When I started this blog a few months back I had the best of intentions however in recent weeks I’ve been a little remiss in terms of sharing my thoughts with you. I offer no excuse other than that we’ve been very busy, which is the trap many probably fall into when launching a new blog. So in order to get myself back on track, I looked back at what I’d shared to see where I should go next.
It became clear to me that a trend had started to develop in terms of the things that were catching my eye. I shared my thoughts on the use case for Big Data, I talked about the need for education in analytics, and tried to convince you that I was the model of a typical analytics user. While diverse in nature, I see all of these pointing (perhaps not unsurprisingly) to a new way of thinking about analytics. I don’t mean in terms of the latest trends associated with “Big Data” or the coolest visualization capability, but actually thinking about the role analytics should play in our work and personal lives.
This got me thinking a bit more: how do we really use analytics today? And, how can we ensure that future generations use analytics in a way that makes sense? The fact is, examining these blogs has led me to the conclusion that we are missing a huge opportunity.
Big Dark Data
As my Big Data blog implied, I’ve been pretty critical of broad, undefined use cases for Big Data and have grown increasingly tired of the numerous “V’s” associated with it. The issue is not that “Big Data” exists, but that we’re failing to take advantage of the opportunity. Frankly, just like we spend too much time on e-mail and not enough time actually talking to each other, we spend too much time looking at data in silos and not collectively talking about its meaning.
The problem with this is that while many great inventions have come from a single person, the majority of things we all take for granted today have evolved over time with the input of many. If we’re truly to exploit the opportunity of Big Data, the connected world which feeds it, and subsequently find the use cases that really add value, then we need to find a better way to use enterprise business intelligence solutions to bring people together and have them collectively engage with the data they have and each other wherever they, or that data, may be. Think of how much more you know about your group of friends, family and old acquaintances on Facebook then how much you knew before. Imagine being that connected to the events taking place in your company: a marketing campaign just went live, a big deal in the forecast just moved out, a big order has just been placed, and how knowing these facts would impact your choices and decisions.
Out from the Shadows
When I spoke about my role as a user of analytics, I did so very much in the context of me as an individual within the SAP worldwide marketing organization that’s responsible for our analytics business. I see myself as very typical of the type of person that should (and is increasingly trying to) use analytics to help better understand what’s happening within the business. I do this by exploring my data and then present and visualize it in a way that allows me to take action and, more importantly, guide the action of others through collaboration.
The problem in many cases, I think, is that users like me define what we need but then continue to look at our data in a silo and in a shadow, hiding from the wider organization. We need to make sure that we have a platform for agile visualization that gives us what we need to do our jobs. It needs to be lightweight and easy to deploy while also being based on a solid foundation. We need strong governance and semantics across our data to ensure that when we do collaborate, we do so in a way that reduces confusion instead of increases it. Without a common understanding of information we are back to the age-old problem of spending more time arguing about the numbers then discussing what they mean.
In Anticipation of What Comes Next
In my third blog, I spoke a lot about the need to educate users on how analytics should be used. I don’t mean how we educate about the features and functions of an analytic solution or the way the UX works (although that’s still important.) I mean, how we actually educate users to make decisions and understand the way analytics operate.
This is where I think we have the biggest opportunity – we can deliver advanced analytics into the hands of users across the enterprise. As we build the ability to predict what will come next into their day-to-day lives, and educate them on how to use and interpret this information, they will be much better suited to guide better and ultimately more profitable decision making.
My point is simple – if we can address all three of these areas: Enterprise BI, Agile Visualization, and Advanced Analytics (and not just one of them), we have a unique opportunity. In my mind, each feeds the other and each has the power to bring our teams together. For me, that’s what analytics needs to do, it needs to allow individuals to get the information they need, and then share their insights back with their team and the broader organization. Like Newton said “If I have seen any further it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” We need to educate and we need to empower our users to work collaboratively. Only then will the full power of our collective insight be realized, harnessing the true power of analytics.
This is a huge topic and far too much for one blog. But this is good, as it means I’ve met the objective I set out for myself when I started. It gives me (and, by definition, my team) a cause to explore these thoughts further.
That’s exactly what you’ll see us doing starting today at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Anaheim, CA. We’ll continue the discussions on our various blogs over the coming days and weeks. Let us know what you think…