The Noisy Channel


A Harmonic Convergence

May 8th, 2008 · No Comments · General

This week, Forrester released a report entitled “Search + BI = Unified Information Access”. The authors assert the convergence of search and business intelligence, a case that Forrester has been developing for quite some time.

The executive summary:

Search and business intelligence (BI) really are two sides of the same coin. Enterprise search enables people to access unstructured content like documents, blog and wiki entries, and emails stored in repositories across their organizations. BI surfaces structured data in reports and dashboards. As both technologies mature, the boundary between them is beginning to blur. Search platforms are beginning to perform BI functions like data visualization and reporting, and BI vendors have begun to incorporate simple to use search experiences into their products. Information and knowledge management professionals should take advantage of this convergence, which will have the same effect from both sides: to give businesspeople better context and information for the decisions they make every day.

It’s hard to find any fault here. In fact, the convergence of search and BI is a corollary to the fact that people (yes, businesspeople are people too) use these systems, and that the same people have no desire to distinguish between “structured” and “unstructured” content as they pursue their information needs.

That said, I do have some quibbles with how the authors expect the convergence to play out. The authors make two assertions that I have a hard time accepting at face value:

    • People will be able to execute data queries via a search box using natural language.

    Sure, but will they want to? Natural language is fraught with communication challenges, and I’m no more persuaded by natural language queries for BI than I am by natural language queries for search.

    • Visual data representations will increase understanding of linkages among concepts.

    We’ve all heard the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. I know this better than most, as I earned my PhD by producing visual representations of networks. But I worry that people overestimate the value of these visualizations. Data visualization is simply a way to represent data analytics. I see more value in making analytics interactive (e.g., supporting and guiding incremental refinement) than in emphasizing visual representations.

    But I quibble. I strongly agree with most of their points, including:

    • BI interfaces will encourage discovery of additional data dimensions.
    • BI and search tools will provide proactive suggestions.
    • BI and search will continue to borrow techniques from each other.

    And it doesn’t hurt that the authors express a very favorable view of Endeca. I can only hope they won’t change their minds after reading this post!

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