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The Future of BI: A Network of Truth

by Adam Binnie

October 1, 2013

In this article, Adam Binnie, General Manager and Global Vice President Business Intelligence Solutions at SAP, explores the future of BI, outlining the three key component organizations need to evolve from focusing on a single version of the truth to becoming a “network of truth,” connecting every user to every piece of data.   

 

In the past, the primary goal for organizations seeking to leverage business intelligence (BI) has been to get to a “single version of the truth” — one central set of standardized, updated data that ensures everyone has the same view of the organization. But more recently, as organizations get closer to achieving that common data view and the pace of business continues to increase, the focus has turned to how users can leverage and optimize the wealth of big data available and make it quickly accessible to a wider universe of users.

Organizations need to aspire to an information environment that can collect data from a wide variety of sources and inputs, and can allow every user to put new information into the central system and share insights, knowledge, and intelligence with each other.

Instead of a single version of the truth, we need to connect every user to every piece of data. In this environment, organizations can leverage the participation of each user, accelerate a cultural shift, and create a network effect that will enable far more valuable information to be made available much more quickly. We call this new direction a “Network of Truth.”

Achieving a Network of Truth will not come quickly for most organizations, but there are examples in place today that can serve as guides. One of the most direct analogies is Wikipedia. Think about the stages that preceded Wikipedia. We had divergent truth in disparate books; then we created the encyclopedia to define a single version of the truth curated by a designated group of people. When that model was taken online, the reach expanded vastly, but the collection of information remained the same. Only when the crowdsourcing component was introduced to that model (in the form of Wikipedia) did the amount and relevancy of the information change dramatically.

This is the future of business intelligence — moving from a single collection of centrally curated data to a broader, more inclusive, more relevant Network of Truth where information is constantly being added in a format that other users can leverage quickly and easily. SAP and its partners are focused on delivering the solutions and knowledge needed to help organizations build their own personalized Network of Truth.

3 Key Components

Organizations can’t aspire to a Network of Truth until they first gain a single version of the truth. They must understand the value of accurate and updated information before they can begin thinking about the transition to a standard of truth that can be adapted and expanded upon to create this kind of network.

There are three core components to a Network of Truth. First, there must be a platform that can provide the speed and agility required to allow the specialization of vast amounts of information. Secondly, organizations must optimize the experience of interacting with the data so that all users can — and will — add new data to the system and make use of the data others add to the system. Only then will the network be able to capture users’ contributions and provide access to the insight available from the collective intelligence. Lastly, organizations need to adopt a culture that puts the right value on BI — and that may be the most difficult component to implement.

1. Using a Real-Time Data Platform

The first component — a real-time data platform — has become a much more achievable goal with the emergence of SAP HANA, which removes many of the historical barriers around data latency and database performance. A Network of Truth is built on accessibility for users, and a real-time data platform allows organizations to envision a day when all users can have a customized view of intelligence without needing numerous copies of the data. SAP HANA — and the new solutions powered by SAP HANA that are being developed by SAP and its partners — brings us to the tipping point, beyond the data warehousing strategies and analytics engines of the past, to make user-friendly, real-time data a reality and open a world of possibilities. 

2. Optimizing Data for Users

Perhaps the key to enabling this real-time platform is the ability to optimize the data for users — particularly decision makers and analysts. The key business intelligence users in an organization are those who leverage the information to make business decisions that minimize risk and maximize return. They need to be able to explore massive amounts of data quickly as they seek answers to specific challenges, and they need to use real-time data to monitor operations and assess the impact of their decisions. These processes happen every day, and they need to be fast, simple, and immediate for every decision maker in a Network of Truth.

This is the future of BI — moving from a single collection of centrally curated data to a Network of Truth where information is constantly added and accessed.

Analysts are responsible for providing the intelligence that the decision makers seek. In a Network of Truth, analysts must be able to perform detailed data analysis and enable engaging views of the information required by the decision makers. Analysts vary from business managers analyzing small collections of key data to data scientists performing complex calculations on vast seas of unstructured data. They must be business-centric, yet able to enrich information in new ways and share it with other members in the network.

SAP Lumira, one of the new tools developed by SAP, empowers analysts to add value to the resources available to decision makers and start to create a Network of Truth. SAP Lumira leverages the power of SAP HANA and allows analysts to interpret the information in a new way, build new relationships within the information, and incorporate new information into the network. This capability unlocks creativity and enables a connected self-service BI experience that can transform an organization.

3. Enabling Cultural Change

The final component required is perhaps the most difficult to implement: cultural change. As we develop the tools and make BI available in a Network of Truth, organizations need to understand the value of it all to fully leverage it. To better understand this information culture, we can break it down into three core tenets.

First, for a Network of Truth to be fully embraced, organizations must believe that information is their business and equate it with success.

Secondly, organizations need to enable and encourage those users who can and do employ information to learn, change, and grow. For the value of the network’s breadth to truly materialize, the people who use information must be encouraged to tell stories and influence others within the network.

Finally, organizations must connect information to performance. Just like a manufacturer can put sensors into the machines on its shop floor, businesses must put sensors into their organizations that help them react more quickly, change more effectively, and understand more deeply.

The Value

While it remains an aspiration for most organizations today, the benefits of moving to a Network of Truth are clear — those that can create this network and convert information into value will be the winners in the information culture of the future. Because once that network is established and growing, it can expand and encompass an even broader universe of data inputs and users, providing the opportunity to bring all of an organization’s skills and resources to bear on the challenge of finding the hidden signals in all that data and turning them into value for the business.

The world has changed, and so have the expectations for businesses. Leaders today need to be able to leverage information resources effectively and quickly. We are just at the tipping point, and SAP and its partners are committed to delivering the solutions and knowledge that organizations will need to build those Networks of Truth. Visit www.sap.com/HANA for more information.

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Adam Binnie
Adam Binnie

General Manager and Global Vice President
Business Intelligence Solutions
SAP



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