Web 2.0 applications are revolutionising the way that we interact with the web. Most of the existing Social Media examples mentioned in this article exist as a result of new innovations in web application developments. Web 2.0 doesn’t necessarily refer to a new technological advancement in the Web itself, but rather a group of technologies that have advanced Web usage and turned the web into a development platform for the enterprise. (Ferguson 2007) Many of the innovations in Web 2.0 leverage applications that include the ability to read/write on the Web. The World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee insists that the original vision of the Web was to provide “a collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write” (BBC 2005) so the term “Web 2.0” is somewhat of an actualisation of that vision.
Some of the innovations in Web 2.0 technologies include:
· RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
· Search & Tags
While this is not an all-encompassing list, these technologies are tightly linked with Social Media and increasingly developed in Business Intelligence platforms. These are examples of how BI can be actively extended to include Social Media using the latest Web technologies.
Blogs are an excellent way to share opinions and ideas to a wider community on the Web in an easy-to-use manner. If you are able to open an online bank account, or write an article in a word processor you already have the required skills to create and manage a blog. The usability of a blog, in combination with BI can be very powerful for enhancing the information provided through enterprise BI platforms.
What a blog can do in the context of BI is provide an opportunity for the producers of the dashboards or other type of reports to create a forum for users to comment and share interpretations of the information they are viewing. This type of forum can also be encouraging for analysts and executives alike to become more engaged with the information they are viewing. The dashboard or report with the additional commentary enhances the overall quality of the published information. When a business user creates a report, they may select it and publish it for the explicit purpose to get feedback from the community of users.
Security needs to be a consideration with this type of collaborative environment, but with attention to the different profile of user to be in line with the profiles of the dashboard and report viewers this is an easy hurdle to overcome to add value to distributed information.
Wikis are quite similar to blogs in that many people are able to contribute and extend the information that may be published in a BI platform. The major difference is that with a wiki it is possible to edit what other people may have written. Wikis provide a structured way for a group of people to edit and collaborate on a specific subject area with each person contributing as much or as little as they want to the topic. A wiki (like a blog) can enrich the information provided through an enterprise BI platform by providing a collaboration vehicle to either educate on business practices or performance at a departmental or enterprise level. An example could be a wiki about the common uses and characteristics from a product that a company offers that is linked or viewed through a sales dashboard. The wiki can provide a “FAQ” for the salespeople accessing these relevant dashboards. The salespeople may choose to help edit the different entries as each of the products mature in the marketplace or extend the information regarding their experiences.
Mashups are a simple concept and currently most enterprise BI platforms offer the capability to “mashup” information. The mashup term arose and became popular in the music industry through the introduction of two or more different songs, and two or more different music styles into one musical accompaniment. In a business context, this is the combining of a multitude of different data sources using a variety of different technologies to provide enhanced BI information. The information sources could also include a variety of different Social Media types.
A BI mashup may include geographical representation of sales, with inventory levels, combined with a wiki on the service offerings. This concept is not new, and in a lot of ways this is essentially what business intelligence is. The value comes in taking advantage of new Web 2.0 technologies embedded in many of the BI software vendor offerings to provide business users with multiple streams of information in a self-service environment. The user experience is enhanced greatly, especially when external information such as news, investor information and relevant search capability from the Web is embedded to expand the value of the BI landing page.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds are widely available in most web browsers and email clients. It enables one click subscription to websites, blogs or BI websites to provide a simple alert that something has been added to the source. From an email client, the alert looks like a new email message that arrived in the business users inbox. Probably the single biggest advantage to the use of RSS feeds is ease of use. Every user in a company is familiar with an email client. Additions to the relevant BI pages can be delivered through the subscription service. This brings us to the other very important feature of RSS in that user doesn’t have to login and access their personalised BI page, but are alerted to changes relating to their function. If they choose to investigate further, they can click on the link and login to do further analysis. This provides more pervasive information in a way that business users can evaluate quickly resulting in a more productive workforce. Subscribers to RSS feeds can select organisational blogs or wikis that get updated daily or with each post so there is a constant awareness of their colleagues activities relating to the business.
