What’s Not BI? Oh, Don’t Get Me Started....Oops Too Late...Here Goes....

My Forrester colleagues and I will be doing a TweetJam on Thursday May 13, from 2-3pm (eastern), on the topic of business intelligence (BI). 

If that topic sounds global, all-encompassing, and a tad nebulous to you, then we’ve succeeded. One of the favorite pastimes of BI analysts everywhere—not just at Forrester—is defining and redefining this uber-category known as BI. What exactly is it? Or rather—considering that almost every data management technology has been swept into BI’s gravitational orbit at one time or another by somebody somewhere—what is BI not? What’s analytics? What are decision support systems? How does this relate to knowledge management, content management, social media, and so forth. I even had a consulting client spontaneously grill me on all that yesterday in a face-to-face...um...talkjam (?).

We, the Forrester brain trust on all things BI and BI-ish, are going to jam our Twitterfingers silly on that very topic for an hour or so on that mid-May day. On that jam, in addition to @jameskobielus, you should be following Boris Evelson (@bevelson), Rob Karel (@rbkarel), Noel Yuhanna (@nyuhanna), Holger Kisker (@hkisker), Leslie Owens (@owensleslie), and Gene Leganza (@gleganza). You’ll also be able to roll up all of our tweets by searching on hashtag #dmjam (assuming we all remember to use it in all tweets—sometimes I’m remiss).

Rest assured that we’re all going to drill down to specifics very quickly. We’ll have a lively back-and-forth tweet-volley on this topic. It’s ongoing, of course, so you might have noticed that Boris already blogged his high-level perspective on the topic yesterday.

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Social CRM—Don’t Make It a Silo in Your Multichannel Strategy

Customer relationship management (CRM) has always been a multichannel discipline. You should connect and bond with your customers through whatever mix of channels they use or prefer. That has traditionally meant that existing channels be supplemented and extended by whatever new technologies come along. Hence, any enterprise serious about multichannel CRM has begun to add social media to a strategy that includes point of sale (PoS), direct postal mail, agent-assisted telephony, interactive voice response, e-mail, portals, and text messaging—at the very least. 

Social CRM is the newest craze in this arena. It refers generally to the convergence of social media with CRM. However, in the minds of some observers it seems to imply that social media will somehow become the most important CRM channel of all, marginalizing or obsoleting others. I take issue with that perspective, which threatens to turn social media, in all their billowing multiplicity, into a big new overstuffed silo in the CRM world. 

I don’t deny that social-networking interfaces are all the rage in the CRM space. One obvious case in point is salesforce.com’s Chatter collaboration platform, which looks and feels so Facebook-y that, navigating through it, I half-expect my cousins to be posting new vacation pictures to the community. 

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Harnessing Real-time Process Analytics: Forrester Analyst Video Jam Session and ITF Look-Ahead

What do you need for a full-featured process analytics platform? My Forrester colleague Clay Richardson and I discussed this topic in a recent video podcast, which we have posted on YouTube. Please look at this and tell us what you think. If you’re a Forrester customer, we would also love to see you next month, May 26-28, at the Forrester Information Technology Forum (ITF) in Las Vegas, where Clay and I will be exploring this topic on a panel session with colleagues Boris Evelson and Craig Le Clair.

Here’s a little peek ahead at what I plan to discuss in next month’s IT panel, which will extend upon the remarks in the video podcast as well as my musings in a blogpost from a few months ago. As I noted before, process analytics is all about identifying what works and doesn’t work. The first order of business for us is to identify the full range of enabling infrastructure and tools for tracking, exploring, and analyzing a wide range of workflows. It should support optimization of processes based both on historical metrics and on fresh streams of up-to-the-second key performance indicators (KPIs). And it should provide reports, dashboards, and other views and tools adapted to each role performed by each stakeholder in a business process.

