Actuate recently announced BIRT Analytics Version 4.2, part of its portfolio of business intelligence software. The new release includes several techniques used by analytics professionals placed behind a user-friendly interface that does not require advanced knowledge of statistics. Beyond the techniques themselves, release 4.2 focuses on guiding users through processes such as campaign analytics and targeting.
With the release, Actuate is focusing on what I have already assessed in BIRT Analytics and to support more advanced analytics within organizations like marketing. For these users, a handful of analytical techniques cover the majority of uses cases. Our benchmark research into predictive analytics shows that classification trees (used by 69% of participants), regression techniques (66%), association rules (49%) and k-nearest neighbor algorithms (36%) are the techniques used most often. While BIRT Analytics uses Holt-Winters exponential smoothing for forecasting rather than linear regression and k-means for clustering, the key point is that it addresses the most important uses in the organization through a nontechnical user interface. Using techniques like regression or supervised learning algorithms increases complexity, and such analysis often requires formidable statistical knowledge from the user. In addition to the techniques mentioned above, BIRT Analytics reduces complexity by offering Venn diagram set analysis, a geographic mapping function, and the ability to compare attributes using z-score analysis. A z-score is a standardized unit of measure (relative to the model parameters mu and sigma) that represents how far away from a model’s mean a particular measurement rests. The higher the absolute value of the z-score, the more significant the attribute. This analysis is a simple way of showing things such as the likelihood that a particular email campaign segment will respond to a particular offer; such knowledge helps marketers understand what drives response rates and build lift into a marketing campaign. With this analytical tool set, the marketer or front-line analyst is able to dive directly into cluster analysis, market basket analysis, next-best-offer analysis, campaign analysis, attribution modeling, root-cause analysis and target marketing analysis in order to impact outcome metrics such as new customer acquisition, share-of-wallet, customer loyalty and retention.
Actuate also includes the iWorkflow application in release 4.2. It enables users to set business rules based on constantly calculated measurements and their variance relative to optimal KPI values. If the value falls outside of the critical range, it can start an automated process or send a notification for manual effort to remedy a situation. For instance, if an important customer satisfaction threshold is not being met, the system can notify a customer experience manager to take action that corrects the situation . In the same way, the iWorkflow tool allows users to preprogram distribution of analytical results across the organization based on particular roles or security criteria. As companies work to link market insights with operational objectives, Actuate ought to integrate more tightly with applications from companies such as Eloqua, Marketo and salesforce.com. Today this has to be done manually and prevents the automation of closed-loop workflows in areas such as campaign management and customer experience management. Once this is done, however, the tool becomes more valuable to users. The ability to embed analytics into the workflows of the applications themselves is the next challenge for vendors of tools for visual discovery and data discovery.
Other enhancements to BIRT Analytics address data loading and data preparation. The data loader adds a drag-and-drop capability for mapped fields, can incorporate both corporate data and personal data from the desktop and automates batch loading. New preprocessing techniques include scaling approaches and data mapping. The abilities to load data into the columnar store from different information sources and to manipulate the data in databases are important areas that Actuate should continue to develop. Information sources will always be more important than the tools themselves, and data preprocessing is still where most analysts spend the bulk of their time.
BIRT Analytics has been overlooked by many companies in the United States since the roots of the company are in Spain, but the technology offers capabilities on par with many of the leaders in the BI category, and some are even more advanced. According to our business technology innovation benchmark research, companies are instituting new technology because of bottom-line considerations such as improvements in business initiatives (60%) and in processes (57%). Furthermore, usability is the top evaluation criterion for business intelligence tools in almost two-thirds (64%) of companies, according to our research on next-generation business intelligence. These are among the reasons we are seeing mass adoption of discovery tools such as BIRT Analytics. Those looking into discovery tools, and especially marketing departments that want to put a portfolio of analytics directly into the hands of the marketing analyst and the data-savvy marketer, should consider BIRT Analytics 4.2.