Does Gender Matter in BI Salaries?

As a female and a feminist who has worked in male-dominated fields for most of my career, what immediately caught my eye when reading the most recent TDWI Salary Survey report was the on-going pay disparity between women and men in BI. According to TDWI research, men continue to out-earn women in the BI field, with a gap of $12,581 in average salaries for 2014. You can see in this chart that for the past five years, women in BI have, on average, earned about 89 percent of what their male counterparts in BI earn……

Next-Generation Analytics: Four Findings from TDWI’s Latest Best Practices Report

I recently completed TDWI’s latest Best Practices Report: Next Generation Analytics and Platforms for Business Success. Although the phrase “next-generation analytics and platforms” can evoke images of machine learning, big data, Hadoop, and the Internet of things (IoT), most organizations are somewhere in between the technology vision and today’s reality of BI and dashboards. For some organizations, next generation can simply mean pushing past reports and dashboards to more advanced forms, such as predictive analytics. Next-generation analytics might move your organization from visualization to big data visualization; from slicing and dicing data to predictive analytics; or to using more than just structured data for analysis. The market is on the cusp of moving forward.

What are some of the newer next-generation steps that companies are taking to move ahead?

  • Moving to predictive analytics. Predictive analytics is a statistical or data mining technique that can be used on both structured and unstructured data to determine outcomes such as whether a customer will “leave or stay” or “buy or not buy.” Predictive analytics models provide probabilities of certain outcomes. Popular use cases include churn analysis, fraud analysis, and predictive maintenance. Predictive analytics is gaining momentum and the market is primed for growth, if users stick to their plans and if they can be successful with the technology. In this case, 39% of respondents stated they are using predictive analytics today, and an additional 46% are planning to use it in the next few years . Often organizations move in fits and starts when it comes to more advanced analytics, but predictive analytics along with other techniques such as geospatial analytics, text analytics, social media analytics, and stream mining are gaining interest in the market.
  • Adding disparate data to the mix. Currently, 94% of respondents stated they are using structured data for analytics, and 68% are enriching this structured data with demographic data for analysis. However, companies are also getting interested in other kinds of data. Sources such as internal text data (today 27%), external Web data (today 29%), and external social media data (today 19%) are set to double or even triple in use for analysis over the next three years. Likewise, while IoT data is used by fewer than 20% of respondents today, another 34% are expecting to use it in the next three years. Real-time streaming data, which goes hand in hand with IoT data, is also set to grow in use (today 18%).
  • Operationalizing and embedding analytics. Operationalizing refers to making analytics part of a business process; i.e., deploying analytics into production. In this way, the output of analytics can be acted upon. Operationalizing occurs in different ways. It may be as simple as manually routing all claims that seem to have a high probability of fraud to a special investigation unit, or it might be as complex as embedding analytics in a system that automatically takes action based on the analytics. The market is still relatively new to this concept. Twenty-five percent have not operationalized their analytics, and another 15% stated they operationalize using manual approaches. Less than 10% embed analytics in system processes to operationalize it.
  • Investing in skills. Respondents cited the lack of skilled personnel as a top challenge for next-generation analytics. To overcome this challenge, some respondents talked about hiring fewer but more skilled personnel such as data analysts and data scientists. Others talked about training from within because current employees understand the business. Our survey revealed that many organizations are doing both. Additionally, some organizations are building competency centers where they can train from within. Where funding is limited, organizations are engaging in self-study.

These are only a few of the findings in this Best Practices Report.  To download the complete report click here.

To learn more about all things data, attend a TDWI conference! Each TDWI Conference features a unique program taught by highly qualified, vetted instructors teaching full- and half- day courses on topics of specific interest to the analytics/BI/DW professional.


Five Best Practices for Text Analytics

It’s been a while since I updated my blog and a lot has changed.  In January, I made the move to TDWI as Research Director for Advanced Analytics.  I’m excited to be there, although I miss Hurwitz & Associates.   One of the last projects I worked on while at Hurwitz & Associates was the Victory Index for Text Analytics.  Click here for more information on the Victory Index.  

As part of my research for the Victory Index, I spent I a lot of time talking to companies about how they’re using text analytics.  By far, one of the biggest use cases for text analytics centers on understanding customer feedback and behavior.  Some companies are using internal data such as call center notes or emails or survey verbatim to gather feedback and understand behavior, others are using social media, and still others are using both.  

