The celebrated win by ‘Watson’, an IBM designed computer, in multiple rounds of ‘Jeopardy!’ against two of the game-show’s consistent champions has brought into sharp focus a debate on the future of artificial intelligence. The computer’s victory in a game that tests contestants on knowledge, language interpretation skills, analytical speed, response time and betting strategy opens up possibilities on what future Watsons can do for Business Intelligence.
Wide ranging technology changes have swept across most industry segments in the last few years. In comparison, developments in BI and Analytics have been far less dramatic or decisive. In many enterprises, BI and analytics continues to be restricted to top-level decision makers. This may be the result of a perception of Business Intelligence as a heavily technology dependent function requiring specialized skills and in-depth training – often the privilege of a few.
However, with technological advances, a growing wish list from business users and a society conditioned to instant search, BI and analytics seem poised on the threshold of a new wave of evolution. Futuristic BI vendors with a vision to change the paradigm are causing lines to blur between BI and AI – artificial intelligence.
Behind Watson’s win were its built-in capabilities for human interaction analyses and language interpretation. The machine was fed volumes of information from the internet including literature, history, arts and pure science. To answer each question on the show Watson had to search through its expansive data repository, evaluate, react and respond with appropriate answers in milliseconds.
Experts envisage that business analytics will move along remarkably similar lines in future. BI is expected to evolve from the report-centric model of today to smart, intuitive and interactive solutions. In response to any question posed to it, your Business Intelligence platform will cross index the vast data available in your organization’s data mart to give you the right answer within the speed of a click.
Distinct trends are already emerging in the field of BI that seem to drive the industry towards such futuristic solutions.
Search-Driven Business Intelligence:
The widespread use of Yahoo, Google, Bing and other search engines that allow quick scan-and-find options have raised the bar for Business Intelligence tools. In an increasingly search-driven society, BI tools of the future will have powerful search capabilities that allow you to scan your organizations data marts for relevant answers.
Neil Chandler, research director at Gartner, foresees that nearly a third of business intelligence functionality by 2014 will be consumed by users with mobile devices. With the widespread adoption of mobile computing, BI vendors recognize the need for analytics on the go. BI solutions compatible with smartphones, tablets and Androids with built-in alerts and notifications are likely to be in demand.
Unstructured Data Analysis:
Enterprises are no longer seeking insights only from POS systems and data warehouses. Numerous unstructured data sources are now brought into the BI fold including text, web pages, voice notes, videos, tags and social media content. Business Intelligence solutions of the future can interpret patterns in customer call logs, predict demand based on website traffic and decode what customers are saying about your product on twitter. Video analytics is gaining currency as a means of mapping trends in shelf stock movements, in-store customer movement and browsing patterns.
Analytics solutions are seeing a transition from data mining to predictive analytics and from insight to foresight. Past sales data, purchasing behavior and seasonal stock situations are being extrapolated into the future to make near-real time and accurate predictions on what businesses can expect for the coming season.
Collaborative Business Intelligence:
In an increasingly networked world, next generation Business Intelligence solutions will be designed with built-in collaborative capabilities that enable sharing insights and analysis; discussing and deriving key metrics and outcomes. Business Intelligence will work towards building participative decision-making environments where business users can interact, comment and collaborate in real time within the BI platform.
In a post recessionary world, advanced analytics is emerging as a key enabler for businesses to stay viable and competitive. Retail BI solutions of the future will bridge the gap between analytics and human inquiry and aim to align as closely as possible to the natural human process of inquiry and decision making. They will engage with users to match successive queries with appropriate answers, guiding them along an iterative path of inquiry until a final decision is arrived at.
Retail BI vendors are designing solutions with predictive analysis, faster processing and interactive, visually rich interfaces. One such example is Manthan Systems, a global leader in the retail BI and analytics segment. Driven by their futuristic vision, Manthan has been involved in cutting edge research that pushes the boundaries of retail BI. Manthan has successfully integrated pre-configured performance metrics and role-based guided analytics into their solutions enabling superior decision making at enterprise level. On the drawing board at Manthan are future enhancements that move away from static report-based models to more iterative and dynamic processes of investigation.
From in-memory processing, intelligent algorithms, predictive analytics, language interpretation and closed-loop, the retail BI environment is taking long strides towards the future. The retailer’s vision of a BI system that has all the right answers just a few clicks away may well be a reality sooner than we expect.