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Businesses set self-service BI as a priority for 2013

Mainstay issues such as poor data quality will plague businesses in 2013, but one way they're hoping to overcome hurdles is by empowering users.

The end of the year is like spring cleaning for businesses. It's a time to clear away the cobwebs, the dust and the clutter -- to cut away at the extemporaneous and reorganize priorities. But for analytics and BI professionals, what does that mean for 2013? This year, attempted to find out by contacting end users we've either spoken to or heard at conferences in 2012, to ask them what their biggest challenges are in the year to come.

"There are many challenges we will have to face," Ron Van Zanten, vice president of business intelligence (BI) at Great Western Bank, headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., said via email "[But] data quality is the largest."

It's an issue that consistently nips at businesses' heels, specifically with master data management and governance initiatives. But data quality has also become a significant topic for business intelligence and analytics projects. In a recent BI survey by the Business Application Research Center (BARC), headquartered in the United Kingdom, the nearly 3,000 survey respondents ranked poor data quality as one of the top three problems for BI projects, along with slow query performance and a lack of interest from business users.

"It's not so much the volume, but the breadth of information from so many different systems that we have to deal with," Van Zanten wrote. "And the challenge of disseminating and then delivering the information in an appropriate timeframe is difficult."

Data quality tends to be a perpetual struggle, because the terrain for data management, analytics and BI is not static, and people like Van Zanten have to figure out how to adapt to the changes while continuing to deliver a high-quality product to users.

Turning data into information

Another hardship in consistently producing quality data is the perpetual rise in requests, according to Van Zanten, though the issue is not unique to him. Better data accessibility for users was cited most frequently as a priority for 2013 by respondents to this article.

"Our customers are asking for custom reports," wrote Andrew Glover, the chief technology officer of App47, a mobile application management provider based out of Reston, Va.

Since its 1.0 launch in 2011, App47 has been providing customers with a series of canned reports, the company wrote, which includes an application programming interface (API) to pull out any raw data. App47, which uses Loggly Inc. to manage its Web logs for customers, is considering a software investment to help meet that challenge. According to Glover, the company wants a tool that "can easily pull from a NoSQL data store."

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"But we will be price sensitive," Glover continued. "We'll look first at something like Jasper [soft] or Pentaho -- that is, open source first."

Van Zanten plans to accomplish this with self-service business intelligence, which will support what he calls "quick fail" scenarios. By enabling users to interact with data and build their own reports, they can ask and answer a question immediately and without assistance from IT. In some cases, the question may be asked once and never again, enabling users to move onto the next question rather than wait for the IT department to process a ticket -- hence the quick fail.

"We are working with [Microsoft] to build out the reporting tools," he wrote. "It's easy to sell to the business because Office is already installed, but they still have a ways to go."

Specifically, Van Zanten referred to Microsoft's PowerPivot and Power View, the latter of which falls into the data visualization or data discovery category. Tools that specialize in quickly and intuitively visualizing data made headlines in 2012, even stealing the spotlight in Gartner Inc.'s Magic Quadrant for BI Platforms, an annual report by the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy.

Like Great Western Bank, Cannery Casino Resorts of Las Vegas is counting on its data visualization tool to help meet challenges in the year to come.

"We will focus on how to make more revenue in this economic environment and in our ultra-competitive market," wrote Michael Paulos, business analyst for the resort's marketing department.

Specifically, Paulos and his team are focusing on how to entice customers to visit and how to better serve customers once their visit begins. One of the most important tools helping with customer segmentation and targeting is software from Business Intelligence Systems Solutions (BIS2), a data visualization vendor headquartered in Amsterdam.

"I equate our business to a bank's because we have thousands of transactions going on all of the time," Paulos said. The BIS2 tool helps the resort stay on top of those transactions by making it easy to consume large volumes of information quickly, and by identifying trends as they're happening, he said.

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