Gartner BI Summit Focuses on Uniting Technology Evangelist and Skeptic

LAS VEGAS, NV—Business intelligence is moving "from internal support to sellable asset," noted Gartner Research Vice President Kurt Schlegel in his opening remarks to the crowd gathered at the Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit in Las Vegas, NV, Monday. According to Schlegel, there are three technology personas: the evangelist, the skeptic, and the pragmatist. Combining the enthusiasm of the evangelist with the cautions of the skeptic is key to a pragmatic, forward-looking approach to business intelligence.

Consider these issues raised by various skeptics. "People can't handle the data they have now," noted Jon Pilkington, vice president of products at Datawatch, pointing to a shortage of data scientists that put rigorous, well-considered analysis at a premium. With the rise of data visualization, more information can be in the hands of more people in the organization than ever. Most of the time, that's good, doing things like introducing performance metrics to people who have never been able to receive data-driven feedback. With software from Information Builders, Ford mechanics were able to compare their performance to others at the brand's dealerships. Other times, the need for in-depth understanding by end users prevails. "There are a lot of bad decisions being made using cute visualizations," cautioned Michael Corcoran, CMO and senior vice president of Information Builders. "It's getting a little dangerous."

There are also issues with trust and security. According to one Gartner estimate, 25 percent of companies using consumer data will face reputational damage due to a lack of understanding of consumer trust issues through 2016. At another session, Merv Adrian, a Gartner IT analyst, warned that Hadoop was never designed to be a secure platform, a fact that companies are now scurrying to fix.

Business intelligence is also moving to respond to the fact that is has access to more data than ever before in order to make decisions. Hadoop has made it easier to store data from sources that don't fit well in relational databases, such as social media. Wearable technology and connected devices are creating more information about things that had no data before, such as steps taken a day or a pattern to when someone turns on a light. The future is "not about businesses collecting data about their customers, but customers collecting data about themselves," Schlegel told the crowd, creating a new category: personal analytics.

The insights gained from analyzing the vast reams of data have made people like Gartner Research Vice President Rita Sallam think about information in terms of its value.

"Treating information as an asset means you should be able to measure the value of information, but it's not on the balance sheet," Sallam said. "An asset is owned and controlled by the organization, can be exchanged for cash, and generates future benefit," and information can be all of those things. "Just think, what does it cost to replace information that's been destroyed or compromised? Do you sell more of a product if it has more information attached to it? How do you create added value? This is the role of analytics."

Corcoran underscored the importance of information, not just as an asset, but as a strategic tool with the power to shape business. "What you do with information, how you share it—it's how companies compete in the future."

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