BI 4.0: Is Business Intelligence Entering its 4th Generation?

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This week, I had a very interesting conversation with a thought leader in the business intelligence (BI) space about whether we are starting to see the first glimpses of the 4th generation BI platforms. I am not a big fan of attaching version numbers to industry trends and in this case is particularly hard considering that predecessor trends (BI 2.0 and BI 3.0) are still evolving strong. However, I thought BI 4.0 offers a good umbrella to group some of the transformative developments we are experiencing in the BI space.

In the last couple of years, the BI ecosystem has seen an explosion in the number of machine learning and cognitive data technologies that are finally making data science a reality for enterprises. This new world of intelligent data solutions focus on capabilities that were not present in the previous generation of BI technologies and are pushing the boundaries of the BI space to new levels. Entering BI 4.0.

BI 1.0: Client-Server Architecture and IT-Centric Reports

The first generation of BI technologies were based on on-premise, client-server models in which reports were produced by IT groups based on specific business requirements. From the data infrastructure standpoint, this type of BI technologies were tied to relational and multi-dimensional database models that were the foundation of IT data architectures. This generation of BI Platforms was dominated by incumbents like Microsoft Reporting Services, IBM Cognos or SAP Business Objects.

BI 2.0: The Cloud and Big Data

The emergence of cloud computing and the evolution of NOSQL and big data database models were the catalyst for the second generation BI platforms. This new series of solutions focused on leveraging cloud enablement models to remove the friction of on-premise infrastructures and integrate with emerging data sources such as SaaS business systems or social networks. BI 2.0 also capitalized on the raise of big data and NOSQL platforms to provide solutions that analyze large amounts of semi-structured or unstructured data. Platforms like GoodData, Birst, Grow etc led the BI 2.0 movement.

BI 3.0: Personal, Collaborative, Visual, Mobile

The creation of self-service, visually appealing dashboards is the fundamental element of the third generation of BI technologies. BI 3.0 shifts BI processes from IT-centric to business-centric by enabling the authoring of visual dashboards by business users in a self-service model. BI 3.0 was also accelerated by the emergence of the enterprise mobile and collaboration trends. From that perspective, BI 3.0 solutions allow users to consume dashboards from mobile devices and applications and actively leverage coloration models to capture collective knowledge about a specific solutions. Solutions like Tableau and QlikView led the BI 3.0 movement.

BI 4.0: Predictive, Proactive, Real Time, Cognitive

The BI 4.0 movement (if we can agree on the term) is being led by the emergence of machine learning technologies as well as real time data analysis catalyzed by the evolution of trends like the internet of things (IOT). From the capability standpoint, BI 4.0 solutions extend traditional report techniques with predictive and proactive analytic models that enable additional levels of intelligence about business data sources. From that perspective, BI 3.0 focus less on creating reports that represent well-known situations in the past and more on discovering unknown insights and predictive outcomes about data in the future.

The real time analysis of data streams is also a key element of BI 4.0 solutions. In that sense, stream analytic solutions that collect and aggregate real time data signals from sources like smart devices or social networks are a foundational component of BI 4.0 suites. Finally, cognitive computing and deep learning capabilities that enable the analysis of text, images or voice data sources is becoming increasingly common in this new generation of BI solutions.

While the BI 4.0 is still in its infancy, we can already identify platforms that are leading the movement. IBM Watson, Microsoft Cortana Analytics, Apache Spark, AWS Kinesis are some of the well-known technologies in the space. Also a new generation of platforms like Dato, Databricks or H20.ai are rapidly emerging with unique innovations and solutions in the BI 4.0 space.

Is BI 4.0 a New Movement?

Honestly, I have no idea and I hate playing analyst games but I think the idea if definitely worth exploring. From the capability standpoint, BI 4.0 focus on areas that are notably different from its predecessors. Also, we are seeing the emergence of brand new players in the space which is always a good sign that a new movement is forming.

While the term BI 4.0 is certainly debatable, the fact that machine learning, cognitive computing and real time data analysis are transforming the landscape of BI solutions is very obvious. The best times for the BI space are certainly ahead of us.

Written by

CEO of IntoTheBlock, Chief Scientist at Invector Labs, Guest lecturer at Columbia University, Angel Investor, Author, Speaker.

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