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BI trends to look out for in 2021

Business intelligence (BI) technologies enable organisations to analyse their data and gain actionable insights into their operations. Businesses of all sizes are becoming increasingly reliant on these technologies to track their performance in relation to external trends, and then develop forecasts that inform strategy. 

As well as allowing businesses to make sense of vast quantities of data, BI technologies enable them to create reports that satisfy the demands of regulators — demands that will only get more complex as online technology and cybersecurity develop.

By staying on top of the latest trends in business technology, organisations can get ahead of the curve and leverage these technologies to eliminate inefficiencies, resolve problems, and meet strategic goals. To get you started, here are three major business intelligence trends for 2021.

1. The normalisation of end-user BI

New business intelligence trends and technologies are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, leading to an increase in end-user BI. What is a BI end user? This term refers to the final person to use the information produced by business intelligence technology. Although they may rely on BI analysis and reporting to inform their decisions, they often do not have the technical expertise to develop complex BI solutions themselves.

One platform leading the charge for end-user BI is Microsoft Power BI. On this platform, connecting to data and creating reports and dashboards is free, whereas sharing and collaborating on content requires a paid account. Until recently, only the largest enterprises could afford the most advanced option, Power BI Premium, as it was solely available on a per capacity basis ($4,995/month). This has recently changed with the release of Power BI Premium Gen2, which offers the ability to license per user ($20/month). Meanwhile, the “pro” version is available per user at $9.99/month and hosts data in a shared capacity.

Power BI’s web-based service provides an intuitive, graphical interface that enables non-technical business intelligence users to perform complex data analytics without the need to understand the underlying coding. The platform’s data cleaning and analysis functions, like Power Query and Power Pivot, are also available in Excel, making them highly accessible to users unfamiliar with — or reluctant to enter — the world of BI. This gives end-users the ability to automate routine tasks and take control over their own data analytics, rather than relying on a dedicated department.

Getting started in BI has never been easier, either. BI training and education are readily available, with experts offering sessions both in person and online. Around the world, major cities are home to official Power BI User Groups, such as the Power BI Melbourne Meetup group, which regularly host expert discussions and training sessions. 

As digitalisation sweeps the globe, the need to gain accurate and immediate insights into fast-moving data is growing. To keep pace with the competition, weekly or even daily reports are no longer sufficient: Business leaders need to access, analyse, and react to data in real-time. This means the adoption of BI technologies will only increase. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of efficiency and agility, especially in the healthcare, finance, manufacturing and distribution industries. 

The rising demand for intuitive, user-focused BI software is being met with sophisticated augmented analytics, fuelled by advancements in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Self-service BI models are facilitating self-sufficiency among the masses, without the need to be a data scientist, data analyst, BI developer, or a Power BI Pro. 

Another attractive element of self-service BI is that it frees up experts and IT departments to focus on developing advanced BI solutions, as other departments are able to take charge of their own data analysis and reporting. For tips on how to keep data organised in a self-service environment, check out our article on data quality issues and how to fix them.

2. Data lake houses

Data professionals have long relied on a disjointed mix of data lakes and data warehouses to store and manage big data. While data lakes offer a fast and inexpensive way to store unstructured data in multiple formats, data warehouses are used to cleanse, integrate, and load smaller quantities of structured data, ensuring data quality, consistency and readiness for analysis.

Data lake houses streamline this process by blending economical data storage with data management capabilities, therefore cutting out external ETL, data prep, and validation processes. Not only does this save time, it also improves data quality and consistency, and removes redundancies by enabling data analysts and BI managers to develop multiple, simultaneous pipelines from the same unified data repository. 

Lake houses additionally answer the need for real-time insights by supporting streaming analytics, wherein up-to-date information is continually processed and analysed. This also makes for a more organised data repository — especially compared to data lakes, where uncatalogued data can quickly build up and become outdated.

Although data lake houses still have a long way to go in reaching their full potential, continual advancements in AI and ML are fuelling their progress.

3. Big data use in SMBs

As we have seen, the use of business intelligence is constantly evolving. Although big data analytics was once reserved for enterprise-level organisations with deep pockets, this is quickly changing. As BI technology becomes more accessible and affordable, data analytics for small businesses is proliferating. Every role in an organisation can benefit from the decision-making power gained through data analysis, dynamic reports, and easy-to-grasp visualisations. 

Some key uses of business intelligence for small businesses include:

  • Decision-making: BI technologies can automate real-time insights that enable agile, fact-based decision-making on everything from campaigns to processes.
  • Forecasting: Data can be analysed to identify trends and track customer behaviour, which helps SMBs predict demand, strategise pricing, and create targeted marketing campaigns.
  • Budgeting: Streaming analytics enable budgets to be adjusted in real-time in order to help maintain bottom lines.
  • Collaboration: Platforms like Power BI make it easy to share insights across different silos, increasing visibility and facilitating productivity. 
  • Performance: Power BI dashboards enable businesses to drill down into their performance metrics by country, area, facility, salesperson and more, so that risks and opportunities can be identified, inefficiencies plugged, and business processes streamlined.
  • Security: As well as gathering and securing data in one place, BI solutions often provide advanced security controls that keep sensitive information safe from hackers and malware.
  • Compliance: SMBs bound by regulatory requirements can use BI technologies to deliver accurate and timely reports that satisfy assessors.

Business intelligence future trends
are likely to focus on AI and ML, as SMBs are recognising the ability of these technologies to automate day-to-day functions and gain advanced insights. ML is increasingly being used to automate analysis and reporting, which saves time and helps to identify trends that analysts may have overlooked. Natural language processing (NLP) is being adopted to replace time-consuming reading tasks such as contract analysis. And processes such as contract lifecycle management (CLM) are being automated, therefore enabling tracking, reporting, and reminders. All of this has proven invaluable in supporting the remote work environment.

As the demand for intuitive end-user technology continues to grow, SMBs are finding new ways to make it affordable. An iterative approach to adopting business intelligence technology applications and trends is key for SMBs, as it minimises the likelihood of making costly bad investments while ensuring solutions are profitable and fit for purpose.

Start taking advantage of business intelligence technologies today 

If you want to discover how your SMB can benefit from the latest trends and developments in business technology, DWC is here to help. Contact us today to find out how our experts could transform your business with Power BI training and consulting.

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