BI Is for Everyone: Pass It On

A few weeks ago, in “Swivel Puts a New Twist on BI for the Masses” ( ), I wrote about Swivel ( ), a novel site devoted to amateur data analysis. I pondered whether this new site would become the “next big thing” and finally bring BI to the masses or quickly fade away into nothingness. I’m still not sure if Swivel will be a bang or a bust, but an aside at the end of a reader reply to my first Swivel editorial fascinated me:

“Thanks for the heads-up! My brother's a high-school AP stats teacher, so I'm passing it on to him too.”

That’s exactly what I’m talking about when I suggested that Swivel, or something like it, might actually bring BI to the masses. People who aren’t functional experts--such as high school statistics students--could “do BI.” Will these unwashed masses, as I suggested in my editorial a few weeks ago, learn to publish, analyze, and understand complex data sets? And will we see a significant increase in the amount of data analysis that happens worldwide?

Here’s another thought: Will the amateur nature of such BI proliferation create a sort of universally skewed view of what BI is? I wonder this because I notice on the Swivel site that many of the “data sets” that are published are from people who are just having fun comparing irrelevant or unrelated data to see what happens. We already live in a culture that is highly skeptical of statistical data. Like the boy who cried wolf, will this kind of data dumping create a world in which we don’t believe ANY statistics, even those that might be important and relevant?

Actually, I suspect that a large amount of “analysis” done on Swivel--like much of what’s on the Internet in general--will be random noise. But I do expect that putting analysis tools into the hands of subject matter experts who don’t have access to traditional data-analysis tools will produce some very interesting stuff, and I wonder whether this trend will ever reach a point at which the amateurs start to shape the direction of BI by doing things that the “professionals” didn’t originally consider?

The reader I mentioned above offered several other interesting comments about Swivel as it might relate to “more traditional” (i.e., corporate IT) BI needs. But the fact that he thought his brother would be interested is telling. I presume his brother who teaches high school AP statistics doesn’t masquerade as a corporate BI IT jock on the weekends. If his brother likes it, will he tell two friends, and will they tell two friends, and so on--like the old shampoo commercial from the 1970s? Will BI-style tools and technologies like Swivel ever be adopted by the masses? And how will wider adoption of BI affect “real” BI’s impact in the business world? Send me your thoughts on this subject at [email protected]

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