WHEN you’re driving a car, you spend most of your time looking out the windshield. What’s ahead? When to turn? Any unexpected obstacles in your way? Every now and then you glance at the dashboard, but that’s just to check how fast you’re going, whether you’ve got enough petrol, that the engine isn’t running too hot.
So why is it that in the world of business intelligence and visual analytics we focus primarily on data from internal systems, providing a view on internal operations and past performance, while largely leaving data on the external business environment and the future out of the equation?
Corporate decision makers feed on data from a wide and growing variety of sources. This was the realisation that led to the first wave of business intelligence software in the 1990s that enabled companies to aggregate and make sense of the growing amount of data available. This was in the early days of the internet, before it became a major force in the world, let alone a source of data and intelligence.
As a result, business intelligence soared and was used as a technology tool focusing on data from internal systems. When properly implemented, business intelligence systems give companies valuable insight into all aspects of the operational process, from the performance of the call centre to the results of the latest efforts to fight customer churn.
In the early days, report filing was largely in the form of custom-made reports in excel, prepared by IT and delivered to executives and managers. Even editing a report — never mind building a new one — was a task that required analysis, project management, a lot of overhead and many man hours.
As reporting became more sophisticated and businesses sought opportunities to trim operational costs, the second wave of business intelligence was born, enabling individuals to interact with data while using the more sophisticated business and data discovery
Decision makers could formulate new questions and explore the data by a simple click of a mouse, no longer having to rely on preset assumptions or long-forgotten questions that were important when a report was conceived, but were no longer relevant. Also, these tools emphasised the visual presentation of data, capitalising on the fact that human beings are visual creatures, able to consume an astonishing amount of information at once, through our eyes and then quickly recognise patterns and notice anomalies. However, the data preparation and layout of the visual analytics still required a technical skill-set beyond the grasp of the typical business user.
Currently, we are in the third wave of business intelligence platforms — the age of self-service visual analytics. Business users now have increased access to powerful visual analytics tools, and although still somewhat at the mercy of the organisation they work for,-the internal data to analyse.
For historical reasons mentioned above, business intelligence platforms, especially the solutions that stem from the first wave of business intelligence, still seem to view the internet as an afterthought.
You can relatively easily sync business intelligence platforms with various internal databases through open database connections (ODBC) and aggregate data from a variety of on-premise enterprise systems.