First, the quality of information. The old adage 'garbage in, garbage out' is as true today as ever. Over recent decades, storage capacities have grown exponentially and prices have shrunk equally dramatically, the benefits gleaned from information have grown relatively slowly. During this time the expressions data warehousing and data mining were coined, on the path towards what today we call 'big data'. In theory the cheap and easy availability of storage should mean that all data that might possibly be useful is now captured. The reality has been that turning it into something really useful—information, knowledge, wisdom, rather than just bits and bytes of data—still requires a lot of effort.
So give smart people some good business intelligence (BI) tools and they should be able to extract value? Again, in theory, yes, and a good number have had some success with BI tools as the industry has grown and evolved.
Yet two significant problems still remain; the need for specialists to work on the data and the ability for the business to really take advantage of the insight unearthed.
The former has led to the promotion of the role of 'data scientist’ as a modern day information hero. This is generally a step in the wrong direction and back towards the old days of dealing with the high priests of the mainframe. Things have moved on, IT has become a tool of the masses, not the select few.
There is nothing wrong with nurturing special skills for better management and understanding of data. Most organisations have been pretty lax in their data architectures and management standards over many years. Duplicate databases of customer records in different departments, gaps in security and privacy controls and a lack of metadata describing what belongs to what are all pretty common challenges that many a data scientist would relish tackling.
However, building and managing data is one thing, taking advantage of it is quite another.
To be put into practice, the outputs of business intelligence require line of business knowledge to work out if they are relevant. They also need to be delivered in the most timely fashion to the place of greatest need and to any individual involved. This implies that it is best if it is the people directly involved in the business process, right at the time they need to make a decision, and in a form that they can readily use.
This is where mobile technology can now make a real difference. Not only portable but also desirable, and so carried everywhere, making anything it has access to available in a timely manner. There are constraints based on physical size, capacity and connectivity but, increasingly, well designed applications take all this, and more, into account.
Not only does this mean delivery ‘to the fingertips’, but with the consumer-led surge of interest, awareness and adoption, mobile devices have become very user friendly. This started with nice graphics and touch screen interfaces, but goes much further. Sensory information is captured which develops into a contextual awareness of location, proximity and orientation. Knowledge of the individual means this can further be personalised, ensuring that the technology does not at all get in the way of understanding and using the core applications or data.
Recent innovations in some applications and services shift 'ease of use' into 'fun to use' with the introduction of another consumer-oriented concept, gamification. No longer should using an application feel like a chore (no matter how well designed the look and feel of the interface), now the whole experience is designed to be engaging and immersive in a manner somewhat akin to a game or puzzle or the visual renderings often favoured by Hollywood films such as Minority Report. It might sound a little frivolous, but in reality the driver behind it is to further improve the usability and ultimate value that can be achieved.
Mobile provides this pervasive and friendly access, but being able to take advantage of intelligence on the move still requires something more than a high performance and connected gadget.
This is where further trends are aligning with mobile at the edge and the potentially vast and fast filling warehouses of data storage, to deliver directly relevant and applicable intelligence to the business process—the cloud and service delivery.
Now the full power of the network and available resources can be harnessed consistently and uniformly, anywhere. Mobile technology has 'democratised' access (anyone, anytime, anywhere on anything), and cloud-based services ensure more data sources can be combined, collated and continually refined and then contextually channelled right to the point of need.
With smarter business intelligence that correctly exploits the pervasive edge and intelligently taps into the seething mass of available data, smart people can make smarter decisions. Mobile use for many may have started off being about increasing responsiveness as if speed of reply was all that mattered, but what it can now deliver is greater relevance, clarity and accuracy.