businessperson at a computer
Businesses need to derive practical insights from data and make them available to everyone throughout the organization. PHOTO: Energepic

Business intelligence has earned itself a snobby reputation.

For non-enterprise organizations or — in my case — as a marketer, that reputation has led to both technophobia as well as an aversion to big data. Even absent fear, the talent and funding demands for complex analytics have historically been deal-breakers for small business in particular.

And yet, there’s growing recognition that to compete effectively, all organizations must become and remain data-driven.

Make Data Useful

Today, success hinges not only on gathering, collating and analyzing large data sets but also deriving practical insights and making them available to everyone throughout the organization.

This is especially true for marketing where big data is the “most profitable place” for analytics.

The necessity and challenge of complex analytics has caused a spike in demand for solutions that make BI more accessible. Thankfully, the tide is changing with the emergence of a new generation of complex data analytics whose tools can make anyone and everyone a data scientist.

Delivering Enterprise BI Solutions to Small Businesses

The BI landscape is evolving quickly. Innovation in big data, cloud services, predictive analytics and data science is making it possible for a growing number of small- and medium-size businesses (SMB) to use sophisticated analytics to their advantage.

Part of this evolution comes from pressure on large providers to make their products more accessible to SMBs. For instance, Microsoft Power BI recently began integrating with Office 365 and Salesforce to make sure all users have the same analytical abilities.

Alongside this move to democratize from the top down, the industry itself is shifting from one dominated by enterprise-level solutions to an open market. These changes have all but removed the requirements of an in-house data scientist and the associated price tag.

Ultimately, SMBs are seeking self-service solutions that will deliver the same comprehensive insights as Oracle or SAP. In fact, the rise of “affordable BI solutions” was cited by PC Magazine as one of the most important BI trends to watch last year.

Sea Change Amid Data Lakes

This evolution has not taken place overnight. The growing prevalence of APIs and consumer-led cloud computing transitioned infrastructure formation from an intimidating commitment to an elastic, down-scalable, democratized process.

Some of the newly available options are game-changers in the BI space. Sisense provides a comprehensive suite of self-service tools. Users can create interactive dashboards from multiple sources with a simple drag-and-drop interface.

“Our unique in-chip approach allows every employee with a PC to participate in the Big Data revolution,” Sisense CEO Amir Orad recently told Network World. “Everyday business users can now tackle the same volume and complexity of data as the world’s leading data scientists to uncover business insights with ease and agility.”

Only five years established, BigML is also making a concerted effort to empower SMBs. Their technology simplifies embedded processes, making it possible for anyone to develop predictive analytics.

The tool’s drag-and-drop functionality as well as voice-integration with Alexa and Google Sheets allows for a more intuitive, non-technical user experience. With BigML, this makes creating models and assembling decision trees far easier. It also helps in undercutting the steep learning curve of machine learning itself.

Another standout is ClearStory Data. By combining in-house sources with industry-wide metrics, SMBs can effectively levels the playing field by loosening the data monopoly enterprises who once held.

For marketers, their Interactive StoryBoards focus on leveraging customer acquisition and retention numbers from past promotions in order to create and distribute future content at the right time and through the right channels. This aligning goes a long way to tearing down data silos between sales, marketing, and even product development.

Data Analytics Now Accessible to All

Speed, price and self-sufficiency are the key differences between business-led BI tools and enterprise applications. Because these three ingredients are especially pivotal in the SMB sector, today we’re seeing a huge migration toward self-service BI tools.

Paul Nashawaty, director of product marketing and strategy for Progress — a data connectivity and integration consultancy — goes so far as to say that “everyone” is shifting to self-service: “Self-service tools will give you the same results with less cost of entry.”

Where do these groundbreaking innovations leave the Oracles and SAPs of the world? As with Microsoft, veteran players are increasingly adapting their own platforms to cater to business-led BI, offering consumer-grade apps, cloud-integration, quick deployment and intuitive interfaces.

Ten years ago, larger companies with massive budgets exclusively occupied the BI space, leaving it out of reach for most businesses. These new innovations are leveling the playing field for all businesses, democratizing this vital function.