Build More Effective Data Visualizations

Boris Evelson
Industry-renowned data visualization expert Edward Tufte once said: "The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?" He's right: There's too much information out there for knowledge workers to effectively analyze — be they hands-on analysts, data scientists, or senior execs. More often than not, traditional tabular reports fail to paint the whole picture or, even worse, lead you to the wrong conclusion. AD&D pros should be aware that data visualization can help for a variety of reasons:
  • Visual information is more powerful than any other type of sensory input. Dr. John Medina asserts that vision trumps all other senses when it comes to processing information; we are incredible at remembering pictures. Pictures are also more efficient than text alone because our brain considers each word to be a very small picture and thus takes more time to process text. When we hear a piece of information, we remember 10% of it three days later; if we add a picture, we remember 65% of it. There are multiple explanations for these phenomena, including the fact that 80% to 90% of information received by the brain comes through the eyes, and about half of your brain function is dedicated directly or indirectly to processing vision.
  • We can't see patterns in numbers alone . . . Simply seeing numbers on a grid doesn't always give us the whole story — and it can even lead us to draw the wrong conclusion. Anscombe's quartet demonstrates this effectively; four groups of seemingly similar x/y coordinates reveal very different patterns when represented in a graph.
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Amazon Web Services Pushes Enterprise And Hybrid Messages At re:Invent

Paul Miller

The hordes gathered in Las Vegas this week, for Amazon's latest re:Invent show. Over 18,000 individuals queued to get into sessions, jostled to reach the Oreo Cookie Popcorn (yes, really), and dodged casino-goers to hear from AWS, its partners and its customers. Las Vegas may figure nowhere on my list of favourite places, but the programme of Analyst sessions AWS laid on for earlier in the week definitely justified this trip.

The headline items (the Internet of Things, Business Intelligence, and a Snowball chucked straight at the 'hell' that is the enterprise data centre (think about it)) are much-discussed, but in many ways the more interesting stuff was AWS' continued - quiet, methodical, inexorable - improvement of its current offerings. One by one, enterprise 'reasons' to avoid AWS or its public cloud competitors are being systematically demolished.

Not headline-worthy, but important. And, as I and a number of my colleagues note in our Quick Take view on this week's show, AWS is most definitely turning up the heat. Frogs, we're told, don't know they're being boiled alive if you just turn up the heat slowly. CIOs, hopefully, are paying more attention to the warmth of AWS, all around them.

Forrester Quick Take: AWS QuickSight Will Disrupt Business Intelligence And Analytics Markets

Boris Evelson

Get ready for AWS business intelligence (BI): it's real and it packs a punch!

Today’s BI market is like a perpetual motion machine — an unstoppable engine that never seems to run out of steam. Forrester currently tracks more than 50 BI vendors, and not a month goes by without a software vendor or startup with tangential BI capabilities trying to take advantage of the craze for BI, analytics, and big data. This month is no exception: On October 7, Amazon crashed the party by announcing QuickSight, a new BI and analytics data management platform. BI pros will need to pay close attention, because this new platform is inexpensive, highly scalable, and has the potential to disrupt the BI vendor landscape. QuickSight is based on AWS’s cloud infrastructure, so it shares AWS characteristics like elasticity, abstracted complexity, and a pay-per-use consumption model. Specifically, the new QuickSight platform provides

  • New ways to get terabytes of data into AWS
  • Automatic enrichment of AWS metadata for more effective BI
  • An in-memory accelerator  (SPICE) to speed up big data analytics
  • An industrial grade data analysis and visualization platform (QuickSight), including mobile clients
  • Open APIs
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The Forrester Wave™: Agile Business Intelligence Platforms, Q3 2015

Boris Evelson

Consumers (and B2B customers) are more and more empowered with mobile devices and cloud-based, all but unlimited access to information about products, services, and prices. Customer stickiness is increasingly difficult to achieve as they demand instant gratification for their ever changing tastes and requirements. Switching product and service providers is now just a matter of clicking a few keys on a mobile phone. Forrester calls this the age of the customer, which elevates business and technology priorities to achieve:

  • Business agility. Business agility often equals the ability to adopt, react, and succeed in the midst of an unending fountain of customer driven requirements. Agile organizations make decisions differently by embracing a new, more grass-roots-based management approach. Employees down in the trenches, in individual business units, are the ones who are in close touch with customer problems, market shifts, and process inefficiencies. These workers are often in the best position to understand challenges and opportunities and to make decisions to improve the business. It is only when responses to change come from these highly aware and empowered employees, that enterprises become agile, competitive, and successful.

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BI and data integration professionals face a multitude of overlapping data preparation options

Boris Evelson

Ah, the good old days. The world used to be simple. ETL vendors provided data integration functionality, DBMS vendors data warehouse platforms and BI vendors concentrated on reporting, analysis and data visualization. And they all lived happily ever after without stepping on each others’ toes and benefiting from lucrative partnerships. Alas, the modern world of BI and data integration is infinitely more complex with multiple, often overlapping offerings from data integration and BI vendors. I see the following three major segments in the market of preparing data for BI:

  1. Fully functional and highly scalable ETL platforms that are used for integrating analytical data as well as moving, synchronizing and replicating operational, transactional data. This is still the realm of tech professionals who use ETL products from Informatica, AbInitio, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and others.
  2. An emerging market of data preparation technologies that specialize mostly in integrating data for BI use cases and mostly run by business users. Notable vendors in the space include Alteryx, Paxata, Trifecta, Datawatch, Birst, and a few others.
  3. Data preparation features built right into BI platforms. Most leading BI vendors today provide such capabilities to a varying degree.
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Make Your BI Environment More Agile With BI on Hadoop

