There is perhaps no area of enterprise IT that is more active today than business intelligence (BI). And IT organizations are hungry for any and all information about BI in the enterprise — from dashboard design, to mobile BI use cases, to new database technology.
insiderPROFILES recently spoke with Fredrik Tunvall, an analyst in Ovum’s Information Management Software group, to learn more about the state of BI. Tunvall researches and reports on a broad range of topics in the information management arena, but has a special interest in BI and analytics solutions.
Q: What is your overall assessment of BI adoption in the enterprise today? Are companies approaching BI at the large-scale enterprise level, or are smaller pockets of activity showing up across the typical organization?
A: There is certainly a lot of discussion about BI, especially with the growth of big data as an enterprise concern. More companies are allocating resources to fund activity around leveraging data, and that is leading — and will continue to lead — to more BI initiatives. An increasing number of executives are asking how their companies can leverage the vast amounts of data they’ve collected, and BI is the logical step from there.
To date, the actual BI adoption rate hasn’t been as robust as some might have predicted in its earliest days in the 1990s. As a benchmark, Ovum estimates that BI touches less than 20% of knowledge workers today, but we expect that to grow quickly.
One issue that has historically held back expansion of BI projects is that BI technology has been very slow to implement. Setting up an entire BI system could take up to 18 months. Companies might start BI projects and set up data warehouses based on their current challenges, but by the time the system goes live, they have very different market issues. Also, the traditional BI environment has relied heavily on IT departments to execute queries and run reports. Those cycles could take days or weeks, leaving BI users frustrated, which limited the adoption to some extent. Many of those issues are being addressed in the newer BI solutions.
Q: Is self-service BI now becoming a reality?
A: Yes, in the sense that new vendors in the market that are focused on self-serve BI are seeing growth. People were tired of those long cycles for queries and reports, so these vendors gained customers quickly, and the rest of the enterprise IT market quickly took notice. These vendors have also helped introduce BI to knowledge workers, who in turn go back to the IT organization and ask about the company’s BI strategy. However, while self-serve BI is happening, many companies still have legacy systems in place. It can be challenging for businesses to get this model working and put a self-serve BI solution on top of their legacy environment. But everyone understands that the growth of those companies focused on self-serve BI is a testament to the demand.
What limits the growth of self-serve BI is that many of its adopters start the solutions in one area of their business, with the idea of expanding it into other areas. It’s a “land-and-expand” model. The problem is the central IT organization might not have as much control of that model, so it creates those pockets of activity in certain departments without an overall enterprise strategy. That is where traditional enterprise vendors like SAP can help bring it to the next level. These software providers have that broader reach into the enterprise and can leverage their enterprise experience to connect those pockets of activity and deliver that self-serve end-user experience. Self-service BI is definitely something we will be hearing more about in the future.
Q: In your research of how mobility is driving BI, what have you found that SAP customers would be most interested in?
A: SAP is clearly adopting a mobile-first mentality in certain BI areas. One study last year that looked at market comparisons of various BI solutions found SAP to be a leader in BI solutions for iOS devices. Another study that surveyed 1,000 enterprises globally found BI adoption to be fairly low in certain geographies and vertical markets — as you might expect, the highest adoption rate was in North America and Western Europe. But the projected growth for mobile BI in all geographies is very strong.
Mobile BI has a lot of potential now because some of the technical requirements have been figured out. The past challenges of form factor and bandwidth have been solved. The increased use of tablets and 4G devices has made mobile BI a much more realistic option for businesses. And BI vendors can use the consumer mobile applications as a model to make BI solutions that are “Google fast and Apple simple,” as the saying goes.
Q: What use cases will spur mobile BI growth in those regions where it is slow?
A: Interestingly, in some regions, we saw the biggest growth potential in the government and public sector, and that seems contrary to what you’d expect in regions like North America where regulation can slow down those kinds of projects. Also, in some of these areas, the governments have bigger budgets than the corporate IT departments.
There are unique wrinkles in various markets when you dig into them. For example, self-service BI typically grows from the bottom up, while the decision making for those implementations is often horizontal. But in more conservative markets, where businesses are much more accustomed to a top-down approach instead of empowering lower-level workers first, that model won’t fly.
Q: How will SAP HANA impact mobile BI specifically?
A: The biggest value-add with SAP HANA, especially with the release of SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA, is it can mix transactional nodes and analytics to provide that near real-time experience. Typically, SAP HANA is viewed as an on-premise solution because that’s the logical place to start using it. But it’s not a big leap to see that having this data available on a mobile device is a logical endpoint for a wide variety of industries and uses. Whether a plant manager wants data on the shop floor or a retail manager wants real-time inventory visibility, the mobile use case makes a lot of sense.
In the future, we won’t talk about mobile BI, it will all be BI. It’s just another interface to the data. When we move to a real-time data model, the mobile device makes more sense in that model.
To date, there hasn’t been a lot of recognition that SAP HANA will be used in a mobile application specifically, but I think it will be part of the progression.
“The biggest value-add with SAP HANA, especially with the release of SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA, is it can mix transactional nodes and analytics to provide that near real-time experience.”
Q: Do companies choose to implement technology like SAP HANA on premise first because of infrastructure requirements, or because this is just the way it’s been done in the past?
A: Many people have experience doing database work as part of their skillsets, but not a lot of people are trained in mobile security and how to manage a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy. IT professionals today are trained on managing servers, not accessing data remotely from a mobile device. Organizations will be hesitant to put data on a device without knowing how it’s being protected or managed. There are more tools to automate these processes, but there’s a lack of expertise that is needed to have the mobile-first mentality. It’s just the evolution of IT.
Q: How broad do you see the appeal of SAP HANA becoming? What type of company might leverage this kind of solution?
A: SAP HANA is definitely appealing to organizations that are already SAP customers, as they can apply it to certain business processes in need of increased system speed. And those companies tend to be larger organizations. However, bringing SAP HANA in the cloud, which would reduce the hardware expense of the on-premise version, might change those statistics. I assume that small and midsized enterprises will become more attracted to the solution, which would potentially open SAP HANA up to a new level of users, but it’s still too new to judge acceptance. When the technology matures a bit more, it will be something small and midsized enterprises will consider closely because none of the other bigger vendors have taken the step to offer something like that in the cloud.
Q: What trends did you hear about while you were at SAPPHIRE NOW this year?
A: I definitely heard SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse users asking for more information about the BI roadmap. A lot of interesting things have been happening since SAP brought Business Objects into areas like dashboards and self-service, but SAP customers want more advice on how they should be rationalizing their BI portfolio. Because IT organizations at many of these companies are being asked to deliver BI to all different parts of the enterprise for different uses, they want to be able to plan those deployments in line with the product roadmap. SAP has done a great job delivering new products to their customers to meet the latest business challenges, but they need to show how all of these products come together.