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Analyst forecasts the next big things in BI

In a Q&A, Wayne Eckerson looks at the state of the business intelligence industry, and self-service analytics, and discusses what new innovations excite him about the future.

Consolidation among business intelligence vendors is driven by what's perceived to be the next big things in BI, and that was the case during the run of merger and acquisition deals during the half of 2019.

According to Wayne Eckerson, founder and principal consultant of Eckerson Group, self-service analytics was a key part of what made Looker and Tableau attractive to Google and Salesforce, respectively. When the next consolidation wave hits, according to Eckerson, augmented intelligence could be a big driver, as could cloud-based BI tools -- and they will be viewed as the next big things in BI.

Eckerson has more than 25 years of experience in the BI software market and is the author of two books -- Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders and Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business.

In the second part of a two-part Q&A, Eckerson talks about the driving forces behind the recent merger and acquisition deals, self-service analytics, and what excites him about the future of BI. In the part, Eckerson discusses the divide between enterprises that use data and those that don't, as well as the importance of DataOps and data strategies and how they play into the data divide.

Among other trends, a wave of consolidation over the last six to 12 months has left fewer vendors but ones with more end-to-end capabilities. What do you see as the next big things in BI that might spark the next wave?

Headshot of Wayne Eckerson, founder and principal consultant of Eckerson GroupWayne Eckerson

Eckerson: It definitely goes in cycles -- we've seen this consolidation before. The last big one was in 2007-08 when the three biggest BI players -- Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion -- were bought by large application vendors SAP, IBM and Oracle, respectively. Usually these cycles are based on the advent of technology that's come into the market. In 2002, we moved from client-server to the web, and now we're in the age of the cloud and self-service, and Looker and Tableau caught the self-service wave with visualization and desktop tools. The next big disruption to the BI market is the cloud. We're seeing a lag between when these BI technologies fully maturing on these platforms and when they get purchased and the market consolidates. If we're to project out, maybe we'll see some consolidation around cloud-based, AI-based BI tools where things are much more automated, things are in the cloud, and maybe it's all embedded and you won't even notice the BI tools. That's probably the next wave in five or 10 years.

One thing that jumps out about Google's acquisition of Looker and then even more so with Salesforce's purchase of Tableau is the price. Why are companies suddenly paying so much for BI vendors?

Eckerson: They've always gone for a premium, but now the premium is in the billions and not the hundreds of millions. We're in this data-driven age now, and these are the tools that the business users touch and feel and use, so that maybe gives them a higher premium than middleware or database technology that's behind the scenes. Tableau has been a meteor, and they probably sold at the right time for them. They're under duress now from competitors. I think it's just a testimony to how much data is front and center to the way businesses operate in today's environment.

Ease of use to make data available to the citizen data scientist has been a significant push. Do you see self-service analytics taking over, or will there always be some things that are just too big and complex for average users and self-service BI will just be part of the picture?

Eckerson: Self-service is an interesting topic because there's been so much frustration with IT, the IT bottleneck and delivering applications for analytics that businesses wanted self-service just to get away from IT, but in the end what you really want is a blend of both. There are things that are too complex for the average business person to create on their own. If you want to build an enterprise unit for everybody, no business unit is going to do that alone, so you'd need a central group just for that. And then every division has some complex custom apps that need to be built, so you'll need a corporate development team to build cutting-edge applications that will really help the company compete. On a day-to-day basis every business unit needs its core data analysts and data scientists to be looking into data to help optimize decisions, help optimize business processes, respond creatively and quickly to events as they happen on the ground, to win business, to avoid losing business, to manage risk -- all that stuff. The self-service is really the agile, innovative arm of the business, whereas as the corporate IT team is the run-the-business operational side that will build stuff that's needed on a long-term basis. You need both sides to operate effectively.

As you analyze the BI industry, what are the next big things in BI that get you excited?

Eckerson: I am excited about AI for BI -- it's really transforming the way people are using data to make decisions, and it's going to transform these BI tools. Before you needed a hypothesis of what to look for when you're doing an analysis, and now the tools will dig into the data for you. They'll do thousands of drill-downs in a matter of seconds and expose and surface only the most relevant correlations for you to look at. That's pretty interesting. DataOps is pretty interesting, because that will fix the back end -- the data that's being delivered into these analytical tools. I think time-series analytics is the next big wave that we'll see hit the marketplace. Especially as the internet of things and big data take hold, companies can use time-series analytics to automate decisions. The intersection of time-series analytics, AI and cloud-based computing with its infinite storage and elasticity -- the combination of those things is going to bring about a sea change. There's a lot to be excited about in our space.

Editors' note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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