What are these end users saying about how to be successful with text analytics?  Aside from the important best practices around defining the right problem, getting the right people, and dealing with infrastructure issues, I’ve also heard the following:

Best Practice #1 – Managing expectations among senior leadership.   A number of the end-users I speak with say that their management often thinks that text analytics will work almost out of the box and this can establish unrealistic expectations. Some of these executives seem to envision a big funnel where reams of unstructured text enter and concepts, themes, entities, and insights pop out at the other end.  Managing expectations is a balancing act.  On the one hand, executive management may not want to hear the details about how long it is going to take you to build a taxonomy or integrate data.  On the other hand, it is important to get wins under your belt quickly to establish credibility in the technology because no one wants to wait years to see some results.  That said, it is still important to establish a reasonable set of goals and prioritize them and to communicate them to everyone.  End users find that getting senior management involved and keeping them informed with well-defined plans on a realistic first project can be very helpful in handling expectations. 


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Hadoop + MapReduce + SQL + Big Data and Analytics: RainStor

As the volume and variety of data continues to increase, we’re going to see more companies entering the market with solutions to address big data and compliant retention and business analytics.  One such company is RainStor, which while not a new entrant (with over 150 end-customers through direct sales and partner channels) has recently started to market its big data capabilities more aggressively to enterprises.  I had an interesting conversation with Ramon Chen, VP of product management at RainStor, the other week.   

The RainStor database was built in the UK as a government defense project to process large amounts of data in-memory.  Many of the in-memory features have been retained while new capabilities including persistent retention on any physical storage have been added. And now the company is positioning itself as providing an enterprise database architected for big data. It even runs natively on Hadoop.

The Value Proposition

The value proposition is that Rainstor’s technology enables companies to store data in the RainStor database using a unique compression technology to reduce disk space requirements.  The company boasts as much as a 40 to 1 compression ratio (>97% reduction in size).  Additionally, the software can run on any commodity hardware and storage. 

For example, one of RainStor’s clients generates 17B logs a day that it is required to store and access for ninety days.  This is the equivalent of 2 petabytes (PB) of raw information over that period which would ordinarily cost millions of dollars to store. Using RainStor, the company compressed and retained the data 20 fold in a cost-efficient 100 Terabyte (TB) NAS. At the same time RainStor also replaced an Oracle Data Warehouse providing fast response times to meet queries in support of an operational call center.

RainStor ingests the data, stores it, and makes it available for query and other analytic workloads.  It comes in two editions – the Big Data Retention Edition and the Big Data Analytics on Hadoop edition.  Both editions  provide full SQL-92 and ODBC/JDBC access.  According to the company, the Hadoop edition is the only database that runs natively on Hadoop and supports access through MapReduce and the PIG Latin language. As a massively parallel processing (MPP) database RainStor runs on the same Hadoop nodes, writing and supporting access to compressed data on HDFS. It provides security, high availability, and lifecycle management and versioning capabilities.

The idea then is that RainStor can dramatically lower the cost of storing data in Hadoop through its compression which reduces the node count needed and accelerates the performance of MapReduce jobs and provides full SQL-92 access. This can reduce the need to transfer data out of the Hadoop cluster to a separate enterprise data warehouse.  RainStor allows the Hadoop environment to support real-time query access in addition to its batch-oriented MapReduce processing.

How does it work?

RainStor is not a relational database; instead it follows the NoSQL movement by storing data non-relationally.  In its case the data is physically stored as a set of trees with linked values and nodes.  The idea is illustrated below (source: RainStor) 


Say a number of records with common value are ingested in the system.  Rainstor would throw away duplicates and only store the literal once but maintain references to the records that contained that value.  So, if the system is loading 1 million records and 500K contained it would only be stored once, saving significant storage.  This and additional pattern deduplication means that a resulting tree structure holds the same data in a significantly smaller footprint and higher compression ratio compared to other databases on the market, according to RainStor.  It also doesn’t require re-inflation like binary zip file compression which requires resources and time to re-inflate.  It writes the tree structure as is to disk, when you read it reads it back to disk.  Instead of unraveling all trees all the time, it only reads those relevant trees and branches of trees that are required to fulfill the query.  


RainStor is a good example of a kind of database that can enable big data analytics.  Just as many companies finally “got” the notion of business analytics and the importance of analytics in decision making so too are they realizing that as they accumulate and generate ever increasing amounts of data there is opportunity to analyze and act on it.

For example, according to the company, you can put a BI solution, like IBM Cognos, Microstrategy, Tableau or SAS, on top of RainStor.  RainStor would hold the raw data and any BI solution would access data either through MapReduce or ODBC/JDBC  (i.e. one platform) with no need to use Hive and HQL.  RainStor also recently announced a partnership with IBM BigInsights for its Big Data Analytics on Hadoop edition. 

What about big data appliances that are architected for high performance analytics?  RainStor claims that while some big data appliances  do have some MapReduce support (like Aster Data for example) it would be cheaper to use their solution together with open source Hadoop.  In other words, RainStor on Hadoop would be cheaper than any big data appliance.

