Friday, March 7, 2014

Business Intelligence Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

They say that the only thing in life that is guaranteed not to change is change itself.  The past few decades have proven this to be the case with technology.  Old dial-in modems have given way to broadband access.  Land line phones have practically been replaced by cell phones.  Original flip phones are old news compared to today's smart get the idea.  The key to navigating these waters is to remember the business that you are in.  Both old modems and new modems connect users to an online experience.  Land line phones allowed people to remain in touch with each other as do today's smartphones.  In each case, the mechanics may have changed, but the goal remains. Companies that have lost themselves in the mechanics of the technology have a hard time moving to a new one.  However, companies that are attached to the overall goal and merely see the technology as today's way of achieving that goal are often quicker to embrace change...and are able to survive.

These principles apply to individuals as well.  The BI industry is in the midst of some huge change and it is important to remember the goal of BI.  The traditional model of ETL jobs running in the middle of the night so that the data in the data warehouse will be available the next day is becoming less and less acceptable.  Waiting several minutes for queries to run is becoming less acceptable as well.  This has given way to the creation of in-memory database solutions that allow data scientists to analyze large datasets very quickly.  The technologies are changing...but the goal is not (check out this Ralph Kimball white paper).  When considering business intelligence solutions 10 years ago, today, or 10 years from now, one commonality exists.  That commonality is the logical architecture.  A business process must be understood in terms of its measures and descriptors so that it can be analyzed.  A traditional data warehouse will create a place in which the data can physically reside on disk, based on that architecture.  Solutions like SAP's HANA implement that architecture not on disk but in memory.  In another decade, or so, another solution may exist.

Those individuals that understand that BI involves presenting the measures and descriptors of the business processes of an organization to its leaders will not only survive but will enjoy these changes.  While we BI professionals must learn the mechanics of the best solution of the day in order to practically reach that goal, we also must expect that those mechanics will change.

What's the main objective of a BI professional?  Not to write ETL.  Not to display data using a certain tool.  The main objective is to enable the leaders of the organization to make great decisions by providing good data.

Image courtesy of cooldesign /

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