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One of the key findings in our latest benchmark research into predictive analytics is that companies are incorporating predictive analytics into their operational systems more often than was the case three years ago. The research found that companies are less inclined to purchase stand-alone predictive analytics tools (29% vs 44% three years ago) and more inclined to purchase predictive analytics built into business intelligence systems (23% vs 20%), applications (12% vs 8%), databases (9% vs 7%) and middleware (9% vs 2%). This trend is not surprising since operationalizing predictive analytics – that is, building predictive analytics directly into business process workflows – improves companies’ ability to gain competitive advantage: those that deploy predictive analyticsvr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_12_frequency_of_updating_predictive_models within business processes are more likely to say they gain competitive advantage and improve revenue through predictive analytics than those that don’t.

In order to understand the shift that is underway, it is important to understand how predictive analytics has historically been executed within organizations. The marketing organization provides a useful example since it is the functional area where organizations most often deploy predictive analytics today. In a typical organization, those doing statistical analysis will export data from various sources into a flat file. (Often IT is responsible for pulling the data from the relational databases and passing it over to the statistician in a flat file format.) Data is cleansed, transformed, and merged so that the analytic data set is in a normalized format. It then is modeled with stand-alone tools and the model is applied to records to yield probability scores. In the case of a churn model, such a probability score represents how likely someone is to defect. For a marketing campaign, a probability score tells the marketer how likely someone is to respond to an offer. These scores are produced for marketers on a periodic basis – usually monthly. Marketers then work on the campaigns informed by these static models and scores until the cycle repeats itself.

The challenge presented by this traditional model is that a lot can happen in a month and the heavy reliance on process and people can hinder the organization’s ability to respond quickly to opportunities and threats. This is particularly true in fast-moving consumer categories such as telecommunications or retail. For instance, if a person visits the company’s cancelation policy web page the instant before he or she picks up the phone to cancel the contract, this customer’s churn score will change dramatically and the action that the call center agent should take will need to change as well. Perhaps, for example, that score change should mean that the person is now routed directly to an agent trained to deal with possible defections. But such operational integration requires that the analytic software be integrated with the call agent software and web tracking software in near-real time.

Similarly, the models themselves need to be constantly updated to deal with the fast pace of change. For instance, if a telecommunications carrier competitor offers a large rebate to customers to switch service providers, an organization’s churn model can be rendered out of date and should be updated. Our research shows that organizations that constantly update their models gain competitive advantage more often than those that only update them periodically (86% vs 60% average), more often show significant improvement in organizational activities and processes (73% vs 44%), and are more often very satisfied with their predictive analytics (57% vs 23%).

Building predictive analytics into business processes is more easily discussed than done; complex business and technical challenges must be addressed. The skills gap that I recently wrote about is a significant barrier to implementing predictive analytics. Making predictive analytics operational requires not only statistical and business skills but technical skills as well.   From a technical perspective, one of the biggest challenges for operationalizing predictive analytics is accessing and preparing data which I wrote about. Four out of ten companies say that this is the part of the predictive analytics process vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_02_impact_of_doing_more_predictive_analyticswhere they spend the most time. Choosing the right software is another challenge that I wrote about. Making that choice includes identifying the specific integration points with business intelligence systems, applications, database systems, and middleware. These decisions will depend on how people use the various systems and what areas of the organization are looking to operationalize predictive analytics processes.

For those that are willing to take on the challenges of operationalizing predictive analytics the rewards can be significant, including significantly better competitive positioning and new revenue opportunities. Furthermore, once predictive analytics is initially deployed in the organization it snowballs, with more than nine in ten companies going on to increase their use of predictive analytics. Once companies reach that stage, one third of them (32%) say predictive analytics has had a transformational impact and another half (49%) say it provides a significant positive benefits.

Regards,

Ventana Research

Our benchmark research into predictive analytics shows that lack of resources, including budget and skills, is the number-one business barrier to the effective deployment and use of predictive analytics; awareness – that is, an understanding of how to apply predictive analytics to business problems – is second. In order to secure resources and address awareness problems a business case needs to be created and communicated clearly wherever appropriate across the organization. A business case presents the reasoning for initiating a project or task. A compelling business case communicates the nature of the proposed project and the arguments, both quantified and unquantifiable, for its deployment.

The first steps in creating a business case for predictive analytics are to understand the audience and to communicate with the experts who will be involved in leading the project. Predictive analytics can be transformational in nature and therefore the audience potentially is broad, including many disciplines within the organization. Understand who should be involved in business case creation a list that may include business users, analytics users and IT. Those most often primarily responsible for designing and deploying predictive analytics are data scientists (in 31% of organizations), the business intelligence and data warehouse team (27%), those working in general IT (16%) and line of business analysts (13%), so be sure to involve these groups. Understand the specific value and challenges for each of the constituencies so the business case can represent the interests of these key stakeholders. I discuss the aspects of the business where these groups will see predictive analytics most adding value here and here.

For the business case for a predictive analytics deployment to be persuasive, executives also must understand how specifically the deployment will impact their areas of responsibilityvr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_01_front_office_functions_use_predictive_anal.._ and what the return on investment will be. For these stakeholders, the argument should be multifaceted. At a high level, the business case should explain why predictive analytics is important and how it fits with and enhances the organization’s overall business plan. Industry benchmark research and relevant case studies can be used to paint a picture of what predictive analytics can do for marketing (48%), operations (44%) and IT (40%), the functions where predictive analytics is used most.

