As always, it was a huge pleasure to catch up with customers, colleagues, analysts, partners, and competitors at one of Europe’s largest BI conferences. It was a great show overall, and I came away even more optimistic about analytics for the coming year.
Here are Jason Rose and I having an off-the-cuff discussion of what we found interesting about the latest Gartner BI Summit 2012 in London this week:
And here are some longer thoughts about the conference compared to previous years:
The band played on: Gartner analysts Nigel Rayner and Andreas Bitterer performed the opening live show, loosely based on Tubeway Army’s “Are Friends Electric”, to tie in with the opening keynote analogy of “information as electricity” (I’m a fan of ‘80s electronica, but it might have been more fun to have something by AC/DC with Nigel as Angus Young… )
It’s no longer Business Intelligence! Gartner has bowed down to the market trend and dropped the unwieldy category name “Business Intelligence and Performance Management” in favor of the simpler umbrella term “Business Analytics”, following in the footsteps of other analysts (e.g. IDC) and vendors (SAS, SAP, etc.). There was also a shift from BI Competency Centers (BICCs) to Business Analytic Teams (BATs) – apparently because the word “center” (a) doesn’t really represent the reality of diversified real-world organizational structures and (b) has a negative connotation in the US (think of your experiences with shared service centers).
Was it just a simple name change? There was a half-hearted attempt in some sessions to associate Business Analytics with “more than BI”, emphasizing that business change must be the result, not just reports. This is of course absolutely true and essential – but this was always part of their previous category definition. It was clearly a recent change: all the conference content reflected the old naming.
Should we care about this change? No! Here’s an blog I wrote a while ago on business intelligence vs business analytics, with the conclusion: “everybody has an opinion, nobody knows, and you shouldn’t care”. In particular, if you need to continue to call it “business intelligence” to communicate with somebody who is comfortable with that term, then you should continue using it!
Analytics is hot! The conference was literally packed, with people uncomfortably stuffed into a slightly too-small venue. Every indicator pointed towards analytics having another banner year – it’s back to the #1 technology priority for CIOs, it’s estimated to be growing at 10%, faster than overall IT spending, and the number of users is set to rise to 50% by 2014. Next year’s Gartner BI Summit (BA Summit?) is going to be in Barcelona, and that decision is apparently at least in part because of the need for extra space.
Less technology, more business, more success. Last year’s opening keynote presentation was about the “four Vs”: volume, variety, velocity and validity, and talked a fair amount about technology. This year the emphasis had very clearly moved to business value – emphasizing the “why” rather than the “how” – analytics has to support business decision making and result in business innovation. I attended several excellent sessions on how to make analytics sessions more successful – for example, emphasizing that 20-30% of your time should be spent on “marketing” your analytic solution.
Tell stories, and make a difference. Out of the nominees for the Gartner BI Excellence awards, Medway Youth Trust shone out. They would have been favorites for the award anyway, because they are doing social work for the community, but there were three other other good reasons they won over the other nominees:
- While all the nominees had clearly done a great job of successfully implementing business intelligence in their organizations, Medway had the best case for both “technical innovation” (using text analytics to get value from unstructured information) and “business innovation” (the data really make a difference to their organization, by allowing them to focus their limited resources on the key business goal)
- As a small organization, they showed that you don’t need to have a big budget or a big team of people in order for analytics to make a difference.
- They told their story better. In particular, a Spanish insurance company did a slick presentation about the corporate benefits of their standardized BI efforts, and quoted some impressive figures, but there wasn’t really a concrete example of how they had really made a difference that the audience could connect with.
Overall, it reminded me how vital it is to have real stories to tell people when trying to sell the benefits of your project – ROI isn’t enough: it has to be about people, and (surprising) business change.
Validation of current trends. Analytic technology trends were covered in in-depth sessions:
- Gartner called in-memory a “strategic imperative”, and advised that organizations should look at in-memory as “a quantum leap in their computing strategy” because “dramatically faster data access can profoundly change the nature of some applications”
- Mobile business intelligence is clearly now a given in the market – for example, all the participants of the vendor panel agreed that mobile BI is not going to be a long-term differentiator (although the underlying mobile device management certainly still might be).
- Cloud BI is still something for the future for most attendees – for many, only when the underlying operational systems are themselves running in the cloud.
- Sessions on social networking analytics and operational analytics were no longer marginal, with full crowds.
- The topic of “big data” – or “extreme data” as Gartner prefers to call it – is embedded in the new notion of a “logical data warehouse” that is poised to replace today’s more monolithic structures. One analyst mentioned that big Gartner customers were ripping up their current data warehousing plans and adapting them to the new technology possibilities. A session on big data by Roxanne Edjlali (formerly with Business Objects) was well-attended and well-received.
Big data not big enough? Overall, I don’t think Gartner had quite taken enough account of the appetite for more information about big data topics such as Hadoop, data science, etc. Every session with big data in the title was completely packed, and there didn’t seem to be many people from those communities at the show. I hope that Gartner’s conference team targets the big data constituency more aggressively next year — it would be a shame if people with the same underlying goals (turning information into business innovation) end up going to different conferences just because of some differences in the technologies they use (big data conferences are booming).
Fail in the right direction. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, was the guest keynote speaker. His presentation was very entertaining, but in general only tangentially related to analytics. The overall theme did resonate, however: that nobody has all the answers, and that it’s only through being humble about your knowledge that you have a change to succeed. The key is to “fail in the right direction”: make experiments, iterate, and learn from experience in order to move ever closer to better solutions.
Overall theme: going with the flow? This wasn’t really mentioned at the show, but if I had to pick one overall theme, it would be the move from batch-based BI to a greater appreciation of information flow, at every level of implementing systems and consuming information. New data warehouse technologies allow organizations to gather and structure information faster (and this is important: Bill Hostmann estimated that fully 70% of the requirements of a BI project change in the first year alone). Data discovery tools allow business people to iteratively structure and access new information in new ways. And businesses are realizing that analytics isn’t just something that you use to improve business processes: it can and should be part of the business processes themselves.
My presentation at the conference, “Business In the Moment, From Reactive to Proactive” was along the same lines – while there has been lots of technology change over the coming year, many organizations are still struggling to turn that new technology into business innovation opportunities. I talked about the big changes in the technology landscape and gave examples of organizations that had used these technologies to transform the way they did business, through removing business bottlenecks, rethinking business processes, or flipping business models to an “analytics first” approach.