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NLP, embedded BI and data literacy top 2020 analytics trends

While 2019 in business intelligence was marked by consolidation and the incremental improvement of augmented intelligence capabilities, 2020 analytics trends are expected to include increased adaptation of embedded BI and a rising level of data literacy across organizations.

The continued improvement of AI features, of course, will also be one of the 2020 analytics trends to watch.

“There’s still no generalized AI, but we’re starting to see it,” said Donald Farmer, principal at TreeHive Strategy. “It was so overhyped, but now we’re seeing generally intelligent assistants.”

Natural language processing

If there’s one AI feature that may become pervasive, it’s natural language processing (NLP).

“There’s a lot of buzz around NLP in BI platforms,” said Mike Leone, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “While it exists today, it’s still in its infancy. I think as the younger workforce continues to fill data-centric roles in organizations, there will be a growing desire to use voice technology. And I say ‘younger’ simply because that demographic is arguably the most adept at relying on voice technology in their everyday lives and will look for ways to use it to boost productivity at work too.”

By translating a vocal query into an SQL query, NLP will allow users to simply speak a data query and receive a vocal response.

It has the potential to significantly simplify data queries, lessening the need for a background in data science and opening data exploration to a wider range of business users.

But barriers still stand between the ideal of NLP and its reality, limited by the level of its machine learning capabilities.

Computers understand highly specific, unambiguous commands — code. They don’t understand human speech, and even when programmed to do so they can’t adjust for variations such as accents or imperfect syntax. Nevertheless, NLP features are appearing, and are expected to become more prominent as 2020 progresses.

Tableau, for example, introduced Ask Data in early 2019 and updated the tool in its November release. ThoughtSpot, meanwhile, unveiled SearchIQ in the fall of 2018. And Qlik acquired CrunchBot in early 2019 to add conversational capabilities.

“Natural language processing has been a trend the last few years, but now it’s reaching critical mass,” Farmer said.

Embedded BI

Another significant 2020 analytics trends is expected to be the expansion of embedded BI.

Eventually, analytics won’t be conducted on a standalone platform — it will be part of other commonplace business applications.

Instead of running reports — asking a data-driven question, sifting through stored data to come up with the relevant information to address the question, cleaning and preparing the data and ultimately creating a visualization based on the relevant information on a BI platform — business users will have key information delivered without ever having to ask for it, and without having to go through an IT department.

Next-generation architecture will tap data in applications, which will make getting real-time information easier. That will change the analytical paradigm.
Dan SommerGlobal market intelligence lead, Qlik

“Next-generation architecture will tap data in applications, which will make getting real-time information easier,” said Dan Sommer, global market intelligence lead at Qlik. “That will change the analytical paradigm. It was about reports once, and increasingly it will be about embedded — insights will come to you in your moment. It will make insights more consumerized — not from IT or developers. Now it will be everyone.”

Similarly, Doug Henschen, analyst at Constellation Research, pointed to embedded BI as a 2020 analytics trends to watch.

“There’s an increasingly popular saying that ‘every company is now a software company,’ but that’s an intentional overstatement pointing to what’s really a leading-edge trend,” he said.

Organizations — innovators and fast-followers — are making use of their data and finding ways to both enrich and monetize that data, he continued.

“A key enabler is embedded BI and analytics platforms that accelerate the development and delivery of data-driven and insight-driven software and services,” Henschen said. “These embedded platforms have been used primarily by independent software and services vendors to date. This more mainstream embrace of embedding is just getting started, and I think we’ll see more of it in 2020 and beyond.”

Data literacy

One more analytics 2020 analytics trend to watch — beyond such known entities as continued migration to the cloud — is the effort to make more of the workforce data literate.

Data literacy — the ability to derive insight from data — has been expanding beyond the realm of data scientists, but it still remains the domain of a minority within most organizations rather than the majority of employees.

“Data literacy as a service [will be a 2020 analytics trend],” Sommer said. “Data literacy is the ability to read, argue and use data, and data literacy has to happen for us to move into the digital stage. Organizations will realize they need help with this.”

Now, in an attempt to increase data literacy, a group of BI vendors are doing more than merely selling their software platforms. They’re also training line-of-business workers in the language of data.

