Tuesday 26 April 2011

As more and more companies turn their attention to their Business Intelligence strategies, many are shifting their attention towards Social Media and trying to fold this into their corporate stack.

All the traditional BI players are scrabbling for position to align their offering with a growing clamor to make sense of the social noise that is out there through the likes of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and LinkedIn etc.

So much noise and chatter and yet how powerful is that information if you are able to harness it for the benefit of your business and your customers?

If you know how to use social media for process improvement, identifying current market trends, listening to what’s in and what’s out, what the competition are doing, what people are saying about you – your business is going to be in a better place.

So how do you get Old Traditional Business Intelligence to provide you with the elusive 360-degree view of your business?

You don’t.

The big players have been able to extend the life of their creaking systems through advances in hardware and improvements in network bandwidth and make it appear as if the technology has moved on with the times.

New and faster chips, solid-state disks and scaled up RAM have conveniently ramped up the power and capacity of legacy systems but the scale of Social BI is something else!

In 2010, the human race created 800 exabytes of information, from tweets and Facebook updates to PowerPoint presentations and photographs. That’s 800 billion gigabytes, or the amount of data you can fit on 75 billion 16-gig iPads. To put that into context, between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, we only created five exabytes; now we’re creating that amount every two days. By 2020, that figure is predicted to sit at 53 zettabytes (53 trillion gigabytes) – an increase of 50 times. (Google)

As Chief Brody once famously said… “We’re going to need a bigger boat”.


We’re going to have to have a re-think about how we go about things and start looking at and developing some new technology that can cope with the sheer scale of data being generated on a daily basis.

So a bigger disk and whacking in a bit more memory is not really the answer from a raw power perspective, so how can we bring the social media side of things into our BI stack?

Putting scale to one side, making sense out of a twitter feed and making sense of a stock table in an ERP system are chalk and cheese.

A database requires structure be it through a relational schema accessed via SQL or an OLAP cube accessed via MDX. How far apart is this from making sense of a conversation and some links to web pages from a Twitter feed?

Social media demands a new kind of solution to a relatively new problem. A new solution that augments your existing BI stack by providing a fast and efficient layer, designed for free text search, designed for scale and focused around finding and extracting value out of the myriad of social media systems popping up on a day to day basis.

For once, this is an opportunity for the innovators. Old BI won’t cut the mustard however Social BI + Old BI might just do the trick if you can plug the gaps and gaffer tape a few things together.

It’s going to be interesting watching which innovations rise to the top and then see who buys who because I believe the value of Social BI will out muscle traditional Business Intelligence in a couple of years. Exciting times!

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