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Cloud Computing: Article

BI Gets Better with Managed Web Data Services

Web data services extend data access and distribution beyond the RDB-BI straightjacket

As enterprises seek to gain better insights into their markets, processes, and business development opportunities, they face a daunting challenge -- how to identify, gather, cleanse, and manage all of the relevant data and content being generated across the Web.

As the recession forces the need to identify and evaluate new revenue sources, businesses need to capture such web data services for business intelligence (BI) to work better and fuller. In Part 1 of our web data series we discussed how external data has grown in both volume and importance across internal Internet, social networks, portals, and applications in recent years.

Enterprises need to know what's going on and what's being said about their markets across those markets. They need to share those web data service inferences quickly and easily across their internal users. The more relevant and useful content that enters into BI tools, the more powerful the BI outcomes -- especially as we look outside the enterprise for fast shifting trends and business opportunities.

In this podcast, Part 2 of the series with Kapow Technologies, we identify how BI and web data services come together, and explore such additional subjects as text analytics and cloud computing. So, how to get started and how to affordably manage web data services with BI and business consumers as intelligence and insights?

To find out, we brought together Jim Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research, and Stefan Andreasen, co-founder and chief technology officer at Kapow Technologies. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Kobielus: The more relevant content you bring into your analytic environment the better, in terms of having a single view or access in a unified fashion to all the information that might be relevant to any possible decision you might make. But, clearly, there are lots of caveats, "gotchas," and trade-offs there.

One of these is that it becomes very expensive to discover, to capture, and to do all the relevant transformation, cleansing, storage, and delivery of all of that content. It becomes very expensive, especially as you bring more unstructured information from your content management system (CMS) or various applications from desktops and from social networks.

... Filtering the fire hose of this content is where this topic of web data services for BI comes in. Web data services describes that end-to-end analytic information pipe-lining process. It's really a fire hose that you filter at various points, so that the end users turn on their tap and they're not blown away by a massive stream. Rather, it's a stream of liquid intelligence that is palatable and consumable.

Andreasen: There is a fire hose of data out there, but some of that data is flowing easily, but some of it might only be dripping and some might be inaccessible.

Think about it this way. The relevant data for your BI applications is located in various places. One is in your internal business applications. Another is your software-as-a-service (SaaS) business application, like Salesforce, etc. Others are at your business partners, your retailers, or your suppliers. Another one is at government. The last one is on the World Wide Web in those tens of millions of applications and data sources.

Accessible via browser

Today, all of this data that I just described is more or less accessible in a web browser. Web data services allow you to access all these data sources, using the interface that the web browser is already using. It delivers that result in a real-time, relative, and relevant way into SQL databases, directly into BI tools, or to even service enabled and encapsulated data. It delivers the benefits that IT can now better serve the analysts need for new data, which is almost always the case.

What's even more important is that incremental daily improvement of existing reports. Analysts sit there, they find some new data source, and they say, "It would be really good, if I could add this column of data to my report, maybe replace this data, or if I could get this amount of data in real-time rather than just once a week." So it's those kinds of improvements that web data services also really can help with.

Kobielus: At Forrester, we see traditional BI as a basic analytics environment, with ad-hoc query, OLAP, and the like. That's traditional BI -- it's the core of pretty much every enterprise's environment.

Advanced analytics -- building on that initial investment and getting to this notion of an incremental add-on environment -- is really where a lot of established BI users are going. Advanced analytics means building on those core reporting, querying, and those other features with such tools as data mining and text analytics, but also complex event processing (CEP) with a front-end interactive visualization layer that often enables mashups of their own views by the end users.

... We see a strong push in the industry toward smashing those silos and bringing them all together. A big driver of that trend is that users, the enterprises, are demanding unified access to market intelligence and customer intelligence that's bubbling up from this massive Web 2.0 infrastructure, social networks, blogs, Twitter and the like.

Andreasen: Traditionally, for BI, we've been trying to gather all the data into one unified, centralized repository, and accessing the data from there. But, the world is getting more diverse and the data is spread in more and different silos. What companies realize today is that we need to get service-level access to the data, where they reside, rather than trying to assemble them all.

...Web data services can encapsulate or wrap the data silos that were residing with their business partners into services -- SOAP services, REST services, etc. -- and thereby get automated access to the data directly into the BI tool.

... So, tomorrow's data stores for BI, and today's as well, is really a combination of accessing data in your central data repositories and then accessing them where they reside. ... Think about it. I'm an analyst and I work with the data. I feel I own the data. I type the data in. Then, when I need it in my report, I cannot get it there. It's like owning the house, but not having the key to the house. So, breaking down this barrier and giving them the key to the house, or actually giving IT a way to deliver the key to the house, is critical for the agility of BI going forward.

Tools are lacking

Today, the IT department often lacks tools to deliver those custom feeds that the line of business is asking for. But, with web data services, you can actually deliver these feeds. The data that IT is asking for is almost always data they already know, see, and work with in the business applications, with the business partners, etc. They work with the data. They see them in the browsers, but they cannot get the custom feeds. With the web data services product, IT can deliver those custom feeds in a very short time.

Kobielus: The user feels frustration, because they go on the Web and into Google and can see the whole universe of information that's out there. So, for a mashup vision to be reality, organizations have got to go the next step.

... It's good to have these pre-configured connections through extract, transform and load (ETL) and the like into their data warehouse from various sources. But, there should also be ideally feeds in from various data aggregators. There are many commercial data aggregators out there who can provide discovery of a much broader range of data types -- financial, regulatory, and what not.

Also, within this ideal environment there should be user-driven source discovery through search, through pub-sub, and a variety of means. If all these source-discovery capabilities are provided in a unified environment with common tooling and interfaces, and are all feeding information and allowing users to dynamically update the information sets available to them in real-time, then that's the nirvana.

Andreasen: This is where Kapow and web data services come in, as a disruptive new way of solving a problem of delivering the data -- the real-time relevant data that the analyst needs.

The way it works is that, when you work with the data in a browser, you see it visually, you click on it, and you navigate tables and so on. The way our product works is that it allows you to instruct our system how to interact with a web application, just the same way as the line of business user.

...The beauty with web data services is that it's really accessing the data through the application front end, using credentials and encryptions that are already in place and approved. You're using the existing security mechanism to access the data, rather than opening up new security holes, with all the risk that that includes.

... This means that you access and work with the data in the world in which the end users see the data. It's all with no coding. It's all visual, all point and click. Any IT person can, with our product, turn data that you see in a browser into a real feed, a custom feed, virtually in minutes or in a few hours for something that would typically take days, weeks, or months -- or may even be impossible.

More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.