Analytics is “hot” – as hot as any application in 2015. Investors, start-ups and established suppliers, consultants and customers are all trying to capitalize on the trend towards using data to inform business decisions. The combination of explosive growth in data, access to previously-unaffordable IT resources via cloud computing, better algorithms and display
techniques and management interest in data-driven insight have analytics skyrocketing up IT corporate priority lists.
With all of the heightened attention, it can be easy to forget that analytics isn’t a new solution area. Analytics as a management discipline dates back to the 1800s, and computers have been used to enable more sophisticated analysis of ever-larger data sets since the 1960s.
One firm whose presence in the analytics market predates the current wave of interest is Information Builders. Founded in 1975, IB’s business is predicated on “three I’s”: intelligence, or analytic applications, integration, or the connection of diverse data sets to enable greater breadth of analysis, and integrity, which in the IB lexicon, refers to data quality and master data management tools. As the value of these products has become evident to an expanding community of users working across a growing range of industries on increasingly-intricate problems, IB has needed to evolve its packaging and value proposition to stay at the leading edge of its market.
InsightaaS sat down with Jake Frievald, VP, marketing at Information Builders, to get a sense of how escalating interest in analytics is changing the requirements and activities involved in marketing analytics to an expanding market. Here are five highlights from our conversation:
- Suppliers can help accelerate analytics adoption and use by building communities in important industry sectors. Frievald highlighted Information Builder’s activities in building communities within specific sectors. These communities are important, he believes, because they allow analytics-responsible management and staff to learn from initiatives launched by similar organizations. The approach doesn’t work in all sectors or in all geographies, but Frievald noted that IB has had success in “small government” (state and local government in the US, and municipal and provincial government in Canada and in other countries) and in some specific sectors (such as healthcare in Canada, especially in Ontario) where “there’s no real competition” causing leaders to be secretive about their activities.
- Suppliers need to highlight emerging connections between analytics and other business requirements. A supplier like IB, which is involved in a very wide range of analytics initiatives, is able to highlight connections between analytics and other corporate requirements. One example cited by Frievald is the link between privacy and analytics. As Frievald said, “it’s not often” that privacy strategies are considered to be part of corporate data strategies, but customers in regulated industries, such as financial services and healthcare, are beginning to bring these perspectives together to ensure that data used to support decisions is managed appropriately.
IoT will offer another opportunity to connect analytics with business-critical data. Frievald described IoT as “a subset of the Big Data question,” but one that sprawls in many directions, with products focused on filling one role, such as windshield wipers that respond automatically to moisture, acting as inputs that enrich entirely different systems, such as national weather maps that use the wipers’ sensor data to understand where rain is falling. Frievald also explained how core components of robust analytics solutions can support new location-enabled applications: for example, systems for tracking inventory across companies and locations require data mastering to ensure that a single part is treated as a unique entity, even if it has different names or definitions in multiple systems.
- The concept of “reinventing self-service” requires active marketing support. IB is heavily focused on the concept of “InfoApps,” applications that embed analytics and which are targeted at the large body of line employees – the 90% of staff members who are not data scientists or business analysts, but who can benefit from the insights developed by these specialized analytics users.
InfoApps have evident appeal, but self-service does not spring up organically; it requires active marketing support from suppliers to attract attention, effort and investment within the analytics user community. IB is stressing the connections between data strategy and collaboration – the benefits associated with integrating functions around insights arising from a deep, common data source – as a means of illustrating the importance of translating data-rich perspectives into prescriptive analytics that can be shared across the enterprise. Frievald offered compelling examples of InfoApps in action, supporting IT-enabled business programs “like accountable care… like predictive policing.” By examining the benefits of these types of activities and developing use cases for similar initiatives in other industries, such as financial services, IB’s marketing helps expand the horizons of analytics use.
- There’s real value in connecting traditional BI/analytics functionality and advanced display capabilities. The established analytics firms with roots in business intelligence (BI) and enterprise data warehouse (EDW) implementations are increasingly challenged by new firms that focus on data visualization. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both positions. Firms with a BI/EDW heritage have lived through many of the struggles involved with core ETL (extract, transform, load) processes and data quality; firms focused on data visualization are attracting attention because they make data insights accessible to non-specialists, increasing the potential impact of data within the business. At the same time, traditional market competitors can find themselves locked into business models that are defined by process issues rather than expanding opportunity for business relevance, while display-layer firms may be unable to address complex queries because they lack depth in key areas (such as metadata), limiting their ability to meaningfully integrate multiple data sources.
Frievald believes that a hybrid approach that connects the strengths of both approaches is essential to keeping an analytics supplier current with market trends, while also delivering a platform that can support a long-term, multi-stakeholder analytics strategy. He is proud of IB’s success in this regard: “if you look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant or other analysts, you’ll notice that Information Builders isn’t positioned with some of the older pure-play BI vendors. Our competition is the newer guys. And that’s good because when you look at us compared to the new guys, they have a niche, and we have a platform” that scales to meet customer requirements. He added that IB “used to be much more focused on data access, on the number of adapters that we had.” Today, customer requirements demand that IB position its products as “a data platform for analytics” that supports multiple inputs, multiple views and multiple uses of data.
- Product and corporate marketing are separate endeavours. In most fast-moving companies, “marketing” is a single function with many responsibilities. IB’s Frievald has found, though, that the complexities associated with positioning a supplier as a long-term partner for its customers are starting to demand specialization within the marketing function. By building separate competencies in associating product attributes with buyer needs and in demonstrating the overall benefit of analytics within user organizations, Frievald is able to expand the issues that IB’s marketing team can address. In the past, he observed, “we haven’t had the subject matter expertise” to build content around highly-specific use cases, such as the deployment of analytics within the energy industry. By investing in this as a specialized function, Frievald intends to expand marketing’s role as a bridge between analytics functionality and customer business success.
InfoApps offer a compelling illustration of this point. Within a customer account, InfoApps evolve at two levels: a data scientist or analyst identifies predictive factors that will have an impact on operational efficiency, and the internal IT team uses IB’s product to build and deploy the InfoApp that positions this insight as a business tool. Once deployed across the organization, the new InfoApp is really a customer product, rather than an IB product. Marketing’s role is separated into two very different realms: it has a responsibility to work with a limited group of data scientists who understand statistics and an IT group that understands software development, and it has a much broader requirement to document the business benefits of the InfoApp and promote these to help other firms see the potential for data-driven operational improvements. Both objectives are essential to marketing’s mandate of expanding the use and relevance of analytics products.
Taken as a whole, these five areas help illustrate both the tremendous scope of opportunity and the breadth of the real-world challenges facing analytics marketers. Demand is propelling growth in many areas, but staying on top of these developments, sharing the best practices that emerge and connecting product development to user requirements is a demanding task. Success in marketing analytics will separate the suppliers who are able to build long-term relationships based on increasingly-productive business activities from those that capitalize briefly on the market trend only to find themselves left behind by future industry advances.