6 Predictions for Business Intelligence in 2012 -2013

A look at in-memory analysis, visual discovery, big data, mobile BI, cloud and social BI achievements in 2011 -2012 and forecasts for the year ahead.

 By Mike Kotlyar, Senior Business Analyst, Sysware Group Limited.

Here's a look at the top BI trends from 2011 -2012  and what could possibly be store for 2013 based on the chatter on the web and vendor launches

In-Memory Analysis

In-memory technology continued to take center stage in 2011 -21012, with its ability to provide speed-of-thought analysis on ever-increasing amounts of data. SAS visual analytics, SAP's in-memory appliance. Oracle later announced its own in-memory appliance, Exalytics, at its Oracle Open World conference in October. The most appliances combine capabilities from in-memory database with new visual discovery capabilities.

In the year ahead, large enterprises may gradually adopt high-end appliances, but the majority of customers may continue to embrace more nimble in-memory solutions from vendors such as QlikTech, Microsoft (Power Pivot), and Tableau or software-only solutions, such as the approach MicroStrategy and IBM Cognos uses. Microsoft will release a new version of PowerPivot with better security and support for hierarchies, capabilities lacking in the current release.

Visual Discovery

Visual discovery and in-memory are not synonymous, despite some industry confusion and the fact that many visual discovery tools have an in-memory engine. MicroStrategy entered this market last year with its Visual Insight product. Both QlikTech and TIBCO Spotfire released new versions of their products toward the end of 2011 with slightly different areas of focus, bringing improvements in visualizations as well as enterprise deployability.

Visual discovery will be a busy segment in 2012 -2013. SAS (Visual Analytics Explorer), IBM Cognos, Oracle (Exalytics), and Microsoft (Crescent) have all been previewing visual discovery features to come in 2012. With BI platform vendors releasing capabilities and, in some instances, bundling those capabilities with existing licenses, customers will continue to wrestle with whether the distinct benefits of the new-breed tools (Tableau, QlikTech, TIBCO Spotfire) is worth a separate investment.

Customers have to closely assess what their requirements are and which product is most suitable; is there a payoff in visual appeal and clarity, self-service with no IT involvement, or rapid time to value?

Big Data

Both in-memory and visual discovery have a role to play with big data. So, too, do data warehouse appliances, columnar databases, and of course, broader support for NoSQL databases such as Hadoop and Cassandra. We had another busy year of acquisitions in 2011 with HP acquiring Vertica and Teradata acquiring Aster Data. No doubt, some of these acquisitions were driven by the 2010 moves of IBM acquiring Netezza and EMC acquiring Greenplum.

A number of BI tool vendors are adding support for Hadoop, including Pentaho 4, Jaspersoft 4.5, and Tableau 7, released this week. In addition, a new category of BI tools specifically for Hadoop seems to be emerging with startups such as Datameer and Karmasphere.

In the year ahead, expect the leading BI vendors to continue to add support for Hadoop. Don't look for a silver bullet or a single approach in addressing your big data needs.

Mobile BI

All BI vendors are ttalking mobile BI as the next big wave. But they continue to argue about development approaches, which content to deliver on which device, and of course, where to place bets on market share. Both Apple and Android devices have steadily eroded BlackBerry's dominance in corporations. The much-anticipated BlackBerry Playbook was a failure, and service interruptions worsened BlackBerry's decline. Meanwhile, some customers are still saying "who cares about Mobile BI," failing to see value beyond executive eye-candy.

Expect the confusion and skepticism to continue in 2012. Mobile BI capabilities will continue to improve, with more BI vendors adapting their apps so that tablets support offline or airline mode, better security, and better performance. Vendors who take a Web-app-only approach today will revisit this to provide customers with a better mobile experience. The decline of unlimited data plans will raise demands for better device-based caching.

BlackBerry faces an even tougher 2012. Who can rescue them? Which BI vendor will be the first to stop developing on that platform? I can't help but wonder if 2012 will be the year for BlackBerry to get acquired or die a slow death.

Cloud BI

So many vendors are touting cloud as a way to reduce hardware costs and provide elasticity during peak computing times. For SMEs, in particular, cloud BI provides the promise of easier implementation, without the worry of having to first establish a BI infrastructure. To be sure, cloud computing in general has gained acceptance with certain functional areas. Think payroll or HR or CRM. But in BI, it's a different story. Customers are still anxious about letting go of their data. Historically, there have been trade-offs in functionality with cloud-based BI solutions. Vendors that allow customers to leave data on premise while surfacing dashboards and reports in the cloud, an approach taken by Birst, might be striking the right balance.

We also saw MicroStrategy enter the cloud arena in 2011. MicroSoft Azure has gained momentum as a cloud platform, and it includes BI capabilities as well as a marketplace of third-party data. SAP announced stepped up initiatives in this area, partnering with Google and now embedding Hand in the SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand service. YellowFin, a start up in Australia, touts a mutlitenant architecture ideal for SaaS OEM vendors. Domo (previously known as Corda) is retrenching to be more SaaS focused. Other SaaS vendors such as PivotLink and Indicee continue to gain customers.

So in 2012, the discussion will shift from "cloud versus on-premise" to "what to put in the cloud."

Social, Collaborative BI

Social media is the new software and marketing battle ground. Google launched Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, hitting 50 million users within three months. Facebook has exceeded 800 million users, and even the Presidential debates are now intertwined with Facebook. So what does this have to do with BI? As a way of working, user-driven content without IT as the gatekeeper is increasingly assumed.

Collaboration capabilities continue to cross into BI, but ahead of customer demand. Lyzasoft, one of the specialty vendors in the space, had a major new product release in 2011 but is still trying to find its footing. Meanwhile, QlikTech, TIBCO Spotfire, and Panorama released new versions with collaborative capabilities. Information Builders added support for SalesForce Chatter and SAP StreamWork.

So vendors are innovating, but are customers adopting? There is no doubt that Microsoft SharePoint 2010 has been a successful portal product. But try to find customers who are using the collaborative capabilities around BI and decision making (if you are out there, please contact me or post a comment here). Ditto for Cognos 10 and the Lotus Connect integration as well as OBIEE Web Center.

In 2012, a few early adopters will be the ones to reap the benefits of collaborative BI, both within corporate boundaries and beyond. Already there have been some compelling  studies particularly in healthcare, on how collaboration has saved companies millions, while also improving care. In terms of product highlights, look for SAP Streamwork and SAP BusinessObjects to be better integrated in their feature pack 3 release, due in the first half of 2012.

BI Beyond Technology

Vendors can innovate, but of course it takes more than software for BI to be successful. Even with the economy limping to recovery, BI talent is scarce. As demand for BI spending is released, expect this problem to be exacerbated.

While the BI market is poised for a banner year in 2012, it's the European economy and the instability in the Middle East that might disrupt more than just BI.