The promise of big data: Analytics for all

Credit: Source: James Cridland/Flickr

Analytics has been around for decades. It got its start back in the 1960s, with decision-support systems running on the then-new IBM 360 mainframes. In the 1970s, analytics got a boost when spreadsheets’ what-if capabilities gave business users new insights into their data. In 1979 Relational Software released the first commercially available relational database management system.

Underlying SQL-driven relational databases helped push progress in the business intelligence market into the 1980s and 1990s. Then, in 1996 Sybase introduced the industry’s first columnar database, establishing higher levels of performance than row-based databases. And the first decade of this century has shown solid, steady growth for the overall analytics market.

But a half-century of growth in the deployment of analytics tools will pale over the coming explosive expansion of analytics inside the enterprise. (That’s if you happen to believe in the latest market research, as I do.) And the reason behind the growth, as you can guess, is big data.

IDC estimates that this year business analytics global revenue will approach $34 billion. By 2016 the market research firm predicts that annual sales in this software category will top $50 billion. In a press release citing the 2016 forecast, Dan Vesset, program vice president for IDC's Business Analytics Solutions, is quoted as saying, "Driven by the attention-grabbing headlines for Big Data and more than three decades of evolutionary and revolutionary developments in technology and best practices, the business analytics software market has crossed the chasm into the mainstream mass market.”

Crossed the chasm, indeed. Gartner estimates that between now and 2016 enterprises will spend a cumulative $232 billion on analytics. That will be many billions of dollars more than Microsoft will get from its sales in the same period of Office, which controls 94% of the productivity software market.

I bring up this apples and oranges comparison only to highlight how pervasive analytics is becoming. Virtually every knowledge worker uses Microsoft Office, but, according to BI Scorecard, only 25% of business employees access analytics tools. If the growth forecasts by IDC and Gartner are accurate, that 25% of workers using analytics in their jobs will expand. Perhaps the ubiquity of analytics tools will rival that of Office today.

As big data sources -- everything from social networks to operations -- touch more people inside the enterprise, more workers will need analytics to get value from the data. Needless to say, not every new analytics user will be developing models or writing algorithms, just as not every productivity software user generates PowerPoint slide decks. (Thank goodness!) However, they will be generating queries and making more insightful, data-driven decisions than before.

But it’s not just a matter of market growth projections. This is great news for enterprises everywhere. We’re on the cusp of an analytics boom that will make businesses of all kinds more efficient, more competitive and more profitable than ever.

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