Whenever I go to a show related to business intelligence or speak with an expert in the field of BI, there are endless opinions on how to get more out of BI and get that data out to more users. One answer that keeps coming up is search technology; another is cloud computing.
Back in June at BI vendor Information Builders’ user show, many attendees spoke of the benefits of marrying search technology and business intelligence. At the time, the Royal Bank of Canada was beginning to look at search technology to mine unstructured data in dead repositories. The 70,000-plus-employee company has unstructured data all over its enterprise, but the main target for now is archived enterprise content management repositories.
Also at the time, Boris Evelson said the future of BI lies in appliances that crawl both structured and unstructured data and places all information in optimized storage, where it becomes instantly available. The front end requires no IT support and users can explore the BI environment using search-like capabilities with no limitations, whether data is in email or desktop docs — making BI at last pervasive throughout the enterprise.
In a more recent conversation with SaaS BI vendor Birst’s CEO, Brad Peters, I heard a bit more skepticism on the topic of business intelligence applications being replaced by search technology. “It seems that every six to seven years that becomes a hot topic and you start to see BI companies trying to classify themselves as search companies, and it has come around once again,” he said.
It is true that BI tools are looking more like search, giving users the ability to pop up search-like dashboards and interfaces, but turning a search technology into an outright business intelligence tool is not that simple.
“The reason BI [tools] are successful is because business rules and the business logic around how your business is run is encapsulated in the BI solution, and that is created by adding human capital. And that’s something you can’t really pull out of search,” he said.
If you do a search on company revenue, for example, the result could be calculated 15 different ways based on what the user punches in. So can you trust that data?
“How was that data calculated? Where did it come from? If the answer is ‘I don’t know,’ then you can’t trust that number, and if you can’t trust that number you don’t have BI,” he said.
The idea of giving users a search box so that any user, with any level of skill set, will finally have access to BI, does appeal to Peters.
Yet, some argue that BI is not meant for the masses, but the business analysts within the company whose sole job is to crunch the numbers based on criteria set by executives.
As for the future of BI, Peters sees it in the cloud. A place where all your data can be accessed by logically integrating data, versus physically, giving data access to anyone in your organization.
Yet, when you bring up the marriage of search and BI to some experts they cringe, arguing that BI alone is hard to manage, never mind introducing another technology into the mix or adding unstructured data such as email or word documents into your BI strategy.
The debate continues, but it is clear that BI and search technologies can learn a thing or two from each other.
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