2011 has been something of a landmark year for Business Intelligence (BI). Never before have enterprises had the power to use technology to make such well informed business decisions in real-time, using a smart phone or tablet PC. BI in the cloud has also come of age and now offers the same depth of functionality as on-premise BI. 2011 has seen BI thrive and grow but where does it go from here?

In addition to mobile and cloud, BI will progress in two other main areas. The first combines the recent emergence of ‘Big Data’ with the growing ownership of and demand for BI by business users, rather than IT. The second acknowledges the growing role of social media networks, specifically Facebook and the wealth of customer data that is held within these.

Turning big data into little data

The term ‘Big Data’ has emerged as a way of describing the ever increasing volumes of data being generated by businesses. BI is undoubtedly important to businesses looking to make best use of big data, but the right system to store and manage data is a factor too.

Traditional databases lack the power to analyse big data and require far too much on-going configuration and resources to cope with it. So the most effective way of loading data, storing it and reducing the cost and man-hours involved in analysing and managing it, is a data warehouse.

But in some ways, the term ‘big data’ is a red herring. The size and volume of business data is to an extent, irrelevant – it is how you use it and the insight you glean from it that matters and we are seeing business lines within organisations really driving adoption of BI, not IT departments as was once the case.

A good example of this is the sales and marketing function of nutrition products company Herbalife. We worked with them to build and deploy a new analysis app for the iPad, known as Herbalife Mobile Analytics, that enables the analysis of related sales trends and tracks performance based on various criteria, such as by product or location, to best capitalise on new opportunities.

It helps evaluate sales performance across multiple channels (phone, internet, walk-in, etc.) and gauge the success of marketing campaigns across the business. Executives and sales managers are able to track global sales order trends for more than one million orders, and compare sales performance relative to targets by region, country, or warehouse.

This is effectively turning ‘big data’ into little data, i.e. data that drives real insight at an end-user level. Business intelligence was once the preserve of the board and was frequently pushed by IT towards business users – this is changing. With the increase in mobile BI and the genuine value BI can offered to a department or individual, 2012 will see much more user demand than ever before.

Making sense of Facebook data

A Facebook Page does not provide a sufficient channel for interesting interactions between consumers and a brand. Personalised access to intriguing offers, deals, and services only becomes possible when sufficient customer intelligence is available.

In addition, corporate Facebook Pages provide companies with only high-level statistics on the fans who ‘like’ their Page. Thus, companies lack the necessary in-depth insights into their fan base needed to take action and capitalise on the marketing opportunities.

Similar is true of Advertising on Facebook. These advertisements are not personalised to an individual, nor do they contain a rich array of interactivity and content. This lack of interactivity and content limits the potential reach and success of a company’s marketing efforts.

The most effective way to utilise Facebook data and achieve personalised, highly-targeted messaging and interactivity with users is through a Facebook application, or app. Facebook’s social graph, which represents the millions of connections made by users every day can be used within these applications. This allows a company to broadcast tailored messages to fans to promote daily interactions between that fan and the brand.

Facebook provides a set of open application programming interfaces (APIs) – the core API is called Graph API – that allows third parties to develop Facebook applications. These APIs provide rich functionality for reading data from Facebook’s social graph and for writing ‘interactivity’ back to the social graph, such as Facebook Likes, Comments, and Shares.

Few businesses have created truly valuable business-to-consumer apps because the Facebook APIs and underlying data structures don’t lend themselves to one-to-one marketing, campaign management and execution, cross-sell recommendation engines or customer care.

Creating an app that can truly harness Facebook’s social graph data requires additional technology and data structures that fall outside of Facebook’s social graph database and the Graph API. I predict that in 2012 we will see many organisations developing powerful apps and using the intelligence gained from these to drive meaningful customer interactions.

So with Big Data transitioning into little data and many companies reaping the rewards of building strong social networks with their customer base, 2012 is set to be an exciting year for business intelligence.