Boris Evelson, a vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, spoke at the Alteryx user’s conference on the need for flexible business intelligence tools (BI) to support better decision-making. He made some interesting observations but had one key flaw in his approach. I’ll explain below.
Alteryx commissioned a report from Forrester to evaluate its location intelligent software solutions and where they fit within the context of the broader BI category. Evelson argues that “BI is so hot” because it offers a competitive differentiation. “If you and I sell exactly the same product, with the same features, then the only way I can win is if I know who my customers are,” says Evelson. However the key is not in the data on customers but “information” that offers insights that raw data alone does not offer. Evelson relayed a conversation with a European banker at the height of the financial meltdown and asked him where he screwed up because he had the right data. “Yes, we had the data…but we didn’t have the information.”
Evelson argues that traditional BI approaches just don’t cut it anymore. He says that traditional BI tools are just not intuitive; requirements change too fast; and knowledge workers spend too much time looking for the data. And if IT controls the applications, bottlenecks ensue. From working with clients he hears things like, “We really need to align business with IT.” But Evelson says, “I really don’t think that is a pragmatic reality.”
Companies used to find that consolidation with one BI vendor was optimal, perhaps driven by the IT department that eschewed too many solutions to support. But Forrester is now finding in 2010 that fewer companies are consolidating and confirming that flexible BI solutions and BI self-service trumps centralization and consolidation. “IT [department] hates this,” says Evelson.
Forrester finds that no single BI vendor does it all. All good news for Alteryx. Companies are using a mix of in-house solutions and multiple vendors for BI architecture. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of people using BI in the average enterprise is mostly in the single percentage digits. What will it take to transform more knowledge workers to become BI savvy? Evelson says that a combination of best practices and next generation technologies will work best but neither one of them work on their own. He stresses agile development practices, with the flexibility to change inputs to data analysis as processes change or new information becomes available.
But the one flaw I found in Evelson’s argument is that GIS and geospatial technology fall into what he calls, “advanced visualization.” This is unfortunate. The reason why the large BI vendors never understood the applications of geospatial technology was exactly for this misrepresentation of GIS. If it was just the map, any map visualization tool will do to display data. But many geospatial solution companies, Alteryx included, are embedding tools for spatial regression, spatial interaction models, and spatial ETL. They turn data into spatially-relevant information and allow an interpretation of data not available in any other business intelligence tool. These are the differentiators of location intelligent applications and whether they are embedded with mainstream BI solutions or are standalone applications matters little. But they are differentiators and that is where business analysts and knowledge workers can look to gain a competitive advantage for any industry.
[Disclosure: Alteryx supported travel to the conference]