Growing worker mobility, increasing globalization and the convergence of consumer-oriented devices and interfaces has combined with increasing demand by knowledge workers for real-time access to relevant, personalized business information regardless of location or device – creating a business world without boundaries across industries. It has also significantly multiplied the impact of information overload on workers as the volume of digital data, variety of information and velocity required for decision-making grows at an unprecedented rate.

Against this backdrop, workplace dynamics are shifting. Line of business employees are out of the traditional office boundaries much more frequently. IT staff are becoming more closely aligned with business strategy and corporate goals. Organizations want to manage information, not paper. Executives want to confidently and continuously monitor sales pipeline dashboards and key company metrics without increasing energy consumption. Health care workers want the ability to respond to critical patient updates from the field without delay. Sales personnel want to move from laptops to handhelds with key account information on their hip. Municipal staffs want to provide services that integrate structured reports and unstructured data like images and Web content for residents.

Business intelligence is an integral part of the software glue that binds relevant information to intelligent decisions across organizations.

As I look into the analytics crystal technology ball for 2009 and beyond, BI continues to make businesses smarter, especially during these difficult economic times. IT and finance departments will continue to partner with the business on analytics initiatives to address the growing demand for more personalized, relevant information and streamlined decision-making. Through BI, they can capitalize on current and growing industry trends like green computing, social networking, data visualization, mobile, predictive analytics, composite applications, cloud computing and multitouch. Users can glean business insights that enable their organizations to leverage collective intelligence for sustainable competitive advantage for many years to come.

Let’s examine a few of these current trends and their relationship to BI and organizational decision-making to improve business performance.

Green Computing

Today, companies are anxious to reduce their carbon footprint by slashing paper consumption. Generation-Y workers who have grown up in a digital age and view paper as an old-school irritation are helping to push this trend to the forefront of company agendas.

BI has been in the business of paper elimination for years, helping enterprises eliminate manual reporting and analysis, streamline personnel and electronically distribute virtualized paper reports on business performance over the Web. By moving hundreds of reports online rather than printing them out for manual consumption, customers are discovering significant reductions in paper consumption. One customer estimates they are saving the equivalent of 255,000 sheets of paper a year or more – enough to run the length of 5,519 football fields.

Organizations can expand paper-elimination initiatives by linking their BI systems to modern mainframe systems that offer improved performance, reduced power usage, cooling costs and floor space requirements. They can also run at utilization rates as high as 100 percent for long periods of time. Power that is consumed is used for transaction processing, rather than just keeping the servers' lights on. When you pair broad-ranging BI capabilities like monitoring, performance analysis and reporting with modern mainframes, organizations have the ability to transform their aging data centers with low environmental impact. The result is a greener approach to transforming business information for improved decision-making with the ability to analyze and report on hundreds of millions of transactions directly on the mainframe, so workers across the organization can quickly identify and respond to critical business trends.

Social Networking

Social networking describes a class of software, usually Web-based, that recognizes human activity and relationships both as interesting and important data, and as a way for users to interact. A key component of Web 2.0, examples of social networking programs such as Facebook and Digg dominate the consumer space.

Social networking programs are increasing in use within the enterprise because collaboration through human activity, input and relationships are as important inside the enterprise as they are in the outside world. Newer BI capabilities such as the ability to add annotations or notes with commentary on business reports comes an understanding of user activity, popularity and relationships to IT, as they drive increased collaboration and sharing of trusted information through analytical systems.

This year and into 2010, we’ll continue to see more advances in social networking and BI. Small, ad hoc teams of decision-makers will need to rally themselves, share artifacts, make decisions and disband in a simple and repeatable way. The decision artifacts will become part of the corporate memory, be able to be mined for future decisions and provide a useful decision trail.

Data Visualization

Data visualization is the discipline around the ability to visualize data and communicate information about the data in a clear and effective manner. Data visualization should not be confused with graphics or charting; the best visualizations do not necessarily involve the most complex graphics or charts, but rather the best representation of the data. However, an element of elegance and aesthetics plays a role in an image’s ability to effectively communicate its message. Additionally, many data visualizations involve interaction beyond simple static images, such as controls or direct manipulation gestures, to aid in the exploration of the information being visualized.

Data visualization has long been associated with BI, from early software offerings that let employees create advanced data visualizations for their dashboards to the interactive charting and visualization capabilities found today across modern BI reporting, analysis and dashboarding capabilities. Continued exploration of effective and highly interactive presentations through visualization will be a focal point of analytics solutions for years to come.

Mobile

Mobile is used to indicate applications that extend outside of the traditional office environment on devices other than traditional desktop or laptop computers. The message-focused approach of mobile solutions lets short, smart messages be delivered through BI event notification technology to mobile clients. The fairly recent intersection of wireless devices and BI lets mobile business users and executives more easily view and interact with the same analytics they would find on their desktop via their mobile device for efficient decision-making.

