exists, but they still question its significance and lack of focus. "We're not talking about one thing," said Howard Dresner, founder and chief research officer for the Nashua, N.H.-based Dresner Advisory Services LLC. "We need to sort this out as an industry and be a little bit clearer [about what it is]."

Skepticism can be healthy and may indicate big data has turned a corner. "In Gartner terms, it has probably hit the top of the hype cycle and it is coming on the back side of that into reality," said Rita Sallam, a research vice president for IT research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

Businesses will spend time in 2013 figuring out what it is and isn't, what challenges it presents, where the real value is, and how they'll need to evolve -- architecturally and culturally -- to tap into that value.

Call it reengineering

Big data gobbled up the media's attention in 2012, but Zeanah also spotted a more positive, if less glamorous, pattern of integrating analytics into the business -- a pattern he labeled reengineering.

"The real trend I'm seeing is the surprising number of relatively small, successful implementations in all sorts of processes, issues and management decisions," he said.

Increasingly, businesses are grasping onto analytics and data-driven decisions as a way to be more efficient and save money. Whether it's become a more accepted approach, or is simply a way to be budget conscious, businesses are asking better questions when it comes to business intelligence (BI) and analytics, according to Zeanah, and will continue to do so.

Reengineering is a trend that hasn't seen as much attention as big data, but it's an indicator that analytics and BI continue to be a priority for businesses, he said.

Consumerization: More, better, faster

Like big data, the consumerization of IT is a concept rather than an actual technology, experts expect the clamor for devices and applications that can cross the personal/professional divide to continue. Tablets and smartphones are an undeniable example of this, but less obvious are demands for more access to data and a better means to query data.

Brought on by the prevalence and speed of search engines like Google and easy-to-use applications to visualize data, employees are entering the workforce with expectations influenced by their own experiences. Businesses, Sallam said, are responding, but they're not the only ones.

For four years now, products from vendors like QlikTech, Tableau and Tibco Spotfire have ruled the data visualization roost, providing software that helps businesses quickly see their data in context. But 2012 saw competition from mega vendors like IBM and Microsoft. "That's what you'll start to see in the next year -- a battle back in the enterprise," she said. "It's the beginnings of a huge shift in the competitive dynamics."

'Play it again, Sam'

Trends for BI and analytics may sound brash and cutting-edge, but for businesses to see success with the new, they'll still need to master the old. Issues of data quality, data governance and data integration, in other words, will remain topical, according to experts.

Zeanah pointed to the presidential election and hoped it sent a powerful -- if apolitical -- message to businesses. While Obama's win has been attributed in part to better get-out-the-vote efforts, it's also been characterized as an analytics battle.

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"It sounds to me like one group did a better job of collecting data," he said. "And better data gets better results. That continues to be an unfortunately overlooked aspect of the whole business."

The same applies to collaborative BI, which is still a hot topic for businesses. While software can help employees pass and share information, the hurdle for successful adoption has been -- and still is -- a cultural one, according to Dresner. Businesses will need to address that barrier before deploying software.

"If you've got a collaborative culture, than collaborative technology is an enabler," he said. "And if you don't, it can be a disruption."

Cloud: An inevitable disruption

When Dresner surveyed businesses in 2012 on use of the cloud, interest was, perhaps not surprisingly, lackluster. "Change is hard for all of us," he said. "[And] the cloud is really disruptive, especially for IT."

Businesses still have doubts about reliability, performance, availability, security and privacy, especially in the wake of high-profile outages. While these issues need to be addressed, Dresner believes the transition is inevitable. "Ultimately, we end up in the cloud," he said.

Just don't expect a stampede in 2013, according to Sallam. The rate of adoption will be gradual as big data and cloud product offerings mature and become more entwined. Sallam pointed to Google BigQuery, a Web service for managing and analyzing large data sets, and Amazon RedShift, a petabyte-scale data warehousing service, as examples.

"I don't think it's a matter of 'if', but 'when'," Sallam said. "[But] it's probably not going to become mainstream in 2013."

This was first published in January 2013

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