It is another lovely springtime Sunday traveling across country to California. I need to have a chat with analytics conference planners to lure a few more events to Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Gee, even Atlanta, New York, Dallas or Chicago venues would be an easier trek for East Coast techies. In the meantime while hanging out between flights, I’ll share a few top takeaways from the 2015 Gartner BI & Analytics Summit.

This year I left the Gartner BI & Analytics Summit conference feeling like the entire BI industry is in a midlife crisis. No I am not talking about myself – that would be another story. Seriously all the chatter about old slow BI approaches being left behind for rapid data discovery with little governance, one version of the truth being tossed to the wind in a new BI world being driven by the business, and even a short opening keynote flick created by the Gartner team showing a middle aged woman leaving her husband, tired of waiting, disappointed by empty promises, etc. did send a message and a warning signal. The Gartner BI & Analytics Summit conference theme of “bimodal BI” does accurately reflect what I have seen happening in the industry. Data discovery tools are becoming totally irresistible to the business because they are fast, easy to use and visually drop-dead gorgeous. However, I can’t help but think a bit more BI sanity may return in a few years after the business realizes there is much more to a successful BI implementation than quickly connecting to data and creating pretty charts. On a promising note, Gartner did share that ideally there would be balance between the craze happening right now and the rational analytics world that we used to know. In the meantime, there is a fundamental market shift from IT-driven BI to self-service data discovery tool purchasing that is disrupting businesses everywhere.

Automated Intelligent Analytics

Another key disruptive takeaway for me was the up and coming trend of automated BI and intelligent analytics. The cool, must-see, BI & analytics vendors this year completely automated basic BI dashboard builds and data analysis tasks. Simply by connecting to data, modern BI solutions shown at the Gartner conference create a plethora of charts with significant findings and relationships between attributes. Check out Microsoft Power BI Preview’s Get Data software-as-a-Service (SaaS) template connectors that generate a BI dashboard and underlying reports in less than 2 minutes by simply logging in.

DOMO, a cloud BI company that I have publicly dinged in the past for their ridiculous behavior, finally came out of the closet and are showcasing one-click BI template apps. I told you so! I sensed that was what they were building last year. A few other vendors such as IBM Watson Analytics, BeyondCore, Ayasdi and Nutonian are also automating BI apps with cooked in machine learning, predictive and prescriptive analytics.

beyondcoreSource: BeyondCore.com

I was truly impressed with BeyondCore’s one-click automated analytics inside Microsoft Office. What stood out to me in their solution was a much more sophisticated, cognitive and prescriptive analytics understanding of the data with automated natural language, textual write up of the key analytical findings. These guys are claiming that today you would have to work through millions of questions to find a few insights hidden in your data. That of course takes quite a bit of time and is susceptible to analyst bias or errors. I totally agree! If you are a data discovery/visual analytics guru tasked to prepare data for analysis, manually explore and investigate that data for gathering insights, build dashboards and generate reports to tell stories with data. Guess what? Automated BI tools will blow you away in a few minutes. Thus beware, the future of analytics is highly automated.

nutonian
Source: Nutonian.com

Now the skeptic in me does not totally love every aspect of this “easy button” analytics automation for everyone trend. Much like my IBM Watson gripes, I do not care for BeyondCore’s “black-box” design. There is no information available on the underlying predictive models being developed or the automated data prep process as far as I can tell. Since I have advanced analytics and machine learning knowledge, I want to know where the models error and also have the ability to tweak algorithms being used. Most of all, I don’t want everyone to have the exact same secret sauce model per se or I would lose my analytics competitive advantage. I also believe it is critical to understand subject matter data context that you can only get by working in the business. Automation will improve and change our lives but the beauty of an analytical, creative human mind has not yet been replaced.

Other Takeaways

Most of the self-service BI and advanced analytics sessions did not contain new information for me since I obsess over the industry daily. However, I was surprised to learn that Gartner sees over 1000 new entrants in our space. I knew there were a lot of start ups with the reduced barriers to entry cloud and big data platforms offer. I had no idea it was over 1000! Inevitably niche players like ThoughtSpot won’t be around for long as the industry consolidates. Mega vendors with cost advantages will buy them or destroy them in the mounting cloud and data wars.

We will see a bit of buzz around the self-service data prep topic in 2015 and 2016. Mobile, cloud BI, real-time operational analytics and location intelligence were also hot topics. It was exciting to see mobile BI and alerting gain renewed interest. It is no secret that I appreciate proactive alerting. I do see more folks using mobile BI dashboards on their smart phones these days. The younger generation is entering the workforce and second world countries have more phones than they do desktop computers. Cloud BI is also growing in sync with cloud SaaS popularity, data gravity and Internet of Things (IoT) data growth shifts. Lastly real-time operational analytics and location intelligence appears to be another game changer in an incredibly fast-paced competitive 24×7 world where every moment counts.