Enterprise BI is for Curmudgeons

This post is my final thought of my prior post on SAP Lumira from a few weeks back.  I really hope you’ll find us talking about this over on dslayer.net soon.  In my career I’ve been a Business Objects guy for going on 15 years and an IT guy for even longer.  That gives me some longevity here in this BI ecosystem.  My wife says I’m old.  Maybe a bit crusty.  OK a lot.  But That history also makes me often refer back to a chart you never really see any more from the old French Business Objects days.

  • 5% of a user population want to get down and dirty with data and they deserve to…they know their stuff.
  • ~15% of a user population will know just enough to be dangerous, because they know some of the data, they may not know the tools, and can crank out some piece of BI that someone else will consume
  • ~80% of a user population just want to access that BI.  Tools are irrelevant and a waste of time to use.  They just want to be told what data to use to make a decision and they want to go on their merry way.

Or in another point of view:


What?  You wanted a pyramid?  That’d require PowerPoint.  I hate PowerPoint.  Moving on…

So that said, why does SAP make me feel like an Enterprise BI Curmudgeon?  Let’s dissect.

Moving through the history of Business Objects, SAP, and the various acquisitions we have seen, there has always been a very loosely coupled set of tools that allowed customers to fit into those three silos.  They allowed the business super users and IT create some BI and shove it out in the form of a report.  We’ve seen the introduction of competency centers to improve our communication and our understanding of what the business wants and maybe we’re better for it.

Looking ahead it seems that SAP is hedging its bets that 80/15/5 model is no longer valid, or, no longer what its customers are seeking.  The likes of Tableau, Qlikview, and now from our friends at SAP, Lumira, have shown that there is at the very least, a strong interest in the self-service, data discovery based BI tool.  But the burning question for me is, who will really use them?

In a recent conversation, it was inferred that the future of BI rests in the millennial’s hands. That is, an up and coming generation of users that is more hands on, is advanced in their usage of mobile BI, and will ultimately push the definition of self-service BI.  This implies that as an aging workforce of what I’ll refer to here as “BI Consumers” (the 80% above) move along, those that replace them will need/want more innovative ways to consume.

Will job functions change to make this true?  Will time permitted in a given day given employees in operations the time to “discover” vs. consume something that they know they need to see so that they can do their job. Does that make everybody an “analyst”? That’s an interesting question.  Customers still identify BI as mission critical based on industry research and personal experience, but time will only tell if it will become more of a norm that drives more employees to self-serve by creating some type of BI.

I’m an Enterprise BI Curmudgeon.  As a technologist, cool new things like SAP HANA, XS, Mobile SDKs, iDevices, and more, get me all excited.  As a BI practitioner, I love innovative ways that BI is slipping into every day life, web browsing activities, different facets of running a business, and more.  The really innovative BI vendors are going to deliver tools that can still be managed and governed by IT and key business stakeholders in partnership, empower the right business people to author great BI, and make it RIDICULOUSLY EASY to proliferate that BI to the masses so that it integrates into their day-to-day routines so that they don’t even know they are using BI.  This isn’t new.  I don’t think I thought it up.  Donald MacCormick has been talking about this for quite some time over on the Antivia Blog.  Call it transparent BI, integrated BI, seamless BI…I’m not sure it matters. Some users care that it’s BI, self-service, or whatever you call it, and the majority of users could care less.  Just get them information as easily as possible.

As an Enterprise BI Curmudgeon, I’m OK making a shift from the way we once delivered BI to new, innovative, and thoughtful approaches. However, I’ll challenge that as a BI practitioner, I don’t think I want to see the masses more productive in building BI.  I want to see them more productive in running their business.  I believe BI for the masses will evolve and will still involve reporting, KPIs, dashboards, and the notion of transparent BI.

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