This morning, Timo Elliot did his usual first-class job when he delivered the analytics keynote at the UK & Ireland SAP User Group Conference in Birmingham (UK). As always, I came away thinking about things in a slightly different way and, as usual, I agreed with pretty much all of what Timo said, but I wanted to add a few thoughts of my own.
There are many blog posts I could write based on what Timo said, but as I have to start somewhere, I will start with his analogy comparing what is happening today in the analytics world with what has happened over the last decade or so with digital photography.
Timo’s full post on this subject is here, but the nub of his message is: if you don’t embrace the move from current data warehousing technology to in-memory, column based, parallel data warehousing with in-database analysis then you will quickly start to feel rather old fashioned, to say the least.
I agree with everything Timo says here and in this related post, but, I would add two additional points which I think extend the analogy and cast a word of warning …
1) A digital camera might help you take better pictures, but it is no substitute for photographic talent
Digital photography has revolutionized how we all take pictures and there is no question that I now have more, better photos of my life than would have been possible 20 years ago. However, I still don’t take photos like Timo does. To see what I mean visit his gallery. You will see some great pictures which undoubtedly require a flair for photography, years of experience and an understanding of the science behind it (none of which I have).
2) Without discipline digital photography gives you a few great photos hidden in a sea of bad to mediocre ones.
In many ways, digital photographs are too easy to take and to keep. My photo library (which is spread over about 6 hard drives) is a classic example. Lots of shots taken without much thinking, resulting in a huge number of photos I don’t really want to see, obscuring the few that I would love to see over and over again. It is good to have this archive and one day, hopefully, I will go through it and sort it out, but I am pretty sure that if I had to think more about what I shot, and which shots I kept, I would be in a better place today.
These two points extend directly to BI.
A self-service BI system which makes it easy for business users to roam freely over large quantities of data is no substitute for BI flair, experience and understanding, and without discipline and thinking, the results of unfettered, end-user, self-service BI are too often summed up by the following quote from the Merchant of Venice:
“They are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.”
The new data-warehouse landscape which Timo describes has huge power to transform our businesses; let’s not squander it by using it to perpetuate the lazy myth that self-service for business end-users is the nirvana for BI.