The role of corporate IT units in business intelligence (BI) will become increasingly marginalised as emerging technologies like search and collaboration tools allow individual users and business units to build their own analytic applications.

So concludes a study released this week by Gartner. By 2012, it predicts, IT's role in BI will begin to lessen as users turn to interactive visualisation, in-memory analytics, search integrated with BI, software-as-a-service and service-oriented architectures to build and consume their own reports.

"Evidence suggests that BI is used aggressively by just 15 percent to 20 percent of business users," said Kurt Schlegel, research director at Gartner. "For the BI sector to thrive, it needs to overcome the fact that most business users feel BI tools are hard to use.

Other technologies, such as personal productivity, collaboration and internet search have been widely adopted by mainstream users in both their business and personal lives. BI has the same opportunity for massive adoption, but it must overcome its well-earned reputation of being difficult to use."

The emerging technologies will help reach the 80 percent of users not using analytical applications today. The use of such technologies outside of IT control has the potential to "dwarf" today's problem of users creating thousands of spreadsheets (often called spreadmarts) to perform their own analysis, Gartner noted.

"The reality is that central IT has very little power to prevent business units (and users) from adopting these technologies."

For example, propelled by the popularity of RIAs (rich internet applications), interactive visualisation technology will likely become accepted by users over the next two years as a common front-end to analytical applications, the report notes.

Interactive visualisation allows users to perform typical BI tasks like data filtering, drill downs and pivots by clicking on a pie wedge or circling dots on a plot. Because this technology relies heavily on attractive displays rather than the grid-style analysis and reporting offered by relational databases and spreadsheets, users will find it easier and more fun to use, Gartner added.

Search integrated with BI will help users better find existing reports and information from structured sources where a report doesn't exist, the report noted. Applying a search index to structured data sources, rows and columns allows end user to perform their own ad hoc exploration of the data, according to the research.

IT departments attempting to handle these emerging technologies shouldn't try to fight by prohibiting them. "This policy didn't work with spreadmarts and it won't work with these emerging technologies," the report said.

Instead Gartner recommends that IT:

  • Must incorporate the emerging technologies into the standard BI architecture whenever possible to prevent business units from using them to create "rogue" analytic applications;
  • Clearly communicate which performance measures should be used to run the business because these technologies will be used to build analytic applications independently from a central BI architecture; and
  • Build a governance strategy that incorporates the potential explosion in the number of analytic applications, and includes an inventory of analytic applications with clearly defined owners and use cases.