While December tends to mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of another the following month, don't be surprised if New Year's resolutions for business intelligence and analytics practitioners sound awfully familiar to last year's.
That conclusion is based on the Hype Cycle for Business Intelligence report published by Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn. It's one of many where analysts and researchers select technologies within a specific category ranging from the most talked about to the most utilized and chart them along a timeline that includes the typical peak and valley of maturation.
"It's an overview of what's happening in the greater scheme of things," said Andreas Bitterer, research vice president and lead analyst for this year's business intelligence (BI) hype cycle, "and a way to benchmark your own program."
This year is no different, and, because the reports tend to be published in late summer, they help provide a mid-year perspective on how industry conversations are -- or are not -- evolving. Comparisons between last year's hype cycle and this year's indicate some progression for trends in business intelligence: Mobile BI, which was added to the cycle only a few years ago, continues to inch along; in addition, two newcomers have been added: a data management architecture concept Gartner calls the logical data warehouse (see "Gartner's logical data warehouse" sidebar) and an information capabilities framework, which refers to the alignment of the data infrastructure across the enterprise.
Gartner's logical data warehouse
The term logical data warehouse is a new architecture model that encourages data to be housed in the most effective, efficient place possible, which could be a relational database, a Hadoop cluster, an analytical platform and so on. The term is Gartner-specific, but the concept is not:
But even the two new hype cycle entrants reflect the same struggles businesses have been dealing with since analytics and BI began -- how to manage data effectively and how to create consistency across the enterprise.
Specifically, Bitterer has observed a growing interest among businesses in the information capabilities framework concept. While they may be familiar with some BI processes, businesses tend to fall down when developing a model for dealing with semantics. Without precise terminology adopted by the entire enterprise, organizations face great difficulty trying to accurately define simple things like customer, product or supplier -- and that makes it difficult when measuring and reporting on financial metrics.
"There are many difficulties within organizations to understand what the data actually means to them," Bitterer said. "And there's a push to really understand the data -- that there's a consistency there and governance there. It's a big trend, and it's painful for organizations."
In fact, language may be one of the quieter trends this year. Freshman technologies entering the hype cycle in 2012, rather than offering new technical capabilities, are instead focused on "innovations in semantics and 'information understanding.'"
The need for clarity is driving businesses to have conversations, define terms and create dictionaries that tie back into the BI platform for users, Bitterer said. But, it's a construction that's easier said than done. For many companies, the problem tends to be an amorphous one. Organizations aren't sure where to start, especially because they can't solve the issue by throwing technology at it.
To help the situation, companies also need governance, Bitterer said, a topic that can churn up resistance from siloed departments that are used to doing things a certain way.
Still, Bitterer said, "There's just no alternative to doing it. … [It] needs to get done."
Four big trends in BI
The report identifies four technologies Gartner believes marks the year's biggest trends: information, mobile, social and cloud.
The list, at first glance, feels vague and even obvious -- information management, mobile BI, social media analytics and the cloud are not fresh concepts. But one of the biggest challenges practitioners face is the regularity and -- even more significantly -- the rate at which the BI and analytics terrain evolves, according to Bitterer.
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Take information, for example. It has been a consistent staple of BI and analytics programs. But in the context of this year's hype cycle, information doesn't refer to the type of data businesses are generally familiar with, such as transaction, product or sales data. Instead, it's referring to modern challenges the data is presenting: new sources of information such as sensor, seismic and meteorological as well as the speed at which it moves.
"That's where the whole 'big data' hype started," Bitterer said. "It's about other data and not just the data in your database."
Social and cloud may make for great talk, but the technologies are rarely deployed. While vendors such as MicroStrategy are pushing BI in the cloud, the deployment numbers are low. That's because most businesses are still wary of the technology -- and it calls up trust, technological and legal issues. Meanwhile, businesses continue to question the value of sentiment analysis on social media. Instead, organizations are keeping that kind of analysis at arm's length "because there's so much noise out there," Bitterer said.
The world of analytics and BI, though, looks different through a mobile BI lens. "That's probably the biggest trend in BI," Bitterer said.
These days, vendors are rolling out new and updated editions to software under a "mobile first" initiative, specifically designed for tablets, that can be scaled up to a PC and down to a smartphone. Mobile devices provide an intuitive platform for dashboards and reporting opportunities and provide the appropriate user with the appropriate data at the appropriate place and time, according to the report.