Can Google Refine Spur Front-line Interest in Business Intelligence?

Ann All
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10 Hot Google Apps for Project Management

With Google's deep roots in dealing with huge amounts of data-sorting it and filtering it-it's surprising it hasn't really tried to capitalize on companies' growing appetite for data analysis. It offers Google Analytics, a free website analysis tool popular with marketers and developers that have created a variety of applications for it. Third parties like Panorama Software also have created analytics applications to be used with Google Apps.


Thus far, Google's forays into the enterprise have largely been limited to its enterprise search products and its Google Apps productivity suite. Its just-released Google Refine 2.0, which the company bills as a "power tool for data wranglers," probably won't change that. It won't make a huge enterprise splash but will generate ripples of interest, writes Timo Elliott on SmartDataCollective. He runs through the capabilities of the tool, and concludes it's "a great free option for correcting and correlating small, real-world messy data sets from the Web-but you have to be a JSON ninja to get the most out of it."

Google Refine could certainly be used in the enterprise, Elliott says, by folks trying to manually combine information from data sources such as spreadsheets, external websites and an internal data warehouse. He writes:

This type of solution will never replace the need for a robust enterprise information platform, but the need for 'messy' solutions to answer real-world business questions is a frequently underestimated need in business analytics deployments, and Google Refine 2.0 looks like a great tool to add to the workbench.

Similarly, Jolie O'Dell, writing on Mashable, opines Refine will "allow non-programmers who deal with lots of data, including students and journalists doing research, to manipulate and sort data much more quickly." In fact, I found a piece on that describes how Dan Nguyen of the nonprofit investigative site used Google Refine to clean up data used to help produce a series of investigative reports looking at doctors and the money they receive from pharmaceutical companies for speaking about their products.


Working with data from seven drug companies that post doctors' names and compensation on their websites, some as the result of legal settlements with the federal government, Nguyen was able to assemble it into a single, comprehensive database that allows patients to search for their physician. He winnowed down more than 30,000 entries to fewer than 400 unique names. Nguyen called Refine "a great all-purpose tool for any reporter combing through spreadsheets."


As with many of Google's other tools, I suspect third-party developers will create some interesting applications using Refine. I'm also intrigued by the possibility that Refine could help companies identify and encourage front-line workers who show an aptitude for business intelligence. My post on internal training programs for BI mentioned a couple of companies that offer introductory analytics courses to interested business users.

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