In May of 2019, Qlik, whose research showed only 24% of employees were confident in their ability to effectively utilize data, began offering a free data literacy certification program. The previous October, Tableau, which offers free data literacy training videos, introduced a certification exam for beginners looking to improve their BI skills. And in September, IBM revealed that it certified 140 new data scientists after developing a data scientist certification program in partnership with The Open Group.

Alteryx, meanwhile, operates the Alteryx for Good program, which partners with colleges and universities — Stanford, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Michigan and Harvard among them — to incorporate data science and analytics into their curriculum.

“I think we’ll see a continued emphasis on enabling the desired visibility [of data],” Leone said, “and enablement of more personas to access data and derive insights.”

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World Childhood Foundation marks 20 years with focus on AI and child safety online – Microsoft on the Issues

World Childhood Foundation, launched in 1999 by Queen Silvia of Sweden, recently marked 20 years of child protection with a roundtable on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The day-long event, held last month at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, brought together 60 AI experts, representatives from technology companies, child safety advocates, academics and others to explore new ways to combat the proliferation of child sexual exploitation and abuse imagery (CSEAI) online.

“How can we use AI as a catalyst for child safety online,” asked King Carl XVI Gustaf, who, along with Queen Silvia and other members of Sweden’s royal family, presided over the day’s discussions. “New approaches are needed, so we are bringing together some of the sharpest minds in AI and child protection to share knowledge and experiences.”

The event consisted of a series of presentations, panels and small-group discussions about raising awareness among the broader global population about the “epidemic” that is child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the misuse of technology to share illegal imagery and enable on-demand abuse of children tens of thousands of miles away. Experts shared experiences, ideas and data, including that reports of child sexual abuse videos to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) had risen 541% in 2018 compared to the prior year. Moreover, children of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible to sexual exploitation with more than 56% of the children in Interpol’s database identified as prepubescent. “Nothing surprises us anymore,” said one law enforcement official.

More, faster needed from all stakeholders

The roundtable concluded with a series of observations and recommendations from a variety of sectors, including law and public policy, technology, and victim advocacy, including that:

  • Governments need to take a more active role in addressing the issue. Indeed, no country or society is immune from child sexual abuse and the vile content that makes its way online. Experts acknowledged the work of some standouts governments like the U.K., Australia and others, but called for more globalization and harmonization
  • Children need to be acknowledged as rights-holders, including their right to privacy, and not just as “objects in need of protection”
  • Speed will continue to present a challenge with technological advancements moving at internet speed; academic research occupying a distant second position; and policy, law and regulation lagging significantly behind
  • Civil society needs to do more and, in particular, victims’ rights groups and other organizations must inject a sense of urgency into the dialogue, and
  • Hope must be offered by believing in the brilliance and power of the human and the machine working together to combat such deep-rooted societal ills

I had the privilege of attending and presenting details on the progress of the development of a new method to detect potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes. The technique is the result of a cross-industry hackathon that Microsoft hosted in November 2018. Engineers from Microsoft and three other companies continued to develop the process for 12 months following the hackathon, and we intend to make it freely available in 2020 to enable others to examine historical chat conversations for potential indicia of grooming. (Grooming for sexual purposes takes place when someone befriends a child with the intent of gaining the child’s trust for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.) For more about the technique being developed, see this post.

Queen Silvia builds on Vatican remarks

The week before the Stockholm roundtable, a number of attendees also participated in a conference in Rome, Promoting Digital Child Dignity: From Concept to Action. This event was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Queen Silvia was a featured speaker at the Rome conference, noting that when she founded World Childhood Foundation, she hoped she could use her voice to highlight the global problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse. She imagined that the foundation would soon close because it would no longer be needed, as the global scourge that is child sexual abuse would have been eliminated. “To speak about the unspeakable, and to give children back their right to a childhood,” she said. “(Yet,) 20 years later, here we are, with an ever-increasing number of children at risk of abuse and exploitation online.”

Along with several speakers that followed her in Rome, the queen called on all stakeholders to come together and do more: policymakers, technology companies, civil society and faith-based groups. “For the child who has suffered abuse; for the child who is at risk; for the child who carries guilt and shame – for this child, we have to speak with one voice and to act collectively.” (The Queen’s Rome remarks were distributed to participants of the Stockholm roundtable.)

A third landmark event on combating CSEAI will be held later this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union, the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the U.K. Government will sponsor the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation on December 11 and 12.

