Data Discovery and Visualization is all the rage in Business Intelligence these days. According to our friends at Gartner, this will be the most in demand BI category by 2015. The massive growth in this sector has been fueled mostly by business users who procure these solutions directly, run them on their own desktops and operate them independently of IT. In fact, in many organizations, IT has been a laggard in this space trying to catch up with the demand. Consequently, the old term "Self Service BI" has been resurrected with a whole new meaning.
Before we call this new breed of solutions the best thing since sliced bread, let's go back in time for a minute. Remember the days when spreadsheets were used for all kinds of business reporting? Business users would copy and paste data from all over the place to create reports that were full of data challenges. There was no centralized manner of governing access to data or ensuring the authenticity of data being looked at. "Garbage in, garbage out" was one way to describe the situation. Things were bad enough to keep you up all night worrying about who had access to what data and what they were doing with it. Then one day all of that changed when the Business Objects Account Executive called you and told you about an Enterprise BI Platform. With it, not only did you get tools that let you and your business users create reports that the whole Office Suite combined couldn't produce, more importantly, it gave you enterprise level governance and data integrity known then as "the single version of the truth". It was the dawn of a new era in Business Intelligence as the needs of both business users and IT began to be satisfied.
Let's fast forward back to present day. Today, business users are leveraging point solutions for Data Discovery and Visualization to analyze the ever increasing volumes of data to answer questions like "why things happened?" in contrast to just "what happened?". These solutions are great at what they do but, like spreadsheets, most of them live outside of an organization's Enterprise BI deployment and pose enormous challenges for governance and data integrity. From the business user's perspective, however, the ability to play with data without asking for help from that busy IT guy, creating visualizations so beautiful that one would want to frame them, and walking into a meeting with insights that will make your team's jaws drop is very promising. Once again IT is worried about how to satisfy the needs of business users while also preventing them from indulging further in this maverick and risky behavior.
The need of the hour is to have Data Discovery and Visualization solutions that allow business users to get the insights they need while being fully integrated into the Enterprise BI platform. This would enable organizations to leverage their investment in a solid data foundation over the years while also making sure that governance is fully in place. This completeness of vision has been described as "Governed Data Discovery" by Gartner in its recent Magic Quadrant publication.
The message I would leave you with is that while evaluating Data Discovery and Visualization solutions, think of their ability to leverage your existing BI investment in addition to other features. In fact, I would argue, that governance and data accuracy should be one of the key requirements in your evaluation as most other features are already or will soon be at parity among most solutions.