A business case should show how predictive analytics relates to other relevant innovation and analytic initiatives in the company. For instance, companies have been spending money on big data, cloud and visualization initiatives where software returns can be more difficult to quantify. Our research into big data analytics and data and analytics in the cloud show that the top benefit for these initiatives are communication and knowledge sharing. Fortunately, the business case for predictive analytics can cite the tangible business benefits our research identified, the most often identified of which are achieving competitive advantage (57%), creating new revenue opportunities (50%), and increasing profitability vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_03_benefits_of_predictive_analytics(46%). But the business case can be made even stronger by noting that predictive analytics can have added value when it is used to leverage other current technology investments. For instance, our big data analytics research shows that the most valuable type of analytics to be applied to big data is predictive analytics.

To craft the specifics of the business case, concisely define the business issue that will be addressed. Assess the current environment and offer a gap analysis to show the difference between the current environment and the future environment). Offer a recommended solution, but also offer alternatives. Detail the specific value propositions associated with the change. Create a financial analysis summarizing costs and benefits. Support the analysis with a timeline including roles and responsibilities. Finally, detail the major risk factors and opportunity costs associated with the project.

For complex initiatives, break the overall project into a series of shorter projects. If the business case is for a project that will involve substantial work, consider providing separate timelines and deliverables for each phase. Doing so will keep stakeholders both informed and engaged during the time it takes to complete the full project. For large predictive analytics projects, it is important to break out the due-diligence phase and try not to make any hard commitments until that phase is completed. After all, it is difficult to establish defensible budgets and timelines until one knows the complete scope of the project.

Ensure that the project time line is realistic and addresses all the key components needed for a successful deployment.  In particular with predictive analytics projects, make certain that it reflects a thoughtful approach to data access, data quality and data preparation. We note that four in 10 organizations say vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_08_time_spent_in_predictive_analytic_processthat the most time spent in the predictive analytics process is in data preparation and another 22 percent say that they spend the most time accessing data sources. If data issues have not been well thought through, it is next to impossible for the predictive analytics initiative to be successful. Read my recent piece on operationalizing predictive analytics to show how predictive analytics will align with specific business processes.

If you are proposing the implementation of new predictive analytics software, highlight the multiple areas of return beyond competitive advantage and revenue benefits. Specifically, new software can have a total lower cost of ownership and generate direct cost savings from improved operating efficiencies. A software deployment also can yield benefits related to people (productivity, insight, fewer errors), management (creativity, speed of response), process (shorter time on task or time to complete) and information (easier access, more timely, accurate and consistent). Create a comprehensive list of the major benefits the software will provide compared to the existing approach, quantifying the impact wherever possible. Detail all major costs of ownership whether the implementation is on-premises or cloud-based: these will include licensing, maintenance, implementation consulting, internal deployment resources, training, hardware and other infrastructure costs. In other words, think broadly about both the costs and the sources of return in building the case for new technology. Also, read my recent piece on procuring predictive analytics software.

Understanding the audience, painting the vision, crafting the specific case, outlining areas of return, specifying software, noting risk factors, and being as comprehensive as possible are all part of a successful business plan process. Sometimes, the initial phase is really just a pitch for project funding and there won’t be any dollar allocation until people are convinced that the program will get them what they need.  In such situations multiple documents may be required, including a short one- to two-page document that outlines vision and makes a high-level argument for action from the organizational stakeholders. Once a cross functional team and executive support is in place, a more formal assessment and design plan following the principles above will have to be built.

Predictive analytics offers significant returns for organizations willing pursue it, but establishing a solid business case is the first step for any organization.

Regards,

Ventana Research

It’s widely agreed that cloud computing is a major technology innovation. Many companies use cloud-based systems for specific business functions such as customer service, sales, marketing, finance and human resources. More generally, however, analytics and business intelligence (BI) have not migrated to the cloud as quickly. But now cloud-based data and analytics products are becoming more common. This trend is most popular among technology companies, small and midsize businesses, and departments in larger ones, but there are examples of large companies moving their entire BI environments to the cloud. Our research into big data analytics shows that more than one-fourth of analytics initiatives for companies of all sizes are cloud-based.

vr_bti_br_top_benefits_of_cloud_computingLike other cloud-based applications, cloud analytics offers enhanced scalability and flexibility, affordability and IT staff optimization. Our research shows that in general the top benefits are lowered costs (for 40%), improved efficiency (39%) and better communication and knowledge sharing (34%). Using the cloud, organizations can use a sophisticated IT infrastructure without having to dedicate staff to install and support it. There is no need for comprehensive development and testing because the provider is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the application and the infrastructure. The cloud can also provide flexible infrastructure resources to support “sandbox” testing environments for advanced analytics deployments. Multitenant cloud deployments are more affordable because costs are shared across many companies. When used departmentally, application costs need not be capitalized but instead can be made operational expenditures. Capabilities can be put to use quickly, as vendors develop them, and updates need not disrupt use. Finally, some cloud-based interfaces are more intuitive for end users since they have been designed with the user experience in mind. Regarding cloud technology, our business technology innovation research finds that usability is the most important technology evaluation criterion (for 64% of participants), followed by reliability (54%) and capability (%).