The use of advanced search and tags is another Web 2.0 innovation that found extensive use in Social Media and can be applied in a BI framework to traditional BI data and to the Social Media applications in the enterprise. Tags are a way to visually represent and organise information on the Web as well as provide advanced search criteria. In the context of a BI platform, a business analyst may want the ability to tag to give additional meaning to the information presented in a dashboard or web page. If an analyst produces a report that shows product sales by region, it helps to introduce additional information (even from the accompanying commentary) that can give a more “human” meaning to the information. In this instances tags such as “sales”, “region”, “product X”, “profit”, “market penetration” and “sales utility” can all produce additional information that can be searched on and assist with interpretation of the report. A tag cloud visually represents the information in the web site showing common searched terms or frequency of the words such as in Fig. 5, which shows a tag cloud for this article.
Fig.5 – A Tag Cloud for this Article
The value tag clouds and enhanced search can bring across Social Media and BI is mainly in accessibility and usability of the information. Tag clouds and enhanced search can be used in Social Media elements in the organisation in order to navigate from BI dashboards to Social Media enhancers ultimately developing the information and making it interactive and navigation user-dependant.
As we’ve moved along the gradient in Fig. 4, we’ve explored how BI can be used passively to monitor Social Media and how BI and Social Media can be blended within an organisation to improve the value of the information to the business stakeholders. In the last stop, we extend the BI platform into the Social Media forums to encourage those outside of the organisation to explore and improve BI data and representations of that data.
Open source BI is an example of the use of social media in order to facilitate the development of BI solutions. Eclipse (http://www.eclipse.org/) works with contributors from all over the Web to develop its open source BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools). While this isn’t a great example of how Social Media (such as Twitter, YouTube etc) has facilitated specific changes to BI, it does show how a community of users can collaborate on a project using many of the same Web 2.0 technologies to influence the direction of BI software.
A stronger representation providing a looking glass into how Social Media is used to create, share and provide a true interactive community for BI is through public BI galleries such as those provided by software vendor Tableau (Tableau Software 2011). Tableau Public offers individuals the capability to create a user account, download Tableau BI software, conduct online training and then get started with creating their own BI visualisations. The creator then uses the Tableau Public site to publish their charts and other visual representations for other visitors to share with Tweets, and Facebook posts. The forum can also be used to promote businesses or even the written articles that were improved with the Tableau visualisations. There are visualisations showing everything from an “Earthquake map of New Zealand” to “Social Network Market Share”. The immediate ROI may not be clear with this type of investment of time in creating these visualisations, but for a company involved in the development of BI software the ROI is extremely evident. With more people trained, using Tableau BI, and embedding the results across the Web, Tableau is creating a real presence for its BI software. It can also use the information from the community of users to determine where to focus development. This really blurs the lines of BI and Social Media and shows how BI can be put in the hands of and defined by the masses.
Social media and BI are in an exciting stage in the Gartner hype cycle (Gartner 2010) where mainstream adoption could be as long as 5-10 years out for technologies such as collaborative decision making or as soon as 2-5 years away for mainstream use of Web 2.0 and BI. Expect to see more vendors including the capability to reach out and make sense of the background social media noise and be prepared to revolutionise the way you work with others through blogs, videos, wikis and other interactive ways in the increasingly “virtual” office. Embarking on a journey to gain competitive advantage with any new technology is met with risk since the market is still trying to work out what will return the most value in social media.
Two statements worth pondering are that:
1) Higher risk means higher reward
2) There is immense value with clever interpretation of social media interactions.
A calculated assessment of your use of social media and BI is a good place to start followed by a way to incorporate passive and active engagement with Social Media to realise value.
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