Simple Business Questions Are Not That Simple – Part 1

Author: Yannick Cras, Chief Development Architect, Real-Time Intelligent Enterprise, Advanced Development, SAP Labs Paris

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Answering a business question is one thing…

Our job, in Business Intelligence a.k.a. Analytics, is to answer in real time the business questions asked by expert but also casual users. These range from simple ad-hoc requests – how much did we sell of this product over last year in this group of regions – to more elaborate customer segmentation formulas, up to solving complex analytical and forecasting models created by expert analysts. This of course is quite some work in itself. We have to create technologies to query over huge amounts of data from a large variety of big data sources, retrieve correct answers, and render the results in a meaningful way, all in sub-second time. This is the 3V challenge (Volume, Variety, Velocity) as we know it.

We at SAP are in a unique position to tackle it thanks to quantitatively and qualitatively better technologies. Among others, real-time processing over huge data volumes is no longer an issue thanks to HANA; we own a powerful cloud infrastructure to spread our technology where it has to go; we have attractive rendering technologies for all devices; and we own and a unique corpus of reference data, available to help users create insight.

…Answering the right question is another.

Yet, there’s more to it. You want to make sure that what people are asking from the system is actually what they meant to ask for. And it’s not as easy as it seems, because not all business users – far from it – have taken math as a major. Most people just don’t reason like us developers. The subtleties of even the simplest business questions are not obvious to them. This is why, in BI, we need to learn to talk with our inner Liberal Arts major.

In the second part of this column, we’ll review a few of the typical issues that people may encounter when interacting with BI tools: each of them is a usability or design challenge which our solutions have to tackle.

To know more, visit SAP Labs Paris or follow @SAPLabsParis on Twitter.

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