Microsoft and the challenge of Online Child Sexual Exploitation  

This increased attention from several corners of the globe and from new and different stakeholder groups is both needed and encouraging. Additional strides will follow only when we embrace a whole-of-society approach and all stakeholders take part in this important fight.

Microsoft has been combating the spread of CSEAI online for nearly two decades. We first became aware of the magnitude of these online horrors in 2003 when a lead detective from the Toronto Police Department sent an email to our then CEO Bill Gates, asking for help using technology to track down purveyors of CSEAI and for assistance with the detective’s goal of rescuing child victims. Microsoft responded with a $1 million investment and the creation of a technology still in use today by some law enforcement agencies to share investigative information.

Our commitment to create technology to help fight CSEAI online continued with the invention of PhotoDNA, PhotoDNA Cloud Service and PhotoDNA for Video. Progress has been made over the last 20 years, but more needs to be done, including raising awareness, educating young people and the wider public, reporting illegal content to technology companies and hotlines, and continuing to create technologies and techniques to assist in online detection and reporting.

Learn more

To learn more about the World Childhood Foundation, visit the organization’s website. To learn what Microsoft is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online, see this link, and to learn more about digital safety generally, go to www.microsoft.com/saferonline, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Hitz: NetApp market growth hinges on cloud, data management

NetApp marked its 25th year of business in 2017, highlighted by its launch into hyper-converged storage based on SolidFire all-flash arrays. The NetApp market strategy is in transition. Layoffs were part of recent cost-cutting measures, as well as an earnest push to sell more all-flash storage.

Founders Dave Hitz, James Lau and Michael Malcolm started NetApp in 1992. The company started out selling Unix workgroup-level filers to programming teams designing software using NFS, and then it became the leading NAS supplier.

Twenty-five years after helping to start NetApp, Hitz, the executive vice president, is the lone remaining founder still at the company. We spoke with him about the NetApp market changes over the decades as NetApp has adapted to technologies such as cloud computing, flash storage and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).

There are changes going on in enterprise storage today, including continual data growth and heightened customer expectations for fast storage. How do these changes compare to what NetApp experienced in its early days?

Dave Hitz: NetApp has been through radical transformation multiple times. When the internet came along, we basically ripped up our roadmap. When VMware hit, many people thought that meant everything would be virtualized, not just servers. That view was only half right.

Dave Hitz, co-founder, NetAppDave Hitz

We thought server virtualization was awesome, but we also knew that the data challenges were immense. We dug in to start helping customers with managing those data challenges. Much of our growth was fueled by how well we partnered with VMware. Even after EMC bought VMware — which scared us, I’ll admit — a lot of analysts said that NetApp had a better culture of partnering than EMC did.

The previous big transformation was being a tech and internet company. Early on, our foundational growth was in the internet space in the dot-com boom. When that collapsed, we were in a world of hurt. In the first six months after the crash, not one of our 10 biggest customers bought a storage system from us. Our stock went from around $150 down to about $5 or $6, like a plane in a nosedive.

Fortunately, before the downturn, our CEO and CFO were paranoid and said, ‘We’ve got to be more diversified.’ We picked five vertical areas, including banking and financial services, major manufacturing, medical and government. We hit $1 billion in revenue and then dropped to $800 million after the dot-com bubble. After three years, we were back to $1 billion in revenue.

The first time we hit $1 billion, the NetApp market was 70% tech and internet and 30% of the new style of enterprise storage. The second time we hit $1 billion, it was flipped the other way. That was an enormous transition for us technically, as we started to add SAN failover and super-high-reliability stuff.

Despite the rapid growth in data, the enterprise storage market is not growing much these days. How do you avoid another nosedive?

Hitz: If you look at the overall on-premises storage market as a whole, growth is flattish. But within that trend are some radical changes. One is the flash style of storage. We started late in all-flash, but our growth been amazing. Of the top five storage vendors, NetApp has the fastest growth in flash, according to the analyst firms.

Our share in the flash space is higher than our share of the overall enterprise market. If we can hold that position, we should be able to emerge out of the transition to flash with a higher share than when we first started, even if the overall storage market remains flat.

Another big opportunity is in what I describe as the next-generation data center: lots and lots of commodity white box 1U systems, with Ethernet cables running to a switch at the top of the rack. Increasingly, this is the zone of hyper-convergence, which is why we announced our HCI product this year based on SolidFire all-flash arrays.