vr_bti_why_companies_dont_use_cloudFor analytics and BI specifically, there are still issues holding back adoption. Our research finds that a primary reason companies do not deploy cloud-based applications of any sort are security and compliance issues. For analytics and business intelligence, we can also include data related activities as another reason since cloud-based approaches often require data integration and transmission of sensitive data across an external network along with a range of data preparation. Such issues are especially prevalent for companies that have legacy BI tools using data models that have been distributed across their divisions. Often these organizations have defined their business logic and metrics calculations within the context of these tools. Furthermore, these tools may be integrated with other core applications such as forecasting and planning. To re-architect such data models and metrics calculations is a challenge some companies are reluctant to undertake.

In addition, despite widespread use of some types of cloud-based systems, for nontechnical business people discussions of business intelligence in the cloud can be confusing, especially when they involve information integration, the types of analytics to be performed and where the analytic processes will. The first generation of cloud applications focused on end-user processes related to the various lines of business and largely ignored the complexities inherent in information integration and analytics. Organizations can no longer ignore these complexities since doing so exacerbates the challenge of fragmented systems and distributed data. Buyers and architects should understand the benefits of analytics in the cloud and weigh these benefits against the challenges described above.

Our upcoming benchmark research into data and analytics in the cloud will examine the current maturity of this market as well opportunities and barriers to organizational adoption across line of business and IT. It will evaluate cloud-based analytics in the context of trends such as big data, mobile technology and social collaboration as well as location intelligence and predictive analytics. It will consider how cloud computing enables these and other applications and identify leading indicators for adoption of cloud-based analytics. It also will examine how cloud deployment enables large-scale and streaming applications. For example, it will examine real-time processing of vast amounts of data from sensors and other semistructured data (often referred to as the Internet of Things).

It is an exciting time to be studying this particular market as companies consider moving platforms to the cloud. I look forward to receiving any qualified feedback as we move forward to start this important benchmark research. Please get in touch if you have an interest in this area of our research.

Regards,

Ventana Research

It’s widely agreed that cloud computing is a major technology innovation. Many companies use cloud-based systems for specific business functions such as customer service, sales, marketing, finance and human resources. More generally, however, analytics and business intelligence (BI) have not migrated to the cloud as quickly. But now cloud-based data and analytics products are becoming more common. This trend is most popular among technology companies, small and midsize businesses, and departments in larger ones, but there are examples of large companies moving their entire BI environments to the cloud. Our research into big data analytics shows that more than one-fourth of analytics initiatives for companies of all sizes are cloud-based.

vr_bti_br_top_benefits_of_cloud_computingLike other cloud-based applications, cloud analytics offers enhanced scalability and flexibility, affordability and IT staff optimization. Our research shows that in general the top benefits are lowered costs (for 40%), improved efficiency (39%) and better communication and knowledge sharing (34%). Using the cloud, organizations can use a sophisticated IT infrastructure without having to dedicate staff to install and support it. There is no need for comprehensive development and testing because the provider is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the application and the infrastructure. The cloud can also provide flexible infrastructure resources to support “sandbox” testing environments for advanced analytics deployments. Multitenant cloud deployments are more affordable because costs are shared across many companies. When used departmentally, application costs need not be capitalized but instead can be made operational expenditures. Capabilities can be put to use quickly, as vendors develop them, and updates need not disrupt use. Finally, some cloud-based interfaces are more intuitive for end users since they have been designed with the user experience in mind. Regarding cloud technology, our business technology innovation research finds that usability is the most important technology evaluation criterion (for 64% of participants), followed by reliability (54%) and capability (%).

vr_bti_why_companies_dont_use_cloudFor analytics and BI specifically, there are still issues holding back adoption. Our research finds that a primary reason companies do not deploy cloud-based applications of any sort are security and compliance issues. For analytics and business intelligence, we can also include data related activities as another reason since cloud-based approaches often require data integration and transmission of sensitive data across an external network along with a range of data preparation. Such issues are especially prevalent for companies that have legacy BI tools using data models that have been distributed across their divisions. Often these organizations have defined their business logic and metrics calculations within the context of these tools. Furthermore, these tools may be integrated with other core applications such as forecasting and planning. To re-architect such data models and metrics calculations is a challenge some companies are reluctant to undertake.

In addition, despite widespread use of some types of cloud-based systems, for nontechnical business people discussions of business intelligence in the cloud can be confusing, especially when they involve information integration, the types of analytics to be performed and where the analytic processes will. The first generation of cloud applications focused on end-user processes related to the various lines of business and largely ignored the complexities inherent in information integration and analytics. Organizations can no longer ignore these complexities since doing so exacerbates the challenge of fragmented systems and distributed data. Buyers and architects should understand the benefits of analytics in the cloud and weigh these benefits against the challenges described above.