Boris Evelson
In the past three decades, management information systems, data integration, data warehouses (DWs), BI, and other relevant technologies and processes only scratched the surface of turning data into useful information and actionable insights:
  • Organizations leverage less than half of their structured data for insights. The latest Forrester data and analytics survey finds that organizations use on average only 40% of their structured data for strategic decision-making. 
  • Unstructured data remains largely untapped. Organizations are even less mature in their use of unstructured data. They tap only about a third of their unstructured data sources (28% of semistructured and 31% of unstructured) for strategic decision-making. And these percentages don’t include more recent components of a 360-degree view of the customer, such as voice of the customer (VoC), social media, and the Internet of Things. 
  • BI architectures continue to become more complex. The intricacies of earlier-generation and many current business intelligence (BI) architectural stacks, which usually require the integration of dozens of components from different vendors, are just one reason it takes so long and costs so much to deliver a single version of the truth with a seamlessly integrated, centralized enterprise BI environment.
  • Existing BI architectures are not flexible enough. Most organizations take too long to get to the ultimate goal of a centralized BI environment, and by the time they think they are done, there are new data sources, new regulations, and new customer needs, which all require more changes to the BI environment.
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Don't Throw Hadoop At Every BI Challenge

Boris Evelson

The explosion of data and fast-changing customer needs have led many companies to a realization: They must constantly improve their capabilities, competencies, and culture in order to turn data into business value. But how do Business Intelligence (BI) professionals know whether they must modernize their platforms or whether their main challenges are mostly about culture, people, and processes?

"Our BI environment is only used for reporting — we need big data for analytics."

"Our data warehouse takes very long to build and update — we were told we can replace it with Hadoop."

These are just some of the conversations that Forrester clients initiate, believing they require a big data solution. But after a few probing questions, companies realize that they may need to upgrade their outdated BI platform, switch to a different database architecture, add extra nodes to their data warehouse (DW) servers, improve their data quality and data governance processes, or other commonsense solutions to their challenges, where new big data technologies may be one of the options, but not the only one, and sometimes not the best. Rather than incorrectly assuming that big data is the panacea for all issues associated with poorly architected and deployed BI environments, BI pros should follow the guidelines in the Forrester recent report to decide whether their BI environment needs a healthy dose of upgrades and process improvements or whether it requires different big data technologies. Here are some of the findings and recommendations from the full research report:

1) Hadoop won't solve your cultural challenges

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Hit the road running with a new BI initiative

Boris Evelson

Even though Business Intelligence applications have been out there for decades lots of people still struggle with “how do I get started with BI”. I constantly deal with clients who mistakenly start their BI journey by selecting a BI platform or not thinking about the data architecture. I know it’s a HUGE oversimplification but in a nutshell here’s a simple roadmap (for a more complete roadmap please see the Roadmap document in Forrester BI Playbook) that will ensure that your BI strategy is aligned with your business strategy and you will hit the road running. The best way to start, IMHO, is from the performance management point of view:

  1. Catalog your organization business units and departments
  2. For each business unit /department ask questions about their business strategy and objectives
  3. Then ask about what goals do they set for themselves in order achieve the objectives
  4. Next ask what metrics and indicators do they use to track where they are against their goals and objectives. Good rule of thumb: no business area, department needs to track more than 20 to 30 metrics. More than that is unmanageable.
  5. Then ask questions how they would like to slice/dice these metrics (by time period, by region, by business unit, by customer segment, etc)
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Systems Of Insight: Next Generation Business Intelligence

Boris Evelson

Earlier Generation BI Needs A Tune Up

Business intelligence has gone through multiple iterations in the past few decades. While BI's evolution has addressed some of the technology and process shortcomings of the earlier management information systems, BI teams still face challenges. Enterprises are transforming only 40% of their structured data and 31% of their unstructured data into information and insights. In addition, 63% of organizations still use spreadsheet-based applications for more than half of their decisions. Many earlier and current enterprise BI deployments:

  • Have hit the limits of scalability.
  • Struggle to address rapid changes in customer and regulatory requirements.
  • Fail to break through waterfall's design limitations.
  • Suffer from mismatched business and technology priorities and languages.
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Expand Your Big Data Capabilities With Unstructured Text Analytics

Boris Evelson
Beware of insights! Real danger lurks behind the promise of big data to bring more data to more people faster, better, and cheaper: Insights are only as good as how people interpret the information presented to them. When looking at a stock chart, you can't even answer the simplest question — "Is the latest stock price move good or bad for my portfolio?" — without understanding the context: where you are in your investment journey and whether you're looking to buy or sell. While structured data can provide some context — like checkboxes indicating your income range, investment experience, investment objectives, and risk tolerance levels — unstructured data sources contain several orders of magnitude more context. An email exchange with a financial advisor indicating your experience with a particular investment vehicle, news articles about the market segment heavily represented in your portfolio, and social media posts about companies in which you've invested or plan to invest can all generate much broader and deeper context to better inform your decision to buy or sell. 
But defining the context by finding structures, patterns, and meaning in unstructured data is not a simple process. As a result, firms face a gap between data and insights; while they are awash in an abundance of customer and marketing data, they struggle to convert this data into the insights needed to win, serve, and retain customers. In general, Forrester has found that: 
  • The problem is not a lack of data. Most companies have access to plenty of customer feedback surveys, contact center records, mobile tracking data, loyalty program activities, and social media feeds — but, alas, it's not easily available to business leaders to help them make decisions. 
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