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Three Ideas That Could Bring Business Intelligence to the Masses: Page 2

By Wayne Kernochan     Feedback
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<h1>BI Idea 1: Google Exploratory Data Analysis</h1>
I'll start with a long example of what I'm looking for here:<p>

I'm reading through someone's blog when they mention "graphical analysis." What the hey? There's a pointer to another blog, where they make a lot of unproven assertions about graphical analysis. Time to visit Google: a search on graphical analysis results in a lot of extraneous information, some of it very interesting, plus Wikipedia and a vendor who is selling this stuff. Wikipedia is off-topic, but carefully reading the article shows that there are a couple of other articles that might be on point. One of them gives me some of the social-networking theory behind graphical analysis, but not the products or the market.<p>

Back to Google, forward to a couple of analyst market figures. They sound iffy, so I go to a vendor site and get their financials to cross-check. Not much in there, but enough that I can guesstimate. Back to Google, change the search to "graphical BI." Bingo, another vendor with much more market information and ways to cross-check the first vendor's claims. Which products have been left out? An analyst report lists the two vendors, but in a different market, and also lists their competitors. Let's take a sample competitor: what's their response to "graphical analysis" or graphical BI? Nothing, but they seem to feel that statistical analysis is their best competitive weapon. Does statistical analysis cover graphical analysis?<p>

The names SAS and SPSS keep coming up in my Google searches, but it doesn't seem as if their user manuals even mention the word "graph." What are the potential use cases? Computation of shortest path? Well, only if you're driving somewhere. Still, if it's made easy for me... Is this really easier than Mapquest? Let's try a multi-step trip. Oog. It definitely could be easier than Mapquest. Can I try out this product? All right, I've got the free trial version loaded, let's try the multi-step trip. You know, this could do better for a sales trip than my company's path optimization stuff, because I can tweak it for my personal needs. Combine with Google Maps, stir ... wouldn't it be nice if there was a Wikimaps, so that people could warn us about all these little construction obstructions and missing signs? Anyway, I've just given myself an extra half-hour on the trip to spend on one more call, without having to clear it.<p>

Two points about all this. First, Google is superb at free-association exploratory analysis of documents. You search for something, you alter the search because of facts you've found, you use the results to find other useful facts about it, you change the topic of the search to cross-check, you dig down into specific examples to verify, you even go completely off-topic and then come back. The result is far richer, far more useful to the "common end user" and his or her organization, and far more fun than just doing a query on graphical data in the company <a href=http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/data_warehouse.html>data warehouse</a>.<p>

Second, Google is lousy at exploratory <em>data</em> analysis, because it is "data dumb" &mdash; it can find metadata and individual pieces of data, but it can't detect patterns in the data, so you have to do it yourself. If you are searching for "graphical analysis" across vendor websites, Google can't figure out that it would be nice to know that 9 of 10 vendors in the market don't mention "graph" on their websites, or that no vendors offer free trial downloads.<p>

The answer to this seems straightforward enough: add "guess-type" data analysis capabilities to Google. And, by the way, if you're at work, make the first port of call your company's data warehouse data store, full of data you can't get anywhere else. You're looking for the low-priced product for graphical analysis? Hmm, your company offers three types through a deal with the vendor, but none is the low-cost one. I wonder what effect that has had on sales? Your company did a recent price cut; sure enough, it hasn't had a big effect. Except in China; does that have to do with recent exchange rate manipulations, and the fact that you sell via a Chinese firm instead of on your own? It might indeed, since Google tells you the manipulations started three weeks ago, just when the price cut happened.<p>

Get the idea? Note that the search/analysis engine guessed that you wanted your company's data called out, and that you wanted sales broken down by geography and in a monthly time series. Moreover, this is <em>exploratory</em> data analysis, which means that you get to see both the summary report/statistics and individual pieces of raw data to see if your theories about what's going on make sense.<p>

In Google exploratory data analysis, the search engine and your own exploration drive the data analysis, not the tools available and supposedly designed for this process. It's a fundamental mind shift, and one that explains why Excel became popular and in-house on-demand reporting schemes didn't, or why Google search was accepted and SQL wasn't. One is about the features; the other is about the consumer's needs.<p>

Oh, by the way, once this takes off, you can start using information about user searches to drive adding <i>really</i> useful data to the data warehouse.<p>

This article was originally published on November 5, 2010
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