Q&A: From Part-time to Prime-time: BI Evolution Continues

A look at the trends that left their mark in 2008, plus what's ahead in 2009.

As we close out 2008 and look toward 2009, trends in the business intelligence marketplace point to advanced maturity and greater market adoption. There is also a clear and continuing push for enterprises to better address their evolving needs in 2009, given what will surely be a difficult economic environment.

We recently spoke with HP's John Miller, director of marketing for HP Neoview, about which trends made their mark in the BI landscape this past year, and which continue to show growth and promise for 2009 and beyond. An executive in HP's business intelligence solutions group focused on strategy and planning, Miller has spent over 14 years in the enterprise IT space as a consultant and marketer.

BI This Week: What's a key trend you saw occurring in 2008?

John Miller: First, I'd have to say vendor consolidation, which heralds BI's maturation. The consolidation of the vendor landscape represents the maturation of BI not only as a technology platform but also a business enabler. Based on HP's own research and conversations with customers, business intelligence has been one of the top priorities in 2008 and is expected to remain a top priority for 2009. Vendors are clearly reading the tea leaves and positioning themselves appropriately to capture that share of the customer wallet.

What changed for companies in 2008 in regards to BI?

One change is operational BI, which brings new opportunities. Companies are looking at ways to extend BI value in a couple of key ways: First, putting the power of enhanced business insight into more knowledge workers across the enterprise and, second, using this enhanced business insight to shrink the decision latency associated with doing business across the roles in an enterprise. Newer tools and technologies in the marketplace have made this a reality for an increasing number of enterprises in 2008.

We've also heard lots more about analytics in 2008. Can you comment on that?

Yes, analytics has become critical to executing business strategy. Dovetailing with the rise in operational BI, analytics has emerged as a mainstream business topic this year, especially for marketing and other areas outside of finance.

What about data quality, another hallmark term in 2008?

I'd say that business is now driving data quality. In 2008, master data management (MDM) has been a front-burner issue, but data quality is now moving beyond IT to become a part of the business agenda. Businesses are increasingly seeing the value that BI provides in helping them cross sell and up-sell, extend into new categories or adjacent markets, and understand better ways to serve current customers. Making the right decisions requires using the right data, and in 2008 we saw business executives partnering more with their IT organizations to ensure accurate, trustworthy data.

What else would you say marked BI in 2008?

In a word, governance. In 2008, companies started to move from theory into actually taking action in the area of data governance, further proving that it will continue to be a priority in the real world as we move into 2009. Let's look at some of the trends that you've said aren't as far along, but are poised for breakthrough value for organizations in 2009. Where would you begin?

Of course, we expect to see the trends that made their mark this year continue to grow in maturity and market adoption. Beyond that, let's start with this: Recognizing the value of unstructured information. The combination of regulatory pressure and opportunity are propelling the next phase of BI information value, which is turning unstructured data into actionable insight. The explosion of information -- the majority of which is unstructured -- offers a wealth of insight for companies to leverage.

We've heard a lot about data warehouse appliances in 2008. Where will they head in 2009?

Appliances are shifting into second gear. DW appliances continued to make headway in 2008, and now companies will be looking for appliances that are built on industry-standard technology and that easily integrate with their existing systems management tools. The DW appliance winners in the future will be those that can best address the next generation uses of BI -- namely, actionable insight and operational BI.

What else do you see as a 2009 trend?

Let's talk a little bit about spreadsheets. I think "managed spreadsheets" are going to signal new pragmatism. In the year ahead, BI tools and Excel spreadsheets will become a duet and no longer continue as competing soloists. Improved integration of back-end BI systems and Excel spreadsheets as the user interface, coupled with other initiatives, will provide the opportunity to truly implement managed spreadsheets. Flexible implementations, such as data provisioning, will offer a "certified" version of the truth to facilitate a managed spreadsheet approach.

Talk about cloud technology is all the rage. How will that affect BI?

Yes, BI is joining the Internet cloud. In the year ahead, a combination of Web 2.0 technologies -- including blogs, wikis, social networking, instant messaging, and other Internet-based forms of computing and communicating -- will become part of the BI delivery mechanism. In addition, the challenging economic environment heading into 2009 suggests companies will increasingly be looking for ways to derive the business value that BI can offer -- but at a lower or alternative entry point, one that cloud or related software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings can provide.

Any other trend you predict for the year ahead?

Meeting the BI need for talent is going to be an interesting challenge. Let's call it the magic mix: the growing demand for BI skills along with top-down pressure to reduce costs. That's forcing senior officials at many companies to reconsider offshore outsourcing. Moreover, BI skills are evolving toward a more business-centric set of skills around understanding key business processes, advanced analytics, event processing, and related experience in deriving business insight across an extending user population.

While the economic climate for 2009 will be challenging, BI offers one of the true, real value drivers for IT investment in the enterprise. Therefore, we should expect that these trends will continue their maturity and proliferation. In fact, industry leaders not only can use BI to weather the storm but perhaps also use it to extend their lead in the use, adoption, and relevance of business intelligence in deriving competitive advantage for their organizations.