Guest author Dr. Rado Kotorov is chief innovation officer at Information Builders.
The challenge of making business intelligence (BI) easier to use and more pervasive has been widely debated for the last five years. During that time, BI has stalled at an estimated penetration of between 10% and 20% of enterprise users. Every year sees a new analytical technology, a new analytical tool, a new process that promises more analytical power to the business analysts, but none of them have been able to move the needle toward widespread adoption, or "consumerization" of BI.
How Many Business Analysts Do We Really Need?
But is it reasonable to expect more tools for the business analysts to increase Business Intelligence's enterprise penetration? How many business analysts does a business really need?
Instead, we should be thinking about delivering BI to operational employees, suppliers and partners. For every business analyst, there are thousands of other employees who could benefit from the timely information BI can provide. To jump beyond BI's current adoption rate, the needs and skills of those stakeholders must drive BI's technology and the usability considerations.
Apple vs. Microsoft And Apps vs. Tools
When we look at BI through the eyes of end-users as well as business analysts, we can see two different approaches centered on two different philosophies, roughly comparable to the differing philosophies of Apple and Microsoft. While Microsoft has always tailored itself to the business world, Apple aimed its software to the consumer, creating an epic battle between tools and apps.
Microsoft offers a relatively limited set of tools packed into its Office productivity suite. They were designed to satisfy every business need. But of Excel's approximately 30,000 different functions, guess how many the average Excel user utilizes? Most use less than 5%. Only a few know how to use Pivot tables, and IT departments have to build thousands of macros to simplify Excel templates.
Apple, meanwhile, created an app store with 500,000 mostly single-purpose apps designed to meet the broadest possible set of wants and needs, many of which you didn¹t even know you had!
When asked whose paradigm is better, the vast majority of BI stakeholders would likely agree that their end-users would prefer apps over tools.
Fighting Functionality Overload
This is because knowledge workers suffer not only from information overload, but also from functionality overload. End-users are not analysts. When individuals need to check the weather, they do not perform a detailed analysis of the weather patterns. They trust what the weather app says. Similarly, business users want apps that deliver them the trusted information they need to do their jobs.
From this perspective, the consumerization of BI can only be driven by technologies that turn the classic enterprise BI portal into a BI app store, where end users can go and select targeted, specific apps that address their concrete questions.
Two Kinds Of BI Tools
Of course, the simplicity of end-user info apps should be complemented with higher-end tools to help professional analysts learn to perform new and more complex analyses and derive even better business insights.
Rather than striving to turn end-users into analysts, we have to give those users info apps that let them focus on their primary job skills. And vice versa: Rather than making simplistic BI tools for analysts, let's help them learn new methods and methodologies to maximize the insights they can derive. Analysts are coping with new data sources, new types of data and new forms of interaction with consumers, all of which provide plenty of opportunities for analysis, but also requires significant skills development.
How to "consumerize" Business Intelligence may not yet be completely clear, but one thing is certain: It's pretty clear that a one-size-fits-all approach won't do the job. BI-related apps could meet the varying needs of end-users more efficiently than the all-encompassing tools analysts require, and help make BI a core part of enterprise decision making.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.