Our upcoming benchmark research into data and analytics in the cloud will examine the current maturity of this market as well opportunities and barriers to organizational adoption across line of business and IT. It will evaluate cloud-based analytics in the context of trends such as big data, mobile technology and social collaboration as well as location intelligence and predictive analytics. It will consider how cloud computing enables these and other applications and identify leading indicators for adoption of cloud-based analytics. It also will examine how cloud deployment enables large-scale and streaming applications. For example, it will examine real-time processing of vast amounts of data from sensors and other semistructured data (often referred to as the Internet of Things).

It is an exciting time to be studying this particular market as companies consider moving platforms to the cloud. I look forward to receiving any qualified feedback as we move forward to start this important benchmark research. Please get in touch if you have an interest in this area of our research.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

Our benchmark research consistently shows that business analytics is the most significant technology trend in business today and acquiring effective predictive analytics is organizations’ top priority for analytics. It enables them to look forward rather than backward and, participate organizations reported, leads to competitive advantage and operational efficiencies.

In our benchmark research on big data analytics, for example, 64 percent of organizations ranked predictive analytics as the most Untitledimportant analytics category for working with big data. Yet a majority indicated that they do not have enough experience in applying predictive analytics to business problems and lack training on the tools themselves.

Predictive analytics improves an organization’s ability to understand potential future outcomes of variables that matter. Its results enable an organization to decide correct courses of action in key areas of the business. Predictive analytics can enhance the people, process, information and technology components of an organization’s future performance.

In our most recent research on this topic, more than half (58%) of participants indicated that predictive analytics is very important to their organization, but only one in five said they are very satisfied with their use of those analytics. Furthermore, our research found that implementing predictive analysis would have a transformational impact in one-third of organizations and a significant positive impact in more than half of other ones.

In our new research project, The Next Generation of Predictive Analytics, we will revisit predictive analysis with an eye to determining how attitudes toward it have changed,  along with its current and planned use, and its importance in business. There are significant changes in this area, including where, how, why, and when predictive analytics are applied. We expect to find changes not only in forecasting and analyzing customer churn but also in operational use at the front lines of the organization and in improving the analytic process itself. The research will also look at the progress of emerging statistical languages such as R and Python, which I have written about.

vr_predanalytics_benefits_of_predictive_analytics_updatedAs does big data analytics, predictive analytics involves sourcing data, creating models, deploying them and managing them to understand when an analytic model has become stale and ought to be revised or replaced. It should be obvious that only the most technically advanced users will be familiar with all this, so to achieve broad adoption, predictive analytics products must mask the complexity and be easy to use. Our research will determine the extent to which usability and manageability are being built into product offerings.

The promise of predictive analytics, including competitive advantage (68%), new revenue opportunities (55%), and increased profitability (52%), is significant. But to realize the advantages of predictive analytics, companies must transform how they work. In terms of people and processes a more collaborative strategy may be necessary. Analysts need tools and skills in order to use predictive analytics effectively. A new generation of technology is also becoming available where predictive analytics are easier to apply and use, along with deploy into line of business processes. This will help organizations significantly as there are not enough data scientists and specially trained professionals in predictive analytics that will be available for organizations to utilize or afford to hire.

This benchmark research will look closely at the evolving use of predictive analytics to establish how it equips business to make decisions based on likely futures, not just the past.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP & Research Director

Organizations should consider multiple aspects of deploying big data analytics. These include the type of analytics to be deployed, how the analytics will be deployed technologically and who must be involved both internally and externally to enable success. Our recent big data analytics benchmark research assesses each of these areas. How an organization views these deployment considerations may depend on the expected benefits of the big data analytics program and the particular business case to be made, which I discussed recently.

According to the research, the most important capability of big data analytics is predictive analytics (64%), but among companies vr_Big_Data_Analytics_08_top_capabilities_of_big_data_analyticsthat have deployed big data analytics, descriptive analytic approaches of query and reporting (74%) and data discovery (64%) are more readily available than predictive capabilities (57%). Such statistics may be a function of big data technologies such as Hadoop, and their associated distributions having prioritized the ability to run descriptive statistics through standard SQL, which is the most common method for implementing analysis on Hadoop. Cloudera’s Impala, Hortonworks’ Stinger (an extension of Apache Hive), MapR’s Drill, IBM’s Big SQL, Pivotal’s HAWQ and Facebook’s open-source contribution of Presto SQL all focus on accessing data through an SQL paradigm. It is not surprising then that the technology research participants use most for big data analytics is business intelligence (75%) and that the most-used analytic methods — pivot tables (46%), classification (39%) and clustering (37%) — are descriptive and exploratory in nature. Similarly, participants said that visualization of big data allows analysts to perform faster analysis (49%), understand context better (48%), perform root-cause analysis (40%) and display multiple result sets (40%), but visualization does not provide more advanced analytic capabilities. While various vendors now offer approaches to run advanced analytics on big data, the research shows that in terms of big data, organizational capabilities still revolve around more basic analytic access.

For companies that are implementing advanced analytic capabilities on big data, there are further analytic process considerations, and many have not yet tackled those. Model building and model deployment should be manageable and timely, involve specialized personnel, and integrate into the broader enterprise architecture. While our research provides an in-depth look at adoption of the different types of in-database analytics, deployment of advanced analytic sandboxes, data mining, model management, integration with business processes and overall model deployment, that is beyond the topic here.

