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About 30 years ago, perhaps on this very day, I was sitting in front of an Apple II working on a VisiCalc spreadsheet. At the time, I don’t think I even knew who Steve Jobs was. I wasn’t in the software industry yet. I was working for a public accounting firm. The Apple II sat in a corner of the office “typing pool.” For those of you who don’t know what a typing pool was, there was no swimming involved – it was a group of full-time employees with dedicated equipment who did all the typing and word processing tasks of the office.

We all have heard by now that Steve Jobs died this week. When I think about the influence he had on the technology market and business in general, I realize that although I never met the man, his influence has had a huge impact on my career and on all of us who work with business intelligence techniques and tools. The fact that an Apple II was in the office of a public accounting firm in 1981 was a remarkable accomplishment. I probably wouldn’t be in the software industry today if it wasn’t for that Apple II and VisiCalc. Our office used “electronic” spreadsheets to develop planning and allocation models. Now there are hundreds of millions of spreadsheet users whose activities can be traced back to Steve Jobs in some way.

You can argue whether the spreadsheet or the Apple II or the combination brought IBM into the personal computer market, but Jobs had an influence here, too. The advent of the PC was the original “self-service BI” movement. Sure, spreadsheets have plenty of problems when applied to business intelligence, as identified in our business analytics benchmark research, but they also have many virtues that we have been trying to capture in other forms of business intelligence software ever since.

Jobs and Apple always maintained twin focuses on design and innovation. The design of the physical product was part of the Apple experience, but the design of the user interface was even more important. Our whole way of interacting with information systems, including BI, has been shaped by the graphical user interface (GUI) in part because of the Mac OS. It may not have been the first one, but Apple put a GUI into the hands of end users who saw the possibilities and clamored for more. Ironically, Microsoft Word and Excel first appeared in GUI form on the Mac while the PC versions were still on DOS character-based applications. Spurred by the Mac’s graphical environment, Microsoft took the Windows path that resulted in its own GUI-based operating system. While Microsoft Windows may have enjoyed more commercial success than Mac OS, many still consider Apple’s offering superior in terms of the end-user experience. Regardless of your choice of operating system, BI users wanted and vendors were able to deliver improved GUIs, which now enable users to navigate and visualize large amounts of information more easily than they might have otherwise.

And Jobs has left an indelible mark on the mobile computing market. With that same focus on design and innovation, the iPhone and iPad transformed and invigorated the mobile BI market. They fundamentally changed the value of mobile devices, taking them beyond just reading and responding to email. Offered a rich user experience, employees were willing to buy their own devices and bring them along to work. Eventually iPads started showing up in executives’ hands. IT organizations were forced to incorporate these devices into their corporate networks. Users wanted mobile BI, and BI vendors were forced to adapt their products to these new form factors. Our research also shows that 70 percent of organizations either have deployed some type of mobile business intelligence or would like to in the near future.

Without stretching much, we can attribute partly to the legacy of Steve Jobs our desire to be connected 24 hours a day and to connect socially via our smartphones and tablets. His influence on these devices made the experience fun and enjoyable. Now collaboration via social media is a regular form of communication. The full impact of these changes is still being borne out in the market, but we are beginning to see an impact on BI.

So while Steve Jobs is gone and will be missed, his influence on the BI market will live on. Let’s hope the seeds of innovation that he planted will continue to grow and benefit our lives.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

Informatica has announced version 9.1 for Big Data.  I wrote previously about Informatica 9.1,the latest iteration of the company’s data integration platform, following its industry analyst summit. At that event in February, the company officials alluded to future plans regarding Hadoop and other big-data sources yet to be finalized. This announcement reveals those plans. Informatica will support three types of “big data”: big transaction data from relational databases and data warehouse system, big interaction data from social media, customer interaction systems and other systems, and big data processing, which means Hadoop, the open source software framework. Let’s look at each of these types.  

With respect to relational databases, Informatica adds support for additional analytic databases so its PowerCenter connectors are now available for “traditional” database alternatives including IBM DB2, Microsoft SQLServer, Oracle and Sybase as well as analytical databases and data warehouse systems from Aster Data, Greenplum, Netezza, ParAccel, Teradata and Vertica. While Hadoop gets a lot of attention these days, it’s important to recognize that big data also exists in these other sources. Many of the customers of these vendors probably use Informatica already and will benefit from having official support for their configurations.   

Social media and other customer interaction data are important sources for companies seeking to build a complete view of the customer. My colleague Richard Snow has written about the role of social media in this context, and our firm has conducted benchmark research on other customer interaction technologies. With version 9.1, Informatica makes it easier to collect social media data and includes specific connectors for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  

Informatica’s developments around big-data processing and Hadoop will come in two phases. The first phase, which the company said will be “shipping soon,” provides access to data stored in HDFS as both a target and a source for Informatica processes. A second phase in a future release will provide graphical codeless development of Hadoop MapReduce jobs, which will support preparing and integrating data in Hadoop. While phase one begins to incorporate Hadoop, the additional features of phase two are necessary to make Hadoop a first-class citizen in the Informatica ecosystem. Smaller, more nimble vendors such as Karmasphere are offering graphical development capabilities today, and Informatica will need to offer these as well to compete.    

As part of the launch, Informatica enlisted Tim Leonard, chief technology officer of U.S. Xpress, to talk publicly about its use of Informatica. This transportation company has an innovative application combining large amounts of streaming real-time data, location intelligence and mobile devices. The application enables U.S. Xpress to combine driver location and other data to reduce fuel consumption costs as well as provide better customer service through more detailed information about delivery schedules and the ability to reroute deliveries when necessary.    

So although Informatica is moving more slowly than some smaller vendors on particular features such as graphical development of Hadoop jobs, the U.S. Xpress application provides an example of the value of working with a vendor that has such an extensive portfolio of products. That customer is able to source from a single vendor data integration capabilities to handle big data, streaming data and location-based data. This is a promising position for Informatica. 

Regards,   

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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