Consequently, a process analytics platform should leverage tools and best practices in business process management (BPM), business activity monitoring (BAM), business intelligence (BI), business rules engines (BRE),predictive analytics and data mining (PA-DM), and complex event processing (CEP). The following graphic shows a high-level reference architecture for a process analytics platform:

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No No No: The Curiously Absent Architecture of Postmodern Analytic Databases

Some say architecture is destiny. But it seems as if the world of analytic databases is moving on many fronts in all directions with no particular destination. That, in fact, is probably a good working definition of “postmodern.”

That’s the only reasonable conclusion you can draw from the sprawling mess of a movement known as “NoSQL.” It defines itself by what it is not, which would be easy to do if all it were rebelling against were something well-defined, such as the need to use Structured Query Language (SQL) to access, query, update, and manipulate data, or the need to store and manage that data in third-normal-form relational databases.

But no.  The NoSQL movement seems to fancy itself a catchall for all things “next-generation database,” though even there it is not clear what exactly they’re rebelling against. Check out this “NoSQL” scoping definition on the movement’s principal website: “Next Generation Databases [are] non-relational, distributed, open-source...horizontally scalable... modern web-scale databases....schema-free, replication support, easy API, eventual consistency, and more.”

Whew! If that non-definition didn’t leave you gasping for breath, the unruly menagerie of “No SQL” database approaches listed on the website will completely rob you of your oxygen supply. Apparently, this movement includes an unholy host of old and new database approaches, including wide column store/ column families, document store, key value/ tuple store, eventually consistent key value store, graph databases, object databases, grid database solutions, and XML databases.

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Number of People Using Advanced Analytics

Guesstimates are often essential for market sizing and trending. To be useful, especially where primary data are lacking, they demand a valid conceptual framework. 

Like you, I’m looking forward to the responses to Boris Evelson’s quick Web-based survey, which you can access from his most recent blogpost.It’s always a challenge to assess how truly pervasive BI is—and pervasive it could potentially become.

To generate a valid first approximation, Boris scoped his blog comments and quick survey to “traditional BI” applications (i.e., historical reporting, query, dashboarding). He scoped his estimate only to large enterprise and midmarket firms (i.e., those with 100 or more employees) and only to BI usage in the US.

In order to keep this task manageable, Boris excluded some use cases that are often included in the “traditional BI” category: spreadsheets and other “homegrown” analytics apps; BI embedded in line-of-business apps; and non-interactive, static, published BI outputs. He leveraged both public and Forrester-gathered primary data to gauge how many actual and potential BI users there might be.

Scoping it as he did, Boris estimated that slightly more than 1.5 million people in the US are using traditional BI applications, which is between 2-3 percent of the employees of BI-implementing firms. He suspects the actual percentage might be as high as 6-8 percent of employees, but he’s not sure. That’s why he’s running the Web-based quick survey.

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Social CRM: Yes, It's the Real Deal, But That Hand's Still Being Dealt

In the continuous hype cycle that is all things tech, “social” has become the latest flavor of everything. 

For sure, we as IT industry analysts are major players in this cycle, albeit sometimes inadvertently. Even when we individually attempt to provide sober, nuanced, balanced, fact-based discussions of some new “social” this-or-that, we’re often stoking the popular mania. The bottom line is that yet another analyst is paying attention and tweeting thoughts on some trendy “social” topic. This fact can and often does get wrenched out of context and escalated wildly in the minds of some people who follow us. 

Social CRM is still climbing the hype curve, and events such as this week’s Forrester CRM Jam on Twitter (#CRMjam, Wed. March 24- 1-3 p.m. USA EDT) will undoubtedly fuel that combustion. Of course, yours  truly contributed to the buzzing conversation last week with this blogpost on the analytics component of social CRM. I hope you found that discussion useful—with enough new information to help you align social CRM with your analytics initiatives. 

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If Queries Are King In The Realm Of The Analytic Database, Does That Make Columnar Heir Apparent?

What’s the perfect database management system (DBMS) architecture, where analytics is concerned? It seems as if everybody in business intelligence (BI), data warehousing (DW), and related areas has their own opinion on this topic. In fact, it’s more than just opinions. In the database wars, we have huge communities of vendors and users with substantial investments in one or more approaches—from traditional relational DBMSs to column-oriented, in-memory, dimensional, inverted indexing, and other approaches. 