Beyond analytic considerations, a host of technological decisionsvr_Big_Data_Analytics_13_advanced_analytics_on_big_data must be made around big data analytics initiatives. One of these is the degree of customization necessary. As technology advances, customization is giving way to more packaged approaches to big data analytics. According to our research, the majority (54%) of companies that have already implemented big data analytics did custom builds using big data-specific languages and interfaces. The most of those that have not yet deployed are likely to purchase a dedicated or packaged application (44%), followed by a custom build (36%). We think that this pre- and post-deployment comparison reflects a maturing market.

The move from custom approaches to standardized ones has important implications for the skills sets needed for a big data vr_Big_Data_Analytics_14_big_data_analytics_skillsanalytics initiative. In comparing the skills that organizations said they currently have to the skills they need to be successful with big data analytics, it is clear that companies should spend more time building employees’ statistical, mathematical and visualization skills. On the flip side, organizations should make sure their tools can support skill sets that they already have, such as use of spreadsheets and SQL. This is convergent with other findings about training needs, which include applying analytics to business problems (54%), training on big data analytics tools (53%), analytic concepts and techniques (46%) and visualizing big data (41%). The data shows that as approaches become more standardized and the market focus shifts toward them from customized implementations, skill needs are shifting as well. This is not to say that demand is moving away from the data scientist completely. According to our research, organizations that involve cross-functional teams or data scientists in the deployment process are realizing the most significant impact. It is clear that multiple approaches for personnel, departments and current vendors play a role in deployments and that some approaches will be more effective than others.

Cloud computing is another key consideration with respect to deploying analytics systems as well as sandbox modelling and testing environments. For deployment of big data analytics, 27 percent of companies currently use a cloud-based method, while 58 percent said they do not and 16 percent do not know what is used. Not surprisingly, far fewer IT professionals (19%) than business users (40%) said they use cloud-based deployments for big data analytics. The flexibility and capability that cloud resources provide is particularly attractive for sandbox environments and for organizations that lack big data analytic expertise. However, for big data model building, most organizations (42%) still utilize a dedicated internal sandbox environment to build models while fewer (19%) use a non-dedicated internal sandbox (that is, a container in a data warehouse used to build models) and others use a cloud-based sandbox either as a completely separate physical environment (9%) or as a hybrid approach (9%). From this last data we infer that business users are sometimes using cloud-based systems to do big data analytics without the knowledge of IT staff. Among organizations that are not using cloud-based systems for big data analytics, security (45%) is the primary reason that they do not.

Perhaps the most important consideration for big data analytics is choosing vendors to partner with to achieve organizational objectives. When we understand the move from custom technological approaches to more packaged ones and the types of analytics currently being implemented for big data, it is not surprising that a majority of research participants (52%) are looking to their business intelligence systems providers to supply their big data analytics solution. However, a significant number of companies (35%) said they will turn to a specialist analytics provider or their database provider (34%). When evaluating big data analytics, usability is the most important vendor consideration but not by as wide a margin as in categories such as business intelligence. A look at criteria rated important and very important by research participants reveals usability is the highest ranked (94%), but functionality (92%) and reliability (90%) follow closely. Among innovative new technologies, collaboration is important (78%) while mobile access (46%) is much less so. Coupled with the finding that communication and knowledge sharing combined is an important benefit of big data analytics, it is clear that organizations are cognizant of the collaborative imperative when choosing a big data analytics product.

Deployment of big data analytics starts with forethought and a well-defined business case that includes the expected benefits I discussed in my previous analysis. Once the outcome-driven framework is established, organizations should consider the types of analytics needed, the enabling technologies and the people and processes necessary for implementation. To learn more about our big data analytics research, download a copy of the executive summary here.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP & Research Director

SAP recently presented its analytics and business intelligence roadmap and new innovations to about 1,700 customers and partners using SAP BusinessObjects at its SAP Insider event (#BI2014). SAP has one of the largest presences in business intelligence due to its installed base of SAP BusinessObjects customers. The company intends to defend its current position in the established business intelligence (BI) market while expanding in the areas of databases, discovery analytics and advanced analytics. As I discussed a year ago, SAP faces an innovator’s dilemma in parts of its portfolio, but it is working aggressively to get ahead of competitors.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesOne of the pressures that SAP faces is from a new class of software that is designed for business analytics and enables users to visualize and interact on data in new ways without relationships in the data being predefined. Our business technology innovation research shows that analytics is the top-ranked technology innovation in business today, rated first by 39 percent of organizations. In conventional BI systems, data is modeled in so-called cubes or other defined structures that allow users to slice and dice data quickly and easily. The cube structure solves the problem of abstracting the complexity of the structured query language (SQL) of the database and slashes the amount of time it takes to read data from a row-oriented database. However, as the cost of memory decreases significantly, enabling the use of new column-oriented databases, these methods of BI are being challenged. For SAP and other established business intelligence providers, this situation represents both an opportunity and a challenge. In responding, almost all of these BI companies have introduced some sort of visual discovery capability. SAP introduced SAP Lumira, formerly known as Visual Intelligence, 18 months ago to compete in this emerging segment, and it has gained traction in terms of downloads, which the company estimated at 365,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013.

