IT pros must get smart about analytics: IBM

ComputerWorld Canada –

Today business intelligence may only reach 15 to 20 per cent of an organization's users, but that will explode to 65 per cent in the next five years, said an executive with IBM Canada Ltd.

And as users increasingly get acquainted with these analytic systems, IT pros will have no choice but to deal with the massive flood of queries and data requests that will undoubtedly follow, said Jason Gartner, business analytics development executive with IBM Canada.

"Every bit of information you give them they ask for twice more back," said Gartner. "You give them a global headcount. The next thing they are going to ask is give me a global headcount by geography. All of a sudden, it's four times the information."

Gartner spoke at a ComputerWorld Canada TechInsights event about driving business innovation with smart analytics.

As user requests grow exponentially, the daily challenge for IT pros will be to continue to serve those needs, said Gartner. He describes what he calls a "one-way mirror" which separates business users from IT who toil in the background ensuring the data is clean, rationalized and at the granular level users want it.

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"(Users) don't care where the data comes from, they don't care how you got the data," said Gartner.

Also speaking at the event was Glen Sheffield, information management technical specialist with IBM Canada, who said the product landscape has become a lot more complex for IT pros in the last 15 years with all the possible options of databases, analytics, network, storage and servers. "The world got more confusing, there were more choices," said Sheffield. "It's time to start thinking about how we're going to start delivering this in a faster manner."

For this reason, Sheffield said the next trend among vendors, including IBM, is to address the simplicity of deployment with integrated hardware and analytics. IBM announced precisely this with its Smart Analytics last September. And just last January, Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled what they called a "breakthrough" stack integration of both company portfolios.

Gartner said IBM is not attempting to solve all its customer problems with this integrated approach, rather it's about letting IT pros focus on the business needs and not on "all the little pieces and nuts and bolts."

IT pros can then customize available packaged analytics applications and add modules as needed, said Gartner.

Conan Lear, business intelligence consultant with Toronto-based T4G Ltd., attended the event wanting to find out more about IBM's analytics strategy. In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada, Lear said IBM's Smart Analytics approach is very ambitious. "I think it is great that they are thinking about solutions for every area and I love the idea of being modular," he said.

However, Lear thinks it's clear to IT pros that a one-vendor environment is never the entire answer. "I know customers are seeing that," he said. "Just because I've got IBM Cognos doesn't mean I need DB2."

As a consultant, Lear must assess how his clients understand business intelligence and what they expect from it. At present, he said he doesn't think the term is very well understood but that will change. "With the mergers and acquisitions that are going on at the moment, it's going to become more and more clear to them," said Lear.

Also in the audience was Alex Raul Pascua, a team lead for the business intelligence team at Scarborough, Ont.-based Toyota Canada Inc. Pascua said the objective at his company is to get to an enterprise-wide approach to data warehousing where eventually users will rely on self-service analytics tools.

IBM's Smart Analytics approach and recent acquisitions happen to work well for Toyota Canada because it was already using technology from data mining company SSPS Inc. and business intelligence vendor Cognos Inc. when IBM acquired those companies, said Pascua. "Now that IBM bought those two companies, integration would be a lot easier for us," he said.

Although an IBM shop, Pascua isn't ruling out other vendors' analytics tools should he find them better and users express greater comfort with them.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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