Business Intelligence Throws a Party

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As much as we love to ruminate on the frontiers of transformational computing trends like big data or cloud, the field of information management has really become as much about observing the way people work as anything else. That has made it all the more interesting to watch social behavior begin to collide with the business application world.

It wasn't long ago (for us mainstream users) that enterprise apps were about technology masters, spreadsheet wizards and conquering imposing dropdown menus. A lot of that skill was lone wolf, that person in the office (short of IT) you'd track down when you were hopelessly lost on a report.

Now the focus is clearly moving to simplicity, relevance, and critically, immediacy. Consumerization of technology and the uptake of new devices like tablets are already implying what's in demand. Get where you are going and keep moving because no report is good for long. All the power tools in the BI cabinet will remain for a certain crowd, but more of us are looking for the insight of the moment, not the project. That's not always easy, especially as a lot of us mention that we're managing more complexity and multitasking as never before.

And, just as we workaround another solution to keep our workload organized and moving, we're suddenly ordered to share it all. We've noticed the conflict in this equation for information managers before. At a time when we're managing multiple complexities in jobs we increasingly define as we go along, we're expected to be more interactive and collaborative than ever. 

But it makes sense if you take the position that decision-making is not about one person at an interface confronting a universe of data. It's ideas, different observations adding up to collective wisdom and an ability to pivot from one idea to another in the workplace. The desired outcome is to recombine in social ways that brings intellect together as much as data.

That helps explain what is already happening where social tools are used to gather intellect publicly, using Twitter as a news feed, sharing Google docs, collaborating on Chatter or proliferating in SharePoint. You can see these tools being bundled logically on desktops by their users.

Now, as you would expect, business intelligence vendors have caught on and are combining collaborative and social angles inside their data analysis tools.

I got a look at one such example recently from QlikTech and a new QlikView 11 release out today. It does take a bit of marketing speak to explain, which I heard from Erica Driver, a former analyst who now works that role for Qlik. She and the company calls their newest update a business discovery platform, a subset of BI that is neither IT nor report-centric. It's an example of an approach for the huge swath of the organization that can benefit from a more social and collaborative exploratory toolset.

So along with beefed up developer and user tools that quickly knock out dashboards and connect out of the box with SAP or Salesforce or Informatica, QlikView 11 has engagement points for workspaces, commentary and interactive analysis.

"It's people, it's taking into account all the questions and insights and inputs and recommendations and experiences," Driver says. A third leg is place, the field experiences that call for mobility and maybe location at the same time that engages with analytics and moves decisions or corrective measures rapidly.

You can follow where QlikTech and other products are going and be pretty sure that all the BI platforms that aren't already will be sprouting their own apps or connections to all variety of public or private social interactive platforms. It will be interesting to see how many standalone social features for messaging, presence, logging etc. make more sense embedded with the data and where they work as well standalone.

Some of it will be practical, like security and administration, some will probably be overkill, but a lot of it is likely to be free add-ons anyway, which is just more proof of where this is going and why.

In an age where mobile devices have already spawned event-centric "disposable" apps, it's hard to imagine why we won't see the same for marketing campaigns or other projects where we snap people as well as the data, to task. It's a short order format that might be the length of a meeting or a field trip, a different kind of process-centric work than the req-to-check variety, and it's beginning to happen as we speak.

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