SAP and other large players in analytics are trying not just to catch up with visual discovery players such as Tableau but rather to make it a game of leapfrog. Toward that end, the capabilities of Lumira demonstrated at the Insider conference included information security and governance, advanced analytics, integrated data preparation, storyboarding and infographics; the aim is to create a differentiated position for the tool. For me, the storyboarding and infographics capabilities are about catching up, but being able to govern and secure today’s analytic platforms is a critical concern for organizations, and SAP means to capitalize on them. A major analytic announcement at the conference focused on the integration of Lumira with the BusinessObjects platform. Lumira users now can create content and save it to the BusinessObjects server, mash up data and deliver the results through a secure common interface.

Beyond the integration of security and governance with discovery analytics, the leapfrog approach centers on advanced analytics. SAP’s acquisition last year of KXEN and its initial integration with Lumira provide an advanced analytics tool that does not require a data scientist to use it. My coverage of KXEN prior to the acquisition revealed that the tool was user-friendly and broadly applicable especially in the area of marketing analytics. Used with Lumira, KXEN will ultimately provide front-end integration for in-database analytic approaches and for more advanced techniques. Currently, for data scientists to run advanced analytics on large data sets, SAP provides its own predictive analytic library (PAL), which runs natively on SAP HANA and offers commonly used algorithms such as clustering, classification and time-series. Integration with the R language is available through a wrapper approach, but the system overhead is greater when compared to the PAL approach on HANA.

The broader vision for Lumira and the BusinessObjects analytics platform SAP said is “collective intelligence,” which it described as “a Wikipedia for business” that provides a bidirectional analytic and communication platform. To achieve this lofty goal, SAP will vr_Big_Data_Analytics_02_defining_big_data_analyticsneed to continue to put resources into HANA and facilitate the integration of underlying data sources. Our recently released research on big data analytics shows that being able to analyze data from all data sources (selected by 75% of participants) is the most prevalent definition for big data analytics. To this end, SAP announced the idea of an “in-memory fabric” that allows virtual data access to multiple underlying data sources including big data platforms such as Hadoop. The key feature of this data federation approach is what the company calls smart data access (SDA). Instead of loading all data into memory, the virtualized system sets a proxy that points to where specific data is held. Using machine learning algorithms, it can define how important information is based on the query patterns of users and upload the most important data into memory. The approach will enable the company to analyze data on a massive scale since utilizing both HANA and the Sybase IQ columnar database which the company says was just certified as the world record for the largest data warehouse, at more than 12 petabytes. Others such as eBay and Teradata may beg to differ with the result based on another implementation, but nevertheless it is an impressive achievement.

Another key announcement was SAP Business Warehouse (BW) 7.4, which now runs on top of HANA. This combination is likely to be popular because it enables migration of the underlying database without impacting business users. Such users store many of their KPIs and complex calculations in BW, and to uproot this system is untenable for many organizations. SAP’s ability to continue support for these users is therefore something of an imperative. The upgrade to 7.4 also provides advances in capability and usability. The ability to do complex calculations at the database level without impacting the application layer enables much faster time-to-value for SAP analytic applications. Relative to the in-memory fabric and SDA discussed above, BW users no longer need intimate knowledge of HANA SDA. The complete data model is now exposed to HANA as an information cube object, and HANA data can be reflected back into BW. To back it up, the company offered testimony from users. Representatives of Molson Coors said their new system took only a weekend to move into production (after six weeks of sandbox experiments and six weeks of development) and enables users to perform right-time financial reporting, rapid prototyping and customer sentiment analysis.

SAP’s advancements and portfolio expansion are necessary for it to continue in a leadership position, but the inherent risk is confusion amongst its customer and prospect base.  SAP published its last statement of direction for analytic dashboard about this time last year, and according to company executives, it will be updated fairly soon, though they would not specify when. The many tools in the portfolio include Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports, Explorer, Xcelsius and now Lumira. SAP and its partners position the portfolio as a toolbox in which each tool is meant to solve a different organizational need. There is overlap among them, however, and the inherent complexity of the toolbox approach may not resonate well with business users who desire simplicity and timeliness.

SAP customers and others considering SAP should carefully examine how well these tools match the skills in their organizations. We encourage companies to look at the different organizationalVRMobileBIVI roles as analytic personas and try to understand which constituencies are served by which parts of the SAP portfolio. For instance, one of the most critical personas going forward is the Designer role since usability is the top priority for organizational software according to our next-generation business intelligence research. Yet this role may become more difficult to fill over time since trends such as mobility continue to add to the job requirement. SAP’s recent upgrade of Design Studio to address emerging needs such as mobility and mobile device management (MDM) may force some organizations to rebuild  dashboards and upscale their designer skill sets to include JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets, but the ability to deliver multifunctional analytics across devices in a secure manner is becoming paramount. I note that SAP’s capabilities in this regard helped it score third overall in our 2014 Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index. Other key personas are the knowledge worker and the analyst. Our data analytics research shows that while SQL and Excel skills are abundant in organizations, statistical skills and mathematical skills are less common. SAP’s integration of KXEN into Lumira can help organizations develop these personas.

