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What COVID-19 has taught us about the BI market

No industry is immune to the economic fallout of COVID-19, but BI remains in a comparatively strong position. The suddenness of the pandemic left no time for data warehousing, and the urgency of it leaves no tolerance for stale data. BI solutions are going to be called upon to make real-time insights available in even less time than before.

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Reporting and data visualization have played a critical role not just in media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in organizations’ response to it. Businesses and municipalities have been relying on authoritative reports and dashboards as they make critical decisions affecting public health and the economy.

If there was any doubt of the continued need for business intelligence reporting, Dresner Advisory Services dispels it in a recent study on how COVID-19 has impacted BI projects and priorities. The report shows a growing interest in BI despite many projects having been put on hold due to budgetary concerns. Dresner recommends that enterprises “continue to invest in business intelligence and analytics” and view the pandemic as “an opportunity to review and update data governance policies.”

But that’s not all the crisis has to teach us about the BI market. As the head of a BI software company, I’ve found the last several months revealing. These are the priorities that appear to be coming to the fore in light of COVID-19 and which I suspect will remain prominent even as the world recovers.

1. Real-time data analytics

The suddenness of the pandemic left no time for data warehousing, and the urgency of it leaves no tolerance for stale data. This is true both of dashboards, which are expected to reflect real-time data, as well as tabular reports.

I expect to see increased demand not just for real-time data reporting, but also any technology that either accelerates or simplifies the data preparation process. This could take the form of low- or no-code ETL tools, which would be easy for even non-technical personnel to learn quickly in a pinch. Alternatively, it could involve better handling of programmable data objects such as views and stored procedures, which we might think of as a data architect’s quick-and-dirty ETL. BI solutions are going to be called upon to make real-time insights available in even less time than before.

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2. Operational reporting

Some data needs simply cannot be satisfied with a chart or dashboard, and nowhere was this made more plain than in our local community. When COVID-19 struck, thousands of families in and around Kingston, NY became dependent on home delivery services for groceries, meals, and pharmaceuticals. The county sprung into action by founding Project Resilience but quickly found itself inundated with data and without an efficient means of making it usable to volunteers.

My company donated a free instance of our BI solution to aid in the cause, and its operational reporting capabilities proved critical in enabling the city to better allocate volunteers, plan delivery routes, and label packages. This pandemic has shed light on the tools and people needed to perform essential services, and operational reporting is one of those tools. I predict a renewed demand for flexible tabular reporting solutions capable of getting the job — whatever it may be — done.

3. Self-Service BI

When organizations need to act quickly, they cannot afford to have their IT departments jammed up with reporting requests. IT resources are precious and should be devoted to mission-critical operations, not descriptive or diagnostic data analytics. That’s what self-service business intelligence tools are for: accelerated fact-finding for operational teams and increased bandwidth for IT personnel. We’re already seeing increased demand for business user-friendly BI applications, and I fully expect that trend to continue. The pandemic has confirmed how important operational efficiency is in times of economic strain.

4. Fiscal flexibility

Of course, operational efficiency doesn’t hinge on technology alone — it also means conserving fiscal resources. BI applications are often a long-term commitment, and enterprises are a lot less risk-averse than they were before. I expect BI solutions offering more flexible commercial terms will see more traction in the market. Companies shopping for the right BI solution need a low-risk means of validating potential solutions.

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No industry is immune to the economic fallout of COVID-19, but BI remains in a comparatively strong position. As data-driven decision making becomes the new standard both for private citizens and institutions, BI providers will be called upon to make both operational and strategic insights more readily available to all users.

(Featured image by Orna Wachman via Pixabay)

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Stew Meyers is the Co-founder and CTO of Exago Inc., a web-based solution for software companies looking to provide ad hoc reporting, dashboards, and analytics to their internal and external customers. In previous years, he was lead developer for CMS (Corporate Management Solutions) and later VP of Development when CMS became known as Transcentive.