Business Intelligence: Consumerization as Hype

What is Consumerization?

There's a lot of hoopla surrounding the "consumerization" of Business Intelligence. These days, what's not being consumerized? While there is no canonical definition of consumerization, it usually refers to either the process of consumer technologies seeping into the workplace (e.g., instant messaging), or workplace technologies becoming widely available consumer products (e.g. PCs). Sometimes, products straddle both business and consumer markets (e.g., email).

While the Business Intelligence stack hasn't yet been re-tooled to appeal to consumer markets, critical elements of popular consumer technology and idioms have pushed their way into the design and distribution of BI products. Most notably, Web 2.0 standards and design patterns are influencing the new crop of BI products. In parallel, the rise of the cloud has led to a shift away from desktop installations and towards delivering BI tools via SaaS.

Business Intelligence 2.0

One of the sadder facts about recent innovations in BI products is that somehow making BI tools usable is considered an innovation. Businesses have heroically endured a procession of tools with poor user experience. The past decade, however, has witnessed the rise of great design as a guiding force in application development (the professionalization of the User Experience Designer is but one side effect of this trend). As a result, business products have had to match the design chops of consumer products or join the dustbin. The savvy and discerning consumer demands that his business products work intuitively—as he should.

The other critical influence of consumer products on the BI universe has been the increased acceptance the cloud. The move to the cloud is a relatively new phenomenon in BI. But the transition to SaaS is inevitable. If companies have been willing to outsource their data to hosting providers and consumers have been willing to trust their emails, files and personal lives to the cloud, outsourcing the rest of the Business Intelligence stack is a foregone conclusion.

He Who Controls The Data Is King

Where the metaphor of consumerization in Business Intelligence fails is the critical role IT plays in the setup and support of BI products in an organization, however Web 2.0-y they may be. And it's not a role that should be obviated. Instead, it should be re-cast and nurtured.

At the most basic level, if you want to run analytics on your database data, you need IT to give you access credentials. Their role, however, in cleaning, structuring and keeping data secure goes beyond just the setup to encompass the lifecycle of a BI product in an organization.

So the goal of any BI vendor should be to optimize the role both IT and business users play in using their product. This means ensuring IT keeps the company's business data secure, but also that business end-users can use an intuitive product that actually works.

While consumerization in the realm of Enterprise 2.0 has sidelined IT, the equivalent process in business intelligence should be viewed as empowering IT. At the least, it makes their lives easier. No longer must they be distracted with running queries and producing reports over and over. Their new role in BI deployments is to ensure the data is usable, clean and secure. So while BI may never be consumerized to the same extent as other IT products, these changes are welcome developments. At long last, usability for business end-users is paramount. Consumerization or not, everyone wins.

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