Is Business Intelligence Too Boring for Social Media?

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Is applying business intelligence to data generated by social channels such as Twitter about to become the "next big thing" in enterprise BI? Some folks seem to think so. Earlier this month Dyke Henson, chief marketing officer for BI provider PivotLink, told IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard companies will want to analyze metadata from social networks in much the same way they now analyze Web site traffic, to determine what is happening in real time and to analyze trends over time.


PivotLink CEO Quentin Gallivan recently wrote on the company blog that applying BI to social media will be one of five trends that will shape the business-Intelligence-as-a-service market this year. (That's BI delivered via a software-as-a-service model. As SaaS applications proliferate, SaaS providers are tacking the words "as a service" onto the names of the applications they provide, which will inevitably lead to lots more tech acronyms. Just what we need.) Wrote Gallivan:

In the year ahead, a combination of Web 2.0 technologies-including blogs, wikis, Twitter, instant messaging, social networking, and innovative Google gadgets-will become part of the BI delivery mechanism that brings greater context to their experience. Web 2.0 innovations will provide users with the social features lacking in business intelligence systems from years past. With Web 2.0 style collaboration embedded into SaaS BI solutions, the industry will return to its decision-centric roots. This also means business users will have to learn to use information more dynamically.

But not everyone is convinced this will happen -- at least not this year. In a survey of BI practitioners conducted by BI-as-a-service and data-warehousing-as-a-service (see?) provider Kognitio, 23 percent of respondents called social media "overrated," saying "there are not as many customer conversations going on as the media would have us believe," and just 14 percent said they want to incorporate data from social channels as part of their ongoing data analysis efforts.


When I interviewed John Thompson, CEO of Kognitio's U.S. operations, he said many BI pros are thrown by the unstructured nature of social data. They are more accustomed to working with financial data and sales data, which has clear structure. But, said Thompson, "How do you take 140 characters of what Tim and Donna said, put it in a database and run a trend line on it?"


The work BI pros do is pretty far removed from the more common corporate uses of social media, such as interacting with customers to promote products and services. Said Thompson:

We are talking about social media, which is very buzzy, very exciting. But the people that are involved in taking this data and making something out of it are about as far removed from buzzy and exciting as you can get.

I don't think Thompson is saying BI pros are boring. But lots of people perceive their work as boring or just don't understand it. Marketing is something most folks can relate to, even if just on a visceral level. BI not so much. Another thing, many folks in the C-suite are just beginning to get their arms around BI and social media. They don't trust them in the same way they do financial results. Said Thompson:

[Executives] are saying, 'Are you certain that syndicated sales data and marketing data from last year is high quality data I can use to make decisions?' They're still asking about that.

Until board members, C-level executives or other high-level managers begin to see how BI and social media can intersect, social media will likely remain the purview of the marketing folks. Yet BI pros may be better positioned than just about anyone else in the enterprise to help demonstrate the value of social media, a tough task for most companies. Thompson predicts we'll begin to see more projects in which BI pros run social data through text engines and then begin to apply vector analysis, geolocation and sentiment analysis to it. He said:

For instance, they might be able to find a lot of positive word-of-mouth buzz originated around a product at the Rhode Island School of Design, it was coming up in RSS feeds and people were Twittering and blogging about it. Then it moved south where the sentiment started to sour, and then to the West Coast where the good buzz began picking up again. That kind of analysis, I think, will come in time. I think it can be a great leading indicator of what will happen in the mass population in the future.