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Five Business Intelligence Trends that Every Software Engineer Ought to Know December 15, 2011

Posted by kirbyr in Software Engineering.
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So what does business intelligence have to do with software engineering?  It is important to keep your user’s needs in mind when designing software.  The end-user of your software products is the business community.  A topic on the mind of many business users is business intelligence, which includes reporting and analytics.  Below, I discuss five current trends in business intelligence that you need to know.

Unstructured Data

Look at big Internet companies like Facebook or Amazon if you are interested in how to use and store unstructured data.  What are they doing with all of the Facebook posts and online book reviews and comments?  Storing them and using the information to improve their businesses.  You can bet that Amazon analyzes the content of book reviews to improve book recommendations.  Soon your company will want to do this too.

Unstructured data brings its own challenges, first in storage and then in retrieval.  New technologies such as Google File Systems or Hadoop are filling the gap in the marketplace for storage solutions for unstructured data.  But once you have the data stored, how do you access it effectively?  This is a question that software engineers must consider in order to effectively use unstructured data in the future.

Visualization

Your business users love visualizations!  They will jump at the chance to incorporate improved visualizations such as charts or maps into their reports.  To really spice things up, add an interactive component, such as dynamic pivot tables or charts.   (If you are interested in this, check out the free Excel 2010 Power Pivot add-on.)

Visualizations come with a cost, though.  They often require extensive knowledge of the source data, plus expert knowledge of the reporting tool.  Software engineers can bridge this gap by incorporating end-user programming solutions into their products.  For example, provide end-users with a GUI tool wizard to help them design their graphic.  End-user programming is a great way to make visualization tools accessible to the business community.

Real Analytics

Business users are looking for insights from the data that businesses collect.  They want to analyze huge volumes of information to find new patterns that will inform business decisions.  And did I mention they want this done quickly?  Business users are no longer content to wait for such analysis, much less for a static report.

Software engineers will need to be innovative and creative to meet the increased demands of real analytics.  You will need to keep up with advances in data storage, data mining algorithms and techniques, and the needs of your business users.

Cloud Computing

Storing information on the cloud offers many advantages that will interest business users.  The cost for storage can be cheaper, plus there are no maintenance costs for your own organization.  Access may be easier for remote or traveling users, as most cloud solutions are offered over the Internet.  But cloud computing also has its downsides.  The biggest is security and privacy, and this is an important concern to consider.  When considering the issue of cloud computing, think about the following questions.  How secure is data stored on the cloud?  Who can access that data?  Has your vendor had security incidents?  How were the incidents resolved?

As a software engineer, you may need to use source data stored on a cloud computing application.  It is vital to know the risks and benefits of the cloud so you can use the technology appropriately.

Almost-Enterprise Applications

Like it or not, business users will circumvent IT and purchase software solutions on their own, or download products for free off of the Internet.  Imagine an enterprising business user hearing about the cloud, or a new analytics tool, and purchasing this service after a little investigation.  Does this sound like a familiar scenario?

Almost-enterprise applications are a big risk for the IT department and organization. IT needs to monitor the usage of almost-enterprise solutions carefully, to ensure that such products are used safely by the business community.  This can’t happen unless IT knows what applications business users are interested in.  So get out there and talk to your business users, or spend some time investigating applications on the Internet. You might be surprised at the results you find.


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