New trends and technologies in business intelligence should help users get ahead and beat their competition.
Though business intelligence has been around for some time, the latest trends are self-service BI, predictive analytics and “Big Data.”
BI suppliers here and overseas say that computing power is now such that masses of data can be analysed quickly and effectively, and the technology is becoming cheap enough for it to be available for “the masses.”
Analysts IDC said firms had rapidly increasing amounts of data available and the new tools helped them sort out the wood from the chaff. The newer tools could also help them use data on past events to better predict the future.
Last week, Microsoft and other IT companies staged a “Masters of business intelligence” conference in Auckland, which heard about BI’s upcoming trends.
Michael Whitehead, founder of US BI tools supplier WhereScape, which has an office in Auckland, said firms had always wanted to make better decisions but they were constrained by technology, cost and time.
New technologies such as data warehouse appliances from vendors like Microsoft (parallel data warehouse) and IBM (Netezza) were enabling faster access to vast amounts of data.
At the top end, companies like Google and Yahoo were pioneering techniques for processing vast amounts of data, the cost of storage was dropping and software like Wherescape RED was making it faster for organisations to build solutions.
“What this means is we can dare to think about using data that was impossible to contemplate previously,” Mr Whitehead told NBR.
“As an example, you can now buy the entire Twitter feed from companies like Gnip enabling global sentiment analysis – a combination of big data and advanced analytics. We previously didn’t have access to that kind of data and, even if we did, we didn’t have the tools and techniques to make sense of it,” Mr Whitehead said.
The promise of “Big Data” – a new system to analyse the masses of technology available – will further strengthen an organisation’s ability to use past events in decisionmaking. “It’s a game changer. It is also a long way off being prime time. (But) getting to value faster means making decisions faster,” he said.
WhereScape has some 500 customers globally, half in the US but that also includes BNZ, ASB, Vodafone, Air New Zealand and Telecom in New Zealand.
Mr Whitehead said that by analysing its data a telco could work out the right pricing plans and the health sector could see where it can apply money sooner. “It’s not just for larger organisations. The technology means it’s available for any firm that realises it doesn’t know all its customers individually,” he said.
IDC New Zealand country manager Ullrich Loeffler sees further use for such predictive analytics. “This is highly relevant for risk analysis in the financial/insurance sector as well as general marketing functions,” he said.
Mr Loeffler said organisations that used BI for their decisionmaking tended to outperform their rivals who did not.
Phill Patton, EMC New Zealand storage vendor country manager confirmed analytics and Big Data were “hot.” “Tools previously allowed you to relive the past but will now let you do a bit more accurate crystal ball gazing,” he said.
LinkedIn and similar social media sites, plus online retailers, use predictive analysis on their websites.
By looking at your data, LinkedIn or Facebook will match you up with similar individuals. Amazon, Barnes Noble and other online retailers will use past purchases from other customers to make some suggestions of other items buyers might want to buy.
Like other IT companies, EMC has tools available to help organizations analyse their data and get value from it.
“A lot of organisations now see this as their competitive advantage. Because of their ability to react quicker, they are able to sample and test the marketplace. They can launch a product and change it rapidly if need be,” he said.
Mr Patton expects BI to become more valuable to organisations as conditions become ever more competitive.
“Be ready for the data deluge that is coming. Not only is it applicable to international firms but also to New Zealand firms. The opportunities are all here now for them all to take advantage of all that data,” he said.
BNZ banks on better business intelligence
Bank of New Zealand expects to deliver new products faster thanks to its use of the latest business intelligence technology.
The bank is trialling Microsoft SQL Server 12, which is claimed to have 60 times the processing capacity of its existing server software.
BNZ is one of the first organisations to use SQL Server 12 in New Zealand, a move that will see the bank adopt the latest trend of self-service business intelligence (BI).
Dave Thompson, head of business intelligence at Bank of New Zealand, said the bank already used BI for better management reporting and for insights into its retail and business operations. Such information was also used by its finance, human resources and marketing departments, with the BI delivered mostly through an online portal.
BNZ is still piloting the technology and after three months has yet to roll it out across the bank.
At present, when the bank wants customer and transaction data, the bank’s business intelligence staff can take up to several weeks to supply the requested data.
It means a new view of the data has to be created, something the bank says hinders its processes in developing new financial products.
Now, the SQL Server 12 and related software tools allow bank analysts to access and manipulate such bank data themselves instead of using the bank’s BI team.
This also gives bank staff more time to validate their ideas and strategies by querying the massive volumes of data without having to rely on the BI team.
Mr Thompson said the bank’s progress with BI self-service had been successful and the bank was also looking at some mobility solutions, allowing staff to gain such data while on the road. It had considered “Big Data” too but had no need for it yet.
IBM ‘rock star’ prevents dead from voting
The man who devised systems to root out terrorists and prevent the dead from voting was in Auckland last week telling government officials about the potential of business intelligence.
Jeff Jonas is chief scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics Group in the US and is responsible for shaping IBM’s overall technical strategy of next generation analytics.
“I wasn’t pitching product. I was talking about the concepts about applying the data they have in a different way to get a better result,” he told NBR.
Mr Jonas – a man IBM New Zealand branded a “rock star”– said the amount of information firms had was growing faster than they could make sense of, so they increasingly suffered “enterprise amnesia.”
Thus, they needed to use innovative real-time “sensemaking” to improve intelligence and make organisations smarter, more efficient and competitive.
Mr Jonas said information was often too scattered within firms, when they needed to relate one piece of data to another to make a better decision. If they did not, they could make “crazy decisions,” such as one US retailer employing staffers who had been arrested for stealing from the very stores they worked in.
Bringing these “puzzle pieces” of information together would help avoid such problems. Thus, businesses needed to work out how to figure out how their pieces of information could relate to each other.
Such “puzzle pieces” methodology has helped Mr Jonas devise systems to identify votes “cast by already dead people” in the US and analyse connections between individual 911 terrorists. He also developed facial recognition software to combat fraud in Las Vegas casinos.