SAP is pursuing an expansive analytic strategy that includes not just traditional business intelligence but databases, discovery analytics and advanced analytics. Any company that has SAP installed, especially those with BusinessObjects or an SAP ERP system, should consider the broader analytic portfolio and how it can meet business goals. Even for new prospects, the portfolio can be compelling, and as the roadmap centered on Lumira develops, SAP may be able to take that big leap in the analytics market.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

SAS Institute, a long-established provider analytics software, showed off its latest technology innovations and product road maps at its recent analyst conference. In a very competitive market, SAS is not standing still, and executives showed progress on the goals introduced at last year’s conference, which I coveredSAS’s Visual Analytics software, integrated with an in-memory analytics engine called LASR, remains the company’s flagship product in its modernized portfolio. CEO Jim Goodnight demonstrated Visual Analytics’ sophisticated integration with statistical capabilities, which is something the company sees as a differentiator going forward. The product already provides automated charting capabilities, forecasting and scenario analysis, and SAS probably has been doing user-experience testing, since the visual interactivity is better than what I saw last year. SAS has put Visual Analytics on a six-month release cadence, which is a fast pace but necessary to keep up with the industry.

Visual discovery alone is becoming an ante in the analytics market,vr_predanalytics_benefits_of_predictive_analytics_updated since just about every vendor has some sort of discovery product in its portfolio. For SAS to gain on its competitors, it must make advanced analytic capabilities part of the product. In this regard, Dr. Goodnight demonstrated the software’s visual statistics capabilities, which can switch quickly from visual discovery into regression analysis running multiple models simultaneously and then optimize the best model. The statistical product is scheduled for availability in the second half of this year. With the ability to automatically create multiple models and output summary statistics and model parameters, users can create and optimize models in a more timely fashion, so the information can be come actionable sooner. In our research on predictive analytics, the most participants (68%) cited competitive advantage as a benefit of predictive analytics, and companies that are able to update their models daily or more often, our research also shows, are very satisfied with their predictive analytics tools more often than others are. The ability to create models in an agile and timely manner is valuable for various uses in a range of industries.

There are three ways that SAS allows high performance computing. The first is the more traditional grid approach which distributes processing across multiple nodes. The second is the in-database approach that allows SAS to run as a process inside of the database. vr_Big_Data_Analytics_08_top_capabilities_of_big_data_analyticsThe third is extracting data and running it in-memory. The system has the flexibility to run on different large-scale database types such as MPP as well Hadoop infrastructure through PIG and HIVE. This is important because for 64 percent of organizations, the ability to run predictive analytics on big data is a priority, according to our recently released research on big data analytics. SAS can run via MapReduce or directly access the underlying Hadoop Distributed File System and pull the data into LASR, the SAS in-memory system. SAS works with almost all commercial Hadoop implementations, including Cloudera, Hortonworks, EMC’s Pivotal and IBM’s InfoSphere BigInsights. The ability to put analytical processes into the MapReduce paradigm is compelling as it enables predictive analytics on big data sets in Hadoop, though the immaturity of initiatives such as YARN may relegate the jobs to batch processing for the time being. The flexibility of LASR and the associated portfolio can help organizations overcome the challenge of architectural integration, which is the most widespread technological barrier to predictive analytics (for 55% of participants in that research). Of note is that the SAS approach provides purely analytical engine, and since there is no SQL involved in the algorithms, its overhead related to SQL is non-existent and it runs directly on the supporting system’s resources.

As well as innovating with Visual Analytics and Hadoop, SAS has a clear direction in its road map, intending to integrate the data integration and data quality aspects of the portfolio in a singlevr_Info_Optimization_04_basic_information_tasks_consume_time workflow with the Visual Analytics product. Indeed, data preparation is still a key sticking point for organizations. According to our benchmark research on information optimization, time spent in analytic tasks is still consumed most by data preparation (for 47%) and data quality and consistency (45%). The most valuable task, interpretation of the data, ranks fourth at 33 percent of analytics time. This is a big area of opportunity in the market, as reflected by the flurry of funding for data preparation software companies in the fourth quarter of 2013. For further analysis of SAS’s data management and big data efforts, please read my colleague Mark Smith’s analysis.

Established relationships with companies like Teradata and a reinvigorated relationship with SAP position SAS to remain at the heart of enterprise analytic architectures. In particular, the co-development effort that allow the SAS predictive analytic workbench to run on top of SAP HANA is promising, which raises the question of how aggressive SAP will be in advancing its own advanced analytic capabilities on HANA. One area where SAS could learn from SAP is in its developer ecosystem. While SAP has thousands of developers building applications for HANA, SAS could do a better job of providing the tools developers need to extend the SAS platform. SAS has been able to prosper with a walled-garden approach, but the breadth and depth of innovation across the technology and analytics industry puts this type of strategy under pressure.

Overall, SAS impressed me with what it has accomplished in the past year and the direction it is heading in. The broad-based development efforts raise a final question of where the company should focus its resources. Based on its progress in the past year, it seems that a lot has gone into visual analytics, visual statistics, LASR and alignment with the Hadoop ecosystem. In 2014, the company will continue horizontal development, but there is a renewed focus on specific analytic solutions as well. At a minimum, the company has good momentum in retail, fraud and risk management, and manufacturing. I’m encouraged by this industry-centric direction because I think that the industry needs to move away from the technology-oriented V’s toward the business-oriented W’s.