In the analytic database wars, new architectures are springing up everywhere, each with its own devotees and differentiators, and each with a go-to-market message that takes potshots at established approaches.  The “No SQL” movement is just the latest coalition to emerge in this titanic struggle, and is essentially a loose coalition of diverse approaches rallying around a common theme: that traditional RDBMSs and their SQL-based access languages are unfit, or at least, maladapted to the new world of cloud, social networking, and Web-oriented analytics applications. 

DW industry analysts such as myself are of course embedded in these wars—we’re the neutral observers often caught in the crossfire. Of course, this is not a new battle. The columnar database industry has been around for many years and positioned itself as the chief high-performance, low-footprint analytics contender to  traditional row-based RDBMSs. And columnar has steadily encroached on relational’s turf, not only through established columnar-based DW vendors such as Sybase, Vertica, and ParAccel, but also through recent adoption (albeit in limited fashion) by the likes of Oracle, SAP, and others into their analytics architectures. 

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Self-Service Predictive Modeling: Vendors Still Have Far to Go

Self-service analytics is one of my core coverage focus areas. It applies not just to business intelligence (BI) but also to advanced analytics. 

When, a few months ago, I uttered the immortal phrase “roll over rocket scientists,” I was referring more specifically to the need for pervasive self-service tools for predictive analytics and data mining (PA/DM). Considering that my recently published Forrester Wave on PA/DM Solutions primarily addressed the traditional requirements of “rocket scientist” experts in statistical analysis, I did not put a huge emphasis on data mining features geared to business analysts, subject matter experts, and other “non-technical” information workers. 

As I’ve stated in that blogpost and the follow-on podcast, the core problem with today’s PA/DM offerings is that many of them are power tools, not solutions that have been designed for the mass business market. Vendors such as SAS Institute, IBM/SPSS, KXEN, Oracle, Portrait Software, Angoss, FICO, and TIBCO Spotfire provide data mining specialists with feature-rich algorithm-powered solutions for modeling, scoring, regression, and other core PA/DM functions. Their core, traditional user base consists of statisticians, mathematicians, and other highly educated analytics professionals. 

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Social, Spatial, & Temporal: The Coordinates of Community in the Cloud

Social networks have their foundations in the space-time continuum—you know, the funky coordinate system  that Einstein was so keen about.

Social network analysis is all about looking for patterns of “proximity” among people, considered in their cultural capacities as influencers and followers, innovators and imitators, first-movers and late adopters. Down deep, I consider social network analysis an important new branch of decision support systems as a discipline. The core question is: What unique situational chemistry causes various people, individually or collectively, to make various decisions at various places and times?

That’s where space and time enter the social network analysis equation. It’s not enough that I look up to your shining example and take my lead from what you say and do. It’s just as important that we be in the same city, neighborhood, or room. More than that, it’s important that you and I actually cross paths in order for you to actively influence me to buy that latte, or for you to calm me down and thereby stop me from storming out the door and severing my relationship with a retailer who has ignored my complaints one time too many.

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Social CRM Thrives on Powerful Dashboards and Process Analytics

What the business world needs now is a bigger, badder, more powerful social media dashboard for customer relationship management (CRM). It almost goes without saying that TweetDeck just won’t cut it.

Ideally, the social media dashboard would provide a CRM-integrated interface for monitoring what customers are saying about you in Twitter, Facebook, and other communities. It would also allow you to aggregate high-level customer satisfaction metrics; to flag smouldering issues surrounding defective products and poor customer service; to respond inline through these channels; and to escalate issues internally to the appropriate parties. In other words, it would be, per my colleagues Bill Band and Natalie Petouhoff, a true “customer business intelligence (BI)” dashboard.

As you develop your company’s social CRM strategy, you must provide social media dashboards to all roles that participate in the customer lifecycle. Whether you’re a brand manager who simply wants to listen into social networks to track awareness, sentiment, and propensities, or a sales person who is interested in identifying and qualifying leads, or a customer service rep who wants to interact closely with established customers, a social media dashboard will soon become a core productivity tool.

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