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The Future of Business Intelligence Interpreting the Results of the State of Business Intelligence Survey

Originally published June 14, 2011

A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought. – Warren Buffet

I reported on the recently completed State of Business Intelligence survey of business intelligence (BI) professionals in my previous article for my BeyeNETWORK expert channel, and now I will take a stab at what I think it all means.

Business Intelligence Capabilities and Usage

It is clear to me in looking at the survey data that there is some division as to whether BI expertise should be centralized or distributed in organizations. Many BI analysts reported that both they and their users employed BI tools, while others said that they did the work and delivered the results to their users. Very few said that they actually mentor clients in the use of BI tools. 

Whether they did the actual BI work or not, a quarter of the BI professionals stated that they thought their BI capabilities were inadequate. Open-ended comments suggest a few reasons for this, including lack of sufficient BI staff/expertise, issues with report performance, and inadequate data and/or data integration.

The survey reveals that dashboards, decision support, and data mining are the dominant BI applications used to generate and report analytic results, and most survey responders reported using them. More rare is the use of automated agents to drive rule-based business strategy.

It is clear from the survey that business intelligence is used to support decision making at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels. At the strategic level, product and market analytics is the top BI application, followed closely by strategic planning and market trends and analysis. Performance management is the dominant tactical application; but marketing, forecasting, operations planning, and line-of-business pricing and profitability are close behind. Financials and sales applications are the foremost operational BI applications, but general operational analytics and CRM applications are also widely employed.

When asked to identify important human factors for successful BI efforts, 67% said that a decision-maker’s exposure to and understanding of business intelligence is very important and 48% said that involving business managers in reviewing business and data models is also essential.

More than 70% said that it is imperative to have a flexible data architecture and design as well as effective data integration to maintain data integrity and timeliness in BI efforts. This is particularly important since 56% expect the demand for a unified information management platform for structured and unstructured data to increase over the next year. It is not surprising, then, that 75% also expect to see increased emphasis in the governance of both data and BI activities. This also helps  explain why 66% think it is very important that their organization have a business-centric view of the data model to provide a framework for prioritizing and guiding the development of BI activities.

A Growing Demand for BI Education and Services

Relative to their BI teams, 77% think it is critical to have both business analytic and technical skills represented in their peer group. This said, 57% expect the recruitment of BI talent to increase over the next year and 66% believe that continuing BI education is needed. This means that acquiring and developing the right BI skills is critical, especially since 84% also expect the demand for BI services to increase over the next year. Only 26% think that this increasing demand can be addressed via outsourcing.

What is driving demand for BI services? Mobile BI, advanced visualization tools, integration of social media, and (to a lesser extent) development of intelligent automated decision support/BI systems top the list of expressed BI priorities for the coming year. Web-based collaborative BI, cloud-based BI, demand for SaaS tools, and use of semantic technologies to define business terms are also important undertakings, but the emphasis on these BI activities is expected to remain somewhat flat.

As an educator, I find this survey to be quite informative. I can’t help but wonder where those working in BI will go to pursue continuing education in their field. It is unclear whether those responding see professional education (e.g., TDWI Certified Business Intelligence Professional) or academic education (e.g., Saint Joseph’s University’s MS BI) as the means by which they will develop or grow their skills. With 41% of those responding having less than 5 years of BI experience, and with 84% of those completing the survey expecting demand for BI services to increase across many application fronts, the demand for BI skills is both high and problematic. It is problematic because the BI field is relatively new and most students entering universities or pursuing graduate degrees are not even aware of BI as a potential field of employment. Moreover, even if they are aware, there are only a few universities that offer graduate programs in business intelligence or business analytics, and undergraduate programs are even more rare!

A quarter of those responding to the survey indicated that their organizations’ BI capabilities are inadequate. With only about 3% of BI capabilities reported as being fully automated, this means that there are a lot of BI professionals and users engaged in BI activities, many of whom need more BI education. It seems to me that given the increased interest in and emphasis upon using data to drive decision making, there is some urgency for those in the field to reach out to universities and voice their desire for more educational programs that can address this need. In order to accomplish this, I think it is imperative for BI as a field of endeavor to develop some type of professional association that will work to educate the general workforce and students about what the BI field is and the professional opportunities that it affords. Otherwise, many firms will lose significant opportunities by not having sufficient BI expertise needed to explore and capitalize on the wealth of data that they are actively capturing.

A Case for BI Curriculums

There are a lot of students who are math adept, who like technology, and who have strong analytical and communication skills. My guess is that many of these students are taking math, computer science, information systems, finance, accounting, etc., when they might be more interested in BI if more of these programs existed and they knew about them.

I can offer this simple example to support this argument.  At my university, we offer both undergraduate and graduate programs in BI. This year, 210 freshmen applicants indicated an interest in majoring in business intelligence. That’s up from only 2 the prior year, when our major was called “Decision & System Sciences.” All we did was change the name of our major to “BI” (which it truly is) and distribute a brochure to potential students explaining business intelligence and the opportunities that a BI career affords.

  • Richard HerschelRichard Herschel

    Richard is Chair of the Department of Decision & System Sciences at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Before becoming an educator, he worked at Maryland National Bank, Schering-Plough Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, and Columbia Pictures as a systems analyst. He received his BA in journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University, his Master’s in Administrative Sciences from Johns Hopkins, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Management Information Systems. He has earned the Certified Systems Professional designation, and he has written extensively about both knowledge management and business intelligence. Dr. Herschel can be reached at herschel@sju.edu.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Richard Herschel's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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