by Todd R. Weiss

Enterprise BI Made Simple

Aug 15, 20114 mins
Business IntelligenceData Management

Will a simplified version of enterprise business intelligence software spur user adoption? Gartner analyst James Richardson thinks so.

Taking the complexity out of unwieldy technology will lead to users to embrace it. That’s the basic idea behind the recent “consumerization” of some of the most complicated and difficult-to-use enterprise applications from ERP to CRM to BI.

As enterprise BI applications get more user-friendly, they’ll become much more important inside highly competitive businesses that are constantly looking for advantages over rivals.

That’s the conclusion of Gartner analyst James Richardson in a research report, “The Consumerization of BI Drives Greater Adoption,” about the increasing consumerization of BI applications and how this will fuel and accelerate their importance in the near future.

So just how much room for improvement is there for ease-of-use in the BI application space? “Less than 30 percent of the potential users of organizations’ standard BI tools use the technology today,” Richardson wrote in his seven-page report. “This is often because the tools are too difficult to use, slow to respond or deliver content of limited relevance.”

That’s an amazing statistic. It means that only one in three enterprise users who have access to BI tools use them because they’re just not easy enough or good enough to help people do their jobs. That’s a huge waste of money and resources.

Instead, Richardson says, by simplifying the user interfaces of BI apps to emulate other applications that users are already familiar with, such as the video phone application Skype, BI could be transformed into a better utilized tool for a broader range of workers.

“One of the common characteristics of consumerized technologies is better ease-of-use and immediacy,” Richardson says in an email response. “Think about video conferencing – how many people were using the slick video teleconferencing suites in office buildings? Very few, as the facilities are technically complex, unwieldy to use and hard to access. Now think about Skype video and FaceTime, which both are consumerized and increasingly commonplace as business tools.”

Drawing from these lessons, BI vendors could be more creative in displaying data to users on a screen or in printed reports, Richardson says. Give users the data in ways that are easy to digest, in forms they’re already used to, he says. “One example is in the visual representation of data. Static grids of figures and charts are limiting and unintuitive for many users. Consumerized BI tools offer a visually stimulating experience where users ‘fly through’ datasets.”

So how does that make the user experience easier? “This means that end users find these tools natural to use and adopt them readily with little or no training needed – they simply interact with the data,” he says.

A lot of the user expectation comes from experiences on the Internet, where people can easily search for what they are looking with intuitive search engines and use browsers to get their work done.

“BI users want to be able to just pick up and use the technology — they don’t want to have to read the manual,” Richardson says. “This places a high degree of importance on the human/computer interaction aspects of BI product and deployment design.”

Gartner has been watching the enterprise penetration rate of BI since 2007, and expects that consumerization improvements could quickly pump up the adoption rate among potential BI users to 50 percent by 2015, Richardson says. The latest BI adoption numbers in the report were drawn from attendees at Gartner BI summits over the last five years.

Getting to that 50 percent use level won’t necessarily mean that companies have to replace their existing BI applications, he says. “Organizations can help existing BI tools get more widely adopted in their firm by seeking opportunities to improve the usability, performance and user relevance of their current BI tooling’s output. The best way to do this is by testing their existing BI with representatives of their user community.”

That means getting your IT staff out of its backroom comfort zone and engaging with your BI consumers to see it from their perspective, according to Richardson.

Most established BI vendors are making these kinds of user interface changes, he says, including QlikView International, Targit, Tableau Software, RoamBI and bigger players such as SAP and Oracle.

Based on Richardson’s projections, a 50 percent user adoption rate for BI is only four years away. So is this fast move to BI consumerization a surprise?

“No, I think its time has come,” he says. “It’s part of a natural technology maturation and has been a long time coming from an end user perspective. However, things like the massive and rapid adoption of mobile devices, tablets etc., has provided a strong impetus to this trend that I don’t think anyone foresaw.”

What do you think? Will a more consumerized BI help inside your enterprise? I’d love to hear your views and stories on this developing subject.