By: David Norris, Practice Leader - Analytics, Bloor Research
Published: 30th November 2011
Copyright Bloor Research © 2011
After almost thirty years of working with BI solutions, I am happy to say that the ability to amaze me still exists and, with CXAIR, I have just seen one of the most impressive tools that I have yet had a chance to see in action. The current generation of tools are making the delivery of reports, dashboards, and OLAP type line of thought analysis ever easier as they combine intuitive interfaces, great analytical power, visual results, and ease of set up and maintenance in really affordable packages. There are many that certainly pack a wow factor, but CXAIR has impressed me the most.
I have long been of the belief that BI, when it is just in the hands of BI professionals, is missing the point. We live in an economic climate that demands that we make more and more decisions, faster and faster, and with unprecedented levels of informed prompting to make the best choice from the many options confronting us. As good as traditional BI tools, such as Cognos, OBIEE, MicroStrategy, BO, SAS and Microsoft are, and they have come a long way, they are unlikely to be found on every desktop of every decision maker. This is for a variety of reasons that include cost, complexity, and being really only suited to a technically capable audience. If BI is to be as commonplace as the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software then it probably needs a radical overhaul.
One of the revelations of recent years has been the unstoppable rise of search as the means of enquiry adopted by people as an everyday way to handle complex, and extremely large, data sets of structured and unstructured data. We all use Yahoo, Google, and Bing et al many times a day to find things of interest, and have no need to even waste a second on needing to know how they achieve the result to accept and use what is presented to us. So it has become the most natural way to present an enquiry to all who are familiar with the Internet.
CXAIR is a BI tool that uses search as the entry point to all queries enabling the user, without having to worry about arcane things like SQL, is the data structured or unstructured, and all of the common barriers to using data, to just get on with the task in hand. Being a search engine, so long as the data has passed through the indexing, you can filter it using natural language to filter along your line of thought to find out things that you consider to be significant.
It is the ability of search to start to open up the masses of less well structured data that exists in all of our enterprises, and which increasingly holds the vital clues to enable us to understand why people behave as they do, that is the key to why traditional BI is no longer delivering what is required.
Today, if you only have structured data - the output of formalised business processes - you will know what was made, what was sold, by whom, when at what price and so forth, but insight into why that transaction occurred is not held in the transactional data, but is to be found in the masses of semi, and unstructured, data that we generate all of the time in this digital age. Here I am thinking of call centre notes fields, email, social media and so on where people expose far more about their motivation, and which, when combined with transactional data, can open up real actionable insight, and that is the holly grail of BI.
CXAIR meets the challenge of offering what, to me, is the ideal BI platform by being based on search and therefore indexing of data. This enables all users to get started without any technical barriers; we all know how to filter results to hone in and find what we are interested in, and to then drill down to the detail when we are in the right zone to look for the nuggets that are of real interest to us.
CXAIR can bring all the relevant data together without constraint being imposed by arcane technical barriers, and it is opened up by the use of simple search arguments, but that does not mean this is a simple tool with limited functionality. Search is very powerful and very accommodating and is far better at fuzzy matching that the more precise SQL based query engines.
But search is only the start of the process of turning data into actionable insight. Having been able to identify data that you are interested in, the next requirement is to be able to present that data to an audience in a way that makes it easy to assimilate. Here visualisation is critical, and here is where I believe that CXAIR steals a march on its competitors. Pixel Perfect reports are not going to improve the ability of a business to make a better business decision, but the way that CXAIR uses Venn diagrams to visually enable the user to undertake complex train of thought analysis just might! This does not mean that CXAIR cannot produce reports and dashboards - it can, and it can also undertake analysis comparable to the more traditional OLAP analysis - but the use of Venn diagrams combined with search really is a disruptive improvement in the whole delivery of BI,
Words are always going to be a relatively restricted means of conveying what a tool of this capability can do, but there is a very good way to checking it out for yourself, as Connexica have a channel on YouTube that allows you to see these things for yourself, and I can heartily recommend that you take a look.
Earlier this year I got very excited by looking at Endeca, which is also a search BI tool, and I was clearly not alone as Oracle have just bought them. For many years I have been a vociferous supporter of Qlikview, the in-memory OLAP tools as the best line of thought tool I have seen in the market. In CXAIR I believe you combine the best attributes of both of those tools into a single package which actually expands the envelope an important bit further by removing any perceived technical barrier to enabling anyone who understands the business to undertake analysis.
Everything I have seen with this product indicates that, to me, it the closest yet to my idea of a perfect BI tool. There will be those who will say but it's British not American, they are only small not a large US based technology behemoth - surely this is a risk too far? All I can say is that the IT industry has many faults but I have yet to see any really great idea get ignored in favour of something visibly inferior, and this is so good it will endure, and prosper.
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