It is still early in the game.  I am looking forward to seeing some big data analytics implementations which utilize RainStor.  I am interested to see use cases that go past querying huge amounts of data and provide some advanced analytics on top of RainStor.  Or, big data visualizations with rapid response time on top of RainStor, that only need to utilize a small number of nodes.  Please keep me posted, RainStor.

Informatica announces 9.1 and puts stake in the ground around big data

Earlier this week, Informatica announced the release of the Informatica 9.1 Platform for Big Data. The company joins other data centric vendors such as EMC and IBM by putting its stake in the ground around the hot topic of Big Data. Informatica defines Big Data as, “all data, including both transaction and interaction data, in sets whose size or complexity exceeds the ability of commonly used technologies to capture, manage and process at a reasonable cost and timeframe. Indeed, Informatica ‘s stance is that Big Data is the confluence of the three technology trends including big transaction data, big interaction data and big data processing.” In Informatica parlance the transactional data includes OLTP, OLAP, and data warehouse data; the interaction data might include social media data, call center records, click stream data, and even scientific data like that associated with genomics. Informatica targets native, high performance connectivity and future integration with Hadoop, the Big Data processing platform.

In 9.1 Informatica is providing an updated set of capabilities around self-service, authoritative and trustworthy data (MDM and data quality), data services and data integration. I wanted to focus on the data services here because of the connection to Big Data. Informatica is providing a platform that companies can use to integrate transactional data (at petabyte scale and beyond in volume) and social network data from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Additionally, 9.1 provides the capability to move all data into and out of Hadoop in batch or real time using universal connectivity to including mainframe, databases, and applications which can help in managing unstructured data.

So, how will companies utilize this latest release? I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rob Myers, an Informatica customer, who is the manager of BI architecture and data warehousing, MDM, enterprise integration for HealthNow. HealthNow is a BlueCross/BlueShield provider for parts of western New York and the Albany area. The company is expanding geographically and is also providing value added services such as patient portals. It views its mission not simply as a claims processor but as a service provider to healthcare providers and patients. According to Rob, the company is looking to offer other value added services to doctors and patients as part of its competitive strategy. These offerings may include real time claims processing, identifying fraudulent claims, or analytics for healthier outcomes. For example, HealthNow might provide a service where it identifies patients with diabetes and provide proactive services to them to help manage the disease. Or, it might provide physicians with suggestions of tests they might consider for certain patients, given their medical records.

Currently, the company utilizes Informatica PowerCenter and Informatica Data Services for data integration including ETL and data abstraction. HealthNow has one large data warehouse and is currently building out a second. It is exposing data out to a logical model in data services tier. For example, its member portal utilizes data services to enable members to sign in and in real time, integrate 30-40 attributes around each member including demographic information, products, and eligibility for certain services into the portal. In addition, the company’s actuaries, marketing groups, and health services group have been utilizing its data warehouses to perform their own analysis. Rob doesn’t consider the data in these warehouses to be Big Data. Rather they are just sets of relational data. He views Big Data as some of the other data that the company currently has a hard time mining, for example data on social networks and the unstructured data in claims and medical notes. The company is in the beginning phase of determining how to gather and parse through this text and expose it in a way that it can be analyzed. For example, the company is interested in utilizing the data that they already have together with unstructured data and providing predictive analytics to its community. HealthNow is exploring Hadoop data stores as part of this plan and is excited about the direction that Informatica is moving. It views Informatica as the middleware that can get the trusted data out of the various silos and integrated in a way that it can then be analyzed or used in other value-added services.

It is certainly interesting to see what end-users have in mind for Big Data and, for that matter, how they define Big Data. Rob clearly views Big Data as high volume and disparate in nature (i.e. including structured and unstructured data). There seems to be a time dimension to it. He also made the point that its not just about having Big Data, it’s about doing something that he couldn’t do before with it – like processing and analyzing it. This is an important point that vendors and end-users are starting to pick up on. If Big Data were simply about volume of different kinds of data, then it would be a moving target. Really, an important aspect of Big Data is about is being able to perform activities on the data that weren’t possible before. I am glad to companies thinking about their use cases for Big Data and vendors such as Informatica putting a stake in the ground around the subject.

Four Findings from the Hurwitz & Associates Advanced Analytics Survey

Hurwitz & Associates conducted an online survey on advanced analytics in January 2011. Over 160 companies across a range of industries and company size participated in the survey. The goal of the survey was to understand how companies are using advanced analytics today and what their plans are for the future. Specific topics included:

– Motivation for advanced analytics
– Use cases for advanced analytics
– Kinds of users of advanced analytics
– Challenges with advanced analytics
– Benefits of the technology
– Experiences with BI and advanced analytics
– Plans for using advanced analytics

What is advanced analytics ?
Advanced analytics provides algorithms for complex analysis of either structured or unstructured data. It includes sophisticated statistical models, machine learning, neural networks, text analytics, and other advanced data mining techniques. Among its many use cases, it can be deployed to find patterns in data, prediction, optimization, forecasting, and for complex event processing. Examples include predicting churn, identifying fraud, market basket analysis, and analyzing social media for brand management. Advanced analytics does not include database query and reporting and OLAP cubes.

