Pervasive Analytics: No So Fast

Categories: General

From the middle of the twentieth century until nearly its end, computers in business were mostly consumed with the process of capturing operational transactions for audit and regulatory purposes. Reporting for decision-making was repetitive and inactive. Some interactivity with the computer began to emerge in the eighties, but it was applied mostly to data input forms. By the end of the century, mostly as a result of the push from personal computers, tools for interacting with data, such as Decision Support Systems, reporting tools and Business Intelligence allowed business analysts to finally use the computing power for their analytical, as opposed to operational purposes.

Nevertheless, these tools were under constant stress because of the cost and scarcity of computing power. The repository of the data, mostly data warehouses, dwarfed the size of the operational systems that fed them. As BI software providers pressed for “pervasive BI,” so that a much broader group of people in the organization would actively use the tools (and the vendors would sell more licenses of course), the movement met resistance from three areas: 1) physical resources (CPU, RAM, Disk), 2) IT concerns that a much broader user community would wreck havoc with the established security and control and 3) people themselves who, beyond the existing users, showed little interest in “self-service: so long as there were others willing to do it for them.

In 2007, Tom Davenport published his landmark book, “Competing on Analytics,” and suddenly, every CEO wanted to find out how to compete on analytics. Beyond the more or less thin advice about why this was a good idea, the book was actually anemic when it came to providing any kind of specific, prescriptive advice on transforming an organization to an “analytically-driven” one.

Fast forward to 2015 and analytics has morphed from a meme to a mania. Pervasive BI is a relic not even discussed, but pervasive analytics or, more recently, the “democratization of analytics” is widely held to be the salvation of every organization. Granted, two of the three reasons pervasive BI failed to ignite are no longer an issue in this era of big data and Hadoop, but the third, the people looms even larger:

1) people still are not motivated to do work that was previously done by others and..

2) an even greater problem, the academic prerequisites to do the work are absent in the vast majority of workers.

Pulling a Naïve Bayes or C4.5 icon over same data and getting a really pretty diagram or chart is dangerous. Software providers are making it terrifyingly easy for people to DO advanced quantitative analysis without knowing what they doing.

Pervasive analytics? It can happen. It will happen. In the next blog, I’ll lay out what kind of training organizations need to commit to, what analytical software vendors need to do to provide extraordinarily better software for neophytes to use productively and, how organizations need to restructure for all of this to be worthwhile and effective.


To hear more about Data Discovery and Operational analytics download Neil’s Whitepaper Series.


Neil Raden, based in Santa Fe, NM, is an industry analyst and active consultant, widely published author and speaker and the founder of Hired Brains Research LLC, Hired Brains provides research, advisory and consulting services in Analytics, “Big Data,” and Decision Management for clients worldwide. Neil is also the co-author of the Dresner Advisory Services Wisdom of BI series on Advanced and Predictive Analytics.

Neil was a contributing author to one of the first (1995) books on designing data warehouses and he is more recently the co-author of Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Automating Hidden Decisions, Prentice-Hall. He is a contributor to publications such as Wall Street Week, Forbes, Information Week and ComputerWorld. He welcomes your comments at or at his blog at


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