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Social Networking and BI Inside the Enterprise


Information Management Newsletters, September 12, 2011

Ken Chow

Here’s an eye-opener: the worldwide market for business intelligence software is forecast to grow 9.7
percent, reaching $10.8 billion in 2011, according to analyst research. There is no reason to believe
that this will change in the years to follow. As the online
world continues to fragment and business environments evolve, data streams will
get faster and more complex, increasing the need for agile business practices.

Do not look to traditional BI platforms to meet this growing need, however. With their heavy
architectures, long development cycles and high costs, traditional BI simply
cannot keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of things and certainly won’t
be the driving force behind the BI market’s growth.

Instead, the next evolutionary force that will impel the BI market will come by way of
technologies that overcome these limitations and deliver high-value information
to people in much more productive ways. Information delivery of the future will
include the collaborative and social mechanisms that already dominate our
personal interactions. This makes sense for a number of reasons.

As we know, BI is about empowering individuals and groups in an organization to make better decisions
through data-driven insights. This notion becomes even more powerful when you
allow these individuals and groups to freely exchange thoughts and information
communally – much in the way you do in your social networks, which results in
collective intelligence to leverage knowledge and expertise across communities.

Online social networking and social media have significantly changed the way people develop personal and
professional relationships. Consequently, the basic practices for communicating
and sharing information with others and making decisions are different than they
were just a few years ago. Tools built into social media sites allow users to
convey opinions, emotions, share data and interact with greater abundance,
speed, transparency and collaboration, making the pros of this approach in BI
readily recognizable.

The way you establish, subscribe to or participate in specific networks at your business where people
with similar interests and data requirements congregate to consume, share and
use information should mimic the way you determine and manage your social graph
on Facebook or LinkedIn. In contrast to social networks, the “communities of
practice” inside organizations will drive the development of best practices from
within the collective intelligence of the entire workforce.

Think of collaborative BI like this: If you and I are store managers in two different locations, but we look at similar data, then there is no reason why we should not compare performance metrics in a fast, easily navigated, Web-based environment. We should be able exchange advice and information with a community or network and work together to make the other smarter. This type of social interaction and collaboration is not only needed in the BI space, it is directly connected to the changing face of the workforce.

The Facebook generation that has grown up with social media is now in the game, and they expect social
elements to be part of their environment. Therefore, the next phase of data
delivery technologies will include such things as the ability to annotate,
comment on, share, rate and like reports, dashboards, graphs and other
visualizations.

In other words, if you notice something within a particular data report that you find interesting or
even need to correct, then you should be able to tag it, and others should be
able to add their feedback to that. You should also be able to comment on what
you think about a report – ¬not unlike what your friends, family and peers do
with social media.

What’s more, the ability to rate reports and specify data within reports will allow managers and IT
directors to pinpoint what information is most valuable, thereby better-defining
and streamlining their business practices. Or, suppose that you develop your own
reporting tool and do your own analysis and you think these would be useful to a
team. You should be able to add value by sharing those items within a community
of interest without necessarily requiring the help or involvement of
IT.

BI users are continually looking for ways to connect employees and customers with real-time data wherever
they are and whenever they need it. Mobile BI technologies arose to support this
need once smart mobile devices became part of the common business landscape.
Since more people are adopting and utilizing social media tools in their
everyday lives – even as their primary operations systems – it stands to reason
that they will expect to find their critical data delivered
there.

BI as part of a collaborative and socially mechanized platform will support speedier, higher
quality and more transparent decisions that will increase the value derived from
BI applications and will ultimately drive the market’s growth. If the BI market
projections cited above are correct, then you won’t want to
blink.

Ken Chow is CMO at
LogiXML.

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