There are approximately 3.5 billion mobile devices in the world today. As more knowledge workers become increasingly mobile at a blistering pace, the location context of a report, search or login query is a natural entry point for their BI needs. 

Newer location-based BI capabilities bring the “where you are” element into play for mobile workers by taking advantage of global positioning system technology that is built into mobile devices to create reports that automatically adjust based on the location of the user. 

This “location intelligence” is a combination of technologies and practices that apply geographical insight to BI. By drawing and combining information from GPS devices, demographics, maps and a customer’s database, location intelligence tools augment traditional BI analytics with important location-centric information.

Beyond the mobility of people, the mobility of other assets tracked using RFID sensors, will become increasingly important. As these devices evolve and begin interacting with things like road or department store sensors, new business applications for analytics over mobile devices are possible.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics is the branch of data mining concerned with the prediction of future probabilities and trends. Predictive analytics applies diverse disciplines such as probability and statistics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer science to business problems. It encompasses a variety of mathematical techniques that derive insight from data with one clear-cut goal: find the best action for a given situation. For example, analyzing customer behavior requires the ability to navigate overwhelming complexity. When considering hundreds or even thousands of factors, and a universe of thousands or millions of customers, people just can’t “connect the dots” to make the ideal decision. Predictive analytics connects the dots scientifically, guiding each decision to greater success. This type of future-focused analysis is not about what has been or what if, but what will be.

When mining future scenarios and probabilities, organizations use different BI analytics strategies. One common approach is to use predictive analytics or predictive modeling. Predictive modeling is at the far end of the analytics spectrum – following analytic reporting, trending and forecasting.

Companies can take statistical models, analyze results, and push them to decision-makers through reports and dashboards. As a BI capability, predictive modeling can inform and improve performance in areas such as churn analysis, fraud prevention, demand forecasting and new product ideas.

More companies are looking toward building a predictive organization by combining statistical and predictive analytics with current and historical data analysis, and communicating the results across the organization using a common platform.

With predictive analytics capabilities now embedded in modern BI solutions, organizations can take advanced statistical models, analyze results and push them to decision-makers using highly consumable reports, analysis, dashboards and scorecards.

Businesses benefit most when they understand what has happened and what will happen. BI gives them the ability to analyze past and present trends. Predictive analytics provides future insight. This ability can add huge value to an organization’s ability to respond to changes in markets, business risks and customer trends.

Composite Applications

Composite applications are built from a variety of different available services within a service-oriented architecture. Mashups are a particular variety of composite applications that seamlessly but loosely combine content from disparate (often third-party) applications. Mashups may source content through Web feeds, API interfaces, JavaScript and other online sources.

The combination of the core architecture, flexibility and Web focus of BI platforms allows for an impressive range of composite application possibilities, including embedding RSS feeds and other unstructured Web content, into BI reports and portlets.

This trend will increase in focus in 2009 and beyond as more casual users become comfortable plugging together parts of an application to create very customized new applications that serve their needs.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing emerged from the Web 2.0 movement. In a nutshell, it covers the concept of having Internet-accessible and always available resources "in the clouds", so that the physical location of a user or device becomes irrelevant.

The core technologies that support cloud computing - virtualization, automation, open standards and Web-based computing – allow corporate data centers to act with the efficiency of the Internet. Cloud computing intersects with BI and performance management as users become more mobile and have multiple Internet-enabled devices, but require access to their information no matter where they are.

Multitouch

The multitouch interface was popularized by the 2002 movie Minority Report and the Apple iPhone. Multi-touch is a computer interface technique that, unlike traditional interfaces that track a single point on a screen, allows users to use multiple points on the screen. The use of multiple points allows more sophisticated gestures, such as the ability to resize an area on the screen by placing two fingers on the corners and then stretching or pinching. More natural use of hand gestures for performing complex navigation, manipulating mobile devices, or interacting with large surface-mounted displays are only a few of the possible ways BI solutions will intersect with this area in the future.

The advent of the green and cloud computing movement, the growing proliferation of smarter mobile devices, the ability to blend applications to create a composite or mashup and the continued evolution of dashboards, visualization and predictive modeling capabilities for keener business insight has opened up bold new horizons for the strategic application of business analytics well into the future.

BI – now, more than ever – continues to provide the relevant information senior management needs to navigate their organization through the ups and downs of the competitive landscape.

By taking advantage of these hot trends and evolving market innovations, BI can help organizations of all types and sizes achieve greater levels of accountability, innovation, and agility, position them to strategically capitalize on business opportunities and respond to challenges on a timelier basis.

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