Earlier this year I published the 2015 Data Visualization benchmark report and in the process of briefing with vendors learned something quite troubling about the Business Intelligence vendor landscape. A great deal of the established BI brands found the topic of “data visualization” to be somewhat problematic. In fact on more than a few occasions (to my surprise) multiple vendors indicated they didn’t offer a solution or message around data visualization. Really? Seems to me (and my grandmother), that a major tenet of the value behind BI technology comes from how data is presented and consumed. The very foundation of the BI value proposition is to “transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes.”
I think there’s a bigger problem we’re facing here, and that’s the stagnation of legacy BI offerings. Not only are some BI solution providers failing to rapidly innovate the platforms, they aren’t even trying to expose their sales cycle to trends and concepts that are likely going to transform future demand for BI investments. For buyers and existing users of legacy BI tools, that should lower some eyebrows because it showcases a lack of innovation and understanding of trends that are shaping the consumption of data across all functions in the organization.
Perhaps a more troubling statistic is the fact that only 48% of the 366 Data Visualizaton survey respondents that used BI tools indicated they currently deliver dashboards and visual reports to business users. That’s less than half, so is that to say 52% of users aren’t even doing a good job translating analysis into reporting and dashboards for decision makers!?! If we dig a little further, we learn that 80% of the time users indicated dashboards and reports are delivered via “fixed reports” from BI and 70% via “ad-hoc queries”. Yet, 73% of all respondents indicated data discovery and presentation was a top three priority for 2015 and 2016. What emerges is a huge gap between what the market currently gets from BI and what they actually want / need. With trends like this, you would think all BI vendors would rush to the data visualization bandwagon or at least bake it into the product roadmap. Unless the story they can tell is so glaringly bad, it’s better to avoid the concept of data visualization all together.
Without naming vendors, let’s split the BI landscape into two camps. On the one side we have well established BI platforms with widespread adoption over the last two decades, (mostly owned by large suite software vendors and traditionally on-premise.) These well-established platforms wield impressive adoption and command hefty recurring revenue models for the vendors. These are very powerful tools and, therefore, have historically been used or supported by technical resources and IT. While the intention behind BI was always to help transform data for non-technical business users, the stark reality over the last 2 decades is this rarely happens, and analysis is more ad-hoc in nature. In fact, 92% of large enterprise organizations indicated they currently do a “poor-to-average” job at transforming available data into actionable insights; yet, 84% of these firms have invested in on-premise BI.
Then we have an emerging and somewhat disruptive class of BI providers that started offering software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI solutions. These vendors saw an opportunity to address unmet needs from non-technical and largely non-IT buyers in functions like sales, service, marketing, finance, and operations. These users were looking for simple tools that didn’t require dependence on IT and largely made analysis of disparate data and spreadsheets accessible to non-technical users. Like all disruptive categories, these offerings were initially feature light compared to established BI solutions. Naturally the on-premise suite BI vendors dismissed the move to self-service and on-demand BI as a fad. But SaaS-based BI offerings exposed analytics and dashboards to a whole new class of business user; they have budget, business requirements, and they frequently make decisions that impact the top and bottom line. Decisions that really need to be informed by data, not gut reactions. These on-demand solutions rapidly gained traction because they were so easy to use, intuitive, and flexible at loading data. They became a great way to augment the BI stack and offer less technical tools to less technical resources. As such we now find the average mid-to-large organization that uses BI tools has, brace yourself, three different BI tools. That’s important because the disruption isn’t necessarily driving technology replacement, it’s expanding capabilities that existing platforms are failing to address.
The reality is there are very real use cases for supporting different intelligence platforms internally. In most cases, a marketing, sales, or finance user probably needs to transform data visually, but they don’t need the robust features in a BI tool, and may not even have a license to use the internal BI tools. Some would say the features don’t matter, it’s what you do with the data. Well at some point you have to get the data to the decision maker, and ultimately legacy BI tools have failed to do that. Hence the growth of an whole new breed of solutions more than a decade after the mature adoption of on-premise BI. If you are paying for one of these expensive robust BI tools, you should be demanding more from that strategic investment. Why do you need to purchase separate tools to deliver what should be the foundational element of BI – to transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis? Why does it matter if you do this via on-premise, on-demand, or in a hybrid model? What really matters is that you can do it in an easy and flexible way. Therefore it makes sense for legacy BI solution providers to step up their game with clients who have made significant long-term investments in BI that somewhere along the line stopped innovating and actually produced lucrative opportunities for a whole new generation of BI vendors. As such, any BI vendor who says, “we don’t message around data visualization” is failing miserably on this front.
Data visualization embodies a wide range of business applications. For most, the concept of visualizing data conjures up a variety of different terms and technologies: analytics, dashboards, business intelligence, reporting, infographics, visual analytics, scorecards, and big data. In the simplest form, it involves the creation of the visual representations of data. So why aren’t these elements a core value proposition from Business Intelligence tools? Not just the rich features to do data discovery, but a platform for making the presentation of that data sexy, easy to deliver, and consumable by anyone. Sadly, with what we learned in our vendor outreach on Data Visualization that’s not the case, and it should be a huge red flag for companies that have invested heavily in BI from large suite providers. You want and need a vendor that is invested in the next generation of business intelligence and data analytics, and that should include a line of sight to data visualization and dashboards. A better question is, can a vendor do Business Intelligence well without a focus on data visualization?
It could certainly be argued that all BI tools deliver some form of data visualization – and they absolutely do. But the reluctance on the part of some vendors to showcase their BI platforms data visualization offerings makes you wonder 1) how much work and effort is required to deliver visual dashboards and 2) how much out-of-the-box investment in development has been allocated to data visualization over the last decade.
That’s why a new generation of data visualization vendors like DOMO, Dundas, GoodData, and iDashboards are gaining such impressive growth despite the mature adoption of legacy BI platforms. It’s because businesses need simple, intuitive, and rapid to implement data visualization capabilities, and they aren’t getting them from traditional BI relationships.
Unfortunately, these realities lead to one inevitable outcome; companies have to engage multiple vendors and cope with fragmented data and analysis tools. This may work in the short-term, but from a strategic standpoint, the CIO should be looking to place long-term investments in consolidated business intelligence and data visualization vendor offerings – a single point of integration and flexible options to expose data-driven insights across any delivery mechanism (desktop, print, mobile devices, and embeddable within other apps). Your next question should be, who’s doing this “comprehensive suite of BI & Data Visualizaton offerings” well? Honestly, it’s hard to say given the feedback we got from the data visualization benchmark. Buyers still need to evaluate best-of-breed point solutions to address their needs. But like today’s BI decision makers, we sure would like every vendor in the BI space to offer a perspective or product roadmap on data visualization – rather than avoiding the concept altogether. We would also welcome an opportunity to showcase how vendors are differentiating on this topic because there’s too much noise, confusion, and redundant spend being allocated to BI tools that are failing to deliver on basic business requirements from buyers.