Many early adopters of this technology have used predictive analytics as part of their marketing efforts. However, the diversity of use cases for predictive analytics is growing. In addition to marketing related analytics for use in areas such as market basket analysis, promotional mix, consumer behavior analysis, brand loyalty, churn analysis, companies are using the technology in new and innovative ways. For example, there are newer industry use cases emerging including reliability assessment (i.e. predicting failure in machines), situational awareness, behavior (defense), investment analysis, fraud identification (insurance, finance), predicting disabilities from claims (insurance), and finding patterns in health related data (medical)

The two charts below illustrate several key findings from the survey on how companies use advanced analytics and who within the organization is using this technology.

• Figure 1 indicates that the top uses for advanced analytics include finding patterns in data and building predictive models.

• Figure 2 illustrates that users of advanced analytics in many organizations have expanded from statisticians and other highly technical staff to include business analysts and other business users. Many vendors anticipated this shift to business users and enhanced their offerings by adding new user interfaces, for example, which suggest or dictate what model should be used, given a certain set of data.

Other highlights include:

• Survey participants have seen a huge business benefit from advanced analytics. In fact, over 40% of the respondents who had implemented advanced analytics believed it had increased their company’s top-line revenue. Only 2% of respondents stated that advanced analytics provided little or no value to their company.
• Regardless of company size, the vast majority of respondents expected the number of users of advanced analytics in their companies to increase over the next six to 12 months. In fact, over 50% of respondents currently using the technology expected the number of users to increase over this time period.

The final report will be published in March 2011. Stay tuned!

Five Analytics Predictions for 2011

In 2011 analytics will take center stage as a key trend because companies are at a tipping point with the volume of data they have and their urgent need to do something about it. So, with 2010 now past and 2011 to look forward to, I wanted to take the opportunity to submit my predictions (no pun intended) regarding the analytics and advanced analytics market.

Advanced Analytics gains more steam. Advanced Analytics was hot last year and will remain so in 2011. Growth will come from at least three different sources. First, advanced analytics will increase its footprint in large enterprises. A number of predictive and advanced analytics vendors tried to make their tools easier to use in 2009-2010. In 2011 expect new users in companies already deploying the technology to come on board. Second, more companies will begin to purchase the technology because they see it as a way to increase top line revenue while gaining deeper insights about their customers. Finally, small and mid sized companies will get into the act, looking for lower cost and user -friendly tools.
Social Media Monitoring Shake Out. The social media monitoring and analysis market is one crowded and confused space, with close to 200 vendors competing across no cost, low cost, and enterprise-cost solution classes. Expect 2011 to be a year of folding and consolidation with at least a third of these companies tanking. Before this happens, expect new entrants to the market for low cost social media monitoring platforms and everyone screaming for attention.
Discovery Rules. Text Analytics will become a main stream technology as more companies begin to finally understand the difference between simply searching information and actually discovering insight. Part of this will be due to the impact of social media monitoring services that utilize text analytics to discover, rather than simply search social media to find topics and patterns in unstructured data. However, innovative companies will continue to build text analytics solutions to do more than just analyze social media.
Sentiment Analysis is Supplanted by other Measures. Building on prediction #3, by the end of 2011 sentiment analysis won’t be the be all and end all of social media monitoring. Yes, it is important, but the reality is that most low cost social media monitoring vendors don’t do it well. They may tell you that they get 75-80% accuracy, but it ain’t so. In fact, it is probably more like 30-40%. After many users have gotten burned by not questioning sentiment scores, they will begin to look for other meaningful measures.
Data in the cloud continues to expand as well as BI SaaS. Expect there to still be a lot of discussion around data in the cloud. However, business analytics vendors will continue to launch SaaS BI solutions and companies will continue to buy the solutions, especially small and mid sized companies that find the SaaS model a good alternative to some pricey enterprise solutions. Expect to see at least ten more vendors enter the market.

On-premise becomes a new word. This last prediction is not really related to analytics (hence the 5 rather than 6 predictions), but I couldn’t resist. People will continue to use the term, “on-premise”, rather than “on-premises” when referring to cloud computing even though it is incorrect. This will continue to drive many people crazy since premise means “a proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion” ( rather than a singular form of premises. Those of us in the know will finally give up correcting everyone else.


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