European Reseller

Helping bring new products to market

Saturday, Feb 04th

Last updateThu, 02 Feb 2023 11am

You are here: Home Data Centres Data management How the channel can sell the next generation of Business Intelligence
Hand Held

How the channel can sell the next generation of Business Intelligence

 Matt Mullen

Traditional business intelligence (BI) tools are pretty good at what they’re designed to do, but it’s an inescapable fact that they are stupid. Indeed, strictly speaking they have no actual “intelligence” at all: they merely trawl through an organisation’s structured information – essentially, business data such as revenues, sales figures and expenditure – and deliver useable reports that enable management to look into the statistical health of their business.

When it comes to data that can be expressed in numbers and values, traditional business intelligence does pretty well. But the threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses that affect an organisation are not all to be found in bald statistics held in the rows and columns of a database.

What about the crucial information contained in an organisation’s unstructured data? This unstructured data is information that does not exist as convenient digits: it is the language of the written word. This valuable information resides in the millions of emails sent by an organisation’s employees; it is the business-critical information that comprises reports, whitepapers and product guides; it lies in corporate blogs and user-generated content. What is more, it encompasses information on the Web and outside the traditional perimeter of the organisation.

All this unstructured content contains a wealth of information that would, if it could only be harnessed, managed and studied, be enormously valuable to any organisation. Business intelligence, sadly, is almost entirely useless at deriving insight from unstructured data. That’s because unstructured information is created for human consumption. Machines and software can perform many billions of calculations a second, but they cannot understand the meaning or semantics of the written word or phrase, nor comprehend the context in which they sit, nor the sentiments that they express.

This ability to understand the meaning of words lies at the heart of the next evolution of information management, search and the wider web, and it is one that will have profound implications for businesses. It is not a single technology that does this; rather, it is a new generation of tools that employ the latest semantic and content analytics methods that can look at language and the relationship between words in a way that much more closely mirrors the methods used by the human brain.

This revolution will have a profound effect on all organisations – and for their technology partners in the channel. There is a huge opportunity for providers and resellers to earn extra revenue by incorporating these new technologies into the products and services that they provide for businesses. If the channel is to profit from this new information revolution, however, it must first understand how these tools can bring real value to end-users.

It’s impossible to list all the different ways that semantic technologies could be applied – arguably it is limited only by the imagination of those employing it. Here, however, are just a few examples that illustrate how organisations can plunder the wealth of unstructured information that they generate and store, and make it truly valuable to their business.

Take for example a problem that is common in most large organisations: the difficulty of locating, in a large and varied workforce, the skills, knowledge and expertise that exists across the business. It is often the secret genius with a very precise and particular expertise who is needed for a particular project, rather than heads of department with their necessarily broad subject matter knowledge. Those who work at the coalface are much more likely to have that specialised knowledge, but almost by their nature they are far less visible within the organisation. Their expertise is unknown, residing in dozens of documents among thousands; thousands of emails among millions.

Traditional search technologies are only really capable of finding instances of a certain word or phrase, without any regard for the relationship between words or their context. Using these tools, a pharmaceutical company searching for an expert on the contraindications of a particular drug would pull up potentially thousands of documents, databases and emails that contained the searched-for terms. These results would provide little or no information about the concepts being discussed, the relevance of the content itself, or the relationship between different documents such as a common authorship.

That’s exactly what the latest semantic search tools are designed to do: they analyse mountains of unstructured data and deliver useable “facts” – information of real and immediate business value – as well as associating these “facts” across multiple documents. In this way, they turn an organisation’s mountain of unstructured data from a burden into a strategic asset, and not just an asset that’s valuable to senior management. If all staff are more easily able to find and use the content they need to do their jobs effectively, the potential for greater productivity – and indeed for the sharing of knowledge across the organisation – is enormous.

These tools and techniques are just as applicable externally as they are internally. By employing them on an organisation’s publicly-available online content, customers, partners, suppliers and other visitors to the website can easily find the facts they need from among large volumes of unstructured content.

So far we have only touched upon how this new generation of business intelligence tools can analyse a business’s own content. This is certainly valuable; however, the technology really comes into its own when it is tasked with analysing the wider world of online information.

No organisation is an island, and all exist in an ecosystem, affected to a greater or lesser extent by environmental factors. These could be a disparate as growing civil unrest in countries where it does business; uncertainty in local or global financial markets; or a surge in negative sentiment towards the organisation itself.

Semantic and content analytics technologies now make it possible, for the first time, to monitor the billions of websites, social networks, blogs and forums automatically and in real-time, enabling organisations to know not just where it is being mentioned, but how it is being talked about.

This can be applied to gain immediate insight into an entity’s current online reputation; it can also be used to study all kinds of trends that may affect the organisation. Because traditional business intelligence tends only to look at patterns of numbers, it cannot give insight into fears, anxieties and concerns being expressed about, say, the global economy. As we all know, economics is as much about confidence than it is about mathematics; the new breed of business intelligence gives real and actionable insight into what people are feeling and expressing, conferring a unique advantage to those who have it.

Semantic search and content analytics will not replace existing business intelligence tools: as long as the binary digit exists, there will be a place for traditional BI. Instead, this new generation of technologies will complement the old, enabling organisations to gain vital intelligence from both structured and unstructured content.

All channel players involved with business intelligence need to be assessing how they can earn revenue from the next generation of business intelligence. The fundamental technology exists now, but a broad suite of specific applications has yet to be built, packaged and sold. That’s where resellers come in – their creativity is needed to sell the advantages of semantic search and content analytics, to work with end-users to find the most beneficial applications and, hopefully, to come up with a snappier name by which to call these revolutionary technologies.

By Matt Mullen, Senior Solutions Consultant, OpenText Corporation