For customers already using SAS, the company’s road map is designed to capture market advantage with minimal disruption to existing environments. In particular, focusing on solutions as well as technological depth and breadth is a viable strategy. While it still may make sense for customers to look around at the innovation occurring in analytics, moving to a new system will often incur high switching costs in productivity as well as money. For companies just starting out with visual discovery or predictive analytics, SAS Visual Analytics provides a good point of entry, and SAS has a vision for more advanced analytics down the road.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

IBM’s SPSS Analytic Catalyst enables business users to conduct the kind of advanced analysis that has been reserved for expert users of statistical software. As analytic modeling becomes more important to businesses and models proliferate in organizations, the ability to give domain experts advanced analytic capabilities can condense the analytic process and make the results available sooner for business use. Benefiting from IBM’s research and development in natural-language processing and its statistical modeling expertise, IBM SPSS Analytic Catalyst can automatically choose an appropriate model, execute the model, test it and explain it in plain English.

Information about the skills gap in analytics and the needvr_bigdata_obstacles_to_big_data_analytics (2) for more user-friendly tools indicates pent-up demand for this type of tool. Our benchmark research into big data shows that big data analytics is held back most by lack of knowledgeable staff (79%) and lack of training (77%).

In the case of SPSS Analytic Catalyst, the focus is on driver analysis. In its simplest form, a driver analysis aims to understand cause and effect among multiple variables. One challenge with driver analysis is to determine the method to use in each situation (choosing among, for example, linear or logistic regression, CART, CHAID or structural equation models). This is a complex decision which most organizations leave to the resident statistician or outsource to a professional analyst. Analytic Catalyst automates the task. It does not consider every method available, but that is not necessary. By examining the underlying data characteristics, it can address data sets, including what may be considered big data, with an appropriate algorithm. The benefit for nontechnical users is that Analytic Catalyst makes the decision on selecting the algorithm.

The tool condenses the analytic process into three steps: data upload, selection of the target variable (also called the dependent variable or outcome variable) and data exploration. Once the data is uploaded, the system selects target variables and automatically correlates and associates the data. Based on characteristics of the data, Analytic Catalyst chooses the appropriate method and returns summary data rather than statistical data. On the initial screen, it communicates so-called “top insights” in plain text and presents visuals, such as a decision tree in a churn analysis. Once the user has absorbed the top-level information, he or she can drill down into top key drivers. This enables users to see interactivity between attributes. Understanding this interactivity is an important part of driver analysis since causal variables often move together (a challenge known as multicollinearity) and it is sometimes hard to distinguish what is actually causing a particular outcome. For instance, analysis may blame the customer service department for a product defect and point to it as the primary driver of customer defection. Accepting this result, a company may mistakenly try to fix customer service when it is a product issue that needs to be addressed. This approach also overcomes the challenge of Simpson’s paradox, which is a hindrance for some visualization tools in the market. On subsequent navigations, Analytic Catalyst goes even further into how different independent variables move together, even if they do not directly explain the outcome variable.

Beyond the ability to automate modeling and enable exploration of data, I like that this new tool is suitable for both statistically inclined users (who can use it to get r-scores, model parameters or other data) and business users (whom visualizations and natural language walk through what things mean). Thus it enables cross-functional conversations and allows the domain expert to own the overall analysis.

I also like the second column of the “top key driver” screen, through which users can drill down into different questions regarding the data. Having a complete question set, the analyst can simply back out of one question and dive into another. The iterative process aligns naturally with the concept of data exploration.

IBM seems to be positioning the tool to help with early-stage analysis. From the examples I’ve seen, however, I think Analytic Catalyst would work well also as a back-end tool for marketers trying to increase wallet share through specific campaigns or for efforts by operations personnel to reduce churn by creating predefined actions at the point of service for particular at-risk customer populations.

IBM will need to continue to work with Analytic Catalyst vr_ngbi_br_importance_of_bi_technology_considerationsto get it integrated with other tools and ensure that it keeps the user experience in mind. Usability is the key buying criteria for nearly two-thirds (64%) of companies, according to our benchmark research into next-generation business intelligence.

It is important that the data models align with other models in the organization, such as customer value models, so that the right populations are targeted. Otherwise a marketer or operations person would likely need to figure this out in a different system, such as a BI tool. Also that user would have to put the analytical output into another system, such as a campaign management or business process tool, to make it actionable. Toward this end, I expect that IBM is working to integrate this product within its own portfolio and those of its partners.

SPSS Analytic Catalyst has leaped over the competition in putting sophisticated driver analytics into natural language that can guide almost any user through complex analytic scenarios. However, competitors are not standing still. Some are working on similar tools that apply natural language to sophisticated commodity modeling approaches, and many of the visual discovery vendors have similar but less optimized approaches. With the less sophisticated approaches, the question comes down to optimizing vs. satisfying. Other tools in the market satisfy the basic need for driver analysis (usually approached through simple correlation or one type of decision tree), but a more dynamic approach to driver analysis such as offered by IBM can reveal deeper understanding of the data. The answer will depend on an organization and its user group, but in fast-moving markets and scenarios where analytics is a key differentiator, this is a critical question to consider.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

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