As with all-flash, NetApp was late to the hyper-convergence market. How does SolidFire stack up to established disk-based HCI platforms?

Hitz: My mental image of SolidFire is that the data just flows between the nodes like water. Picture a four-node minimum of SolidFire nodes. If you attach another node, SolidFire does a little math to let the data drift from a full node into a node that isn’t full. SolidFire software-defined storage automatically rebalances the system when you add a node.

Nutanix and other HCI vendors focus so much on virtualization side because VMware costs so much. Many customers would love to replace VMware. But they aren’t solving a new problem. For us, we can partner with VMware to solve the back-end storage issues within the context of hyper-convergence.

A big part of the NetApp market strategy revolves around the cloud. What have you done to try and separate your cloud services from other enterprise array vendors?

Hitz: In 2014, we launched OnTap Cloud to run in Amazon Web Services. It’s a version of OnTap running in the cloud that uses Amazon compute and storage. There is no physical system or cost of goods. All the revenue is from software. Customers use Cloud OnTap to migrate their data seamlessly back and forth. We also provide the enterprise storage for Microsoft Azure.

That is exactly what we are trying to [do] now with NetApp Data Fabric. What we’re doing goes way beyond selling a storage array. Even though the bulk of our revenue is from storage systems, don’t think of [us] as a storage system vendor. The enterprise on-prem business isn’t going away, but at the same time, the center of gravity is moving to the cloud.  When they buy on-prem storage, customers are asking lots of strategic questions about the cloud. One of them is: ‘Which vendor can help me move to the cloud when I’m ready in a year or two?’ We want NetApp to be the obvious answer.

The DevOps digital transformation: Evolutionary and revolutionary

Evolution doesn’t occur at a steady pace. It’s marked by moments of a consequential and relatively sudden change, which significantly alter survival dynamics and give rise to entirely new paradigms.

This happened with the Cambrian explosion. Approximately 541 million years ago, and over the next 70 million to 80 million years, organisms rapidly evolved from mostly single-cell to complex and diverse creatures that better resemble life on planet Earth as we know it.

As CloudBees CTO and Jenkins founder Kohsuke Kawaguchi explained in his Jenkins World keynote, the Cambrian explosion serves as an apt metaphor for both Jenkins and the DevOps digital transformation.

Otherwise mundane elements sparked and fueled the Cambrian explosion, like the gradual evolution of eyesight. While crude at first, many experts believe eyesight reached a tipping point that upheaved the predator-prey dynamic by enabling predators to hunt more effectively. This increased pressure to evolve and kicked off an arms race, as prey developed better defense features, like armor, speed and camouflage.

Automation, cloud and mobile: Fueling the DevOps digital transformation

For Jenkins, which started as a single app for a single use case, the automation features in early builds stand in for eyesight, while mobility and cloud serve the same for DevOps as a whole. Modern software as we know it has been around for about 70 years. But it’s easy to see mobility, cloud and automation, igniting software’s Cambrian explosion.

All were limited and seemingly innocuous at first, but eventually developed to enable an online broker like Amazon to compete with Walmart, the world’s largest physical retailer. The pressure to evolve is why Walmart dropped $3 billion on e-commerce startup Jet.com earlier this year. The pressure to evolve is why all business are now in the software business — a refrain repeated at Jenkins World.

Evolution equals transformation, and the latter was a steady theme at Jenkins World; although, both could just as easily double as warnings. CloudBees CEO Sacha Labourey hit that point home in his keynote focusing on “Digital Darwinism,” quoting Eric Shinseki, retired Army general and former U.S. secretary of Veteran Affairs: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

Instant insights, the next big thing

CloudBees used Jenkins World to launch DevOptics, which Labourey claimed provides a “single source of truth” for a “holistic view” of the deployment pipeline, aggregating data from disparate tools and teams. From his description, it’s a DevOps system of record — one that ultimately helps the business side “identify ROI from DevOps initiatives,” according to CloudBees.

Think of [a friendly UI] as extending the pipeline beyond IT to business and marketing.

CloudBees was’’t alone in trying to make metric sense of the deployment pipeline. Electric Cloud recently unveiled ElectricFlow 8.0 with DevOps Insight Analytics, using Jenkins World to show it off to prospective developers. According to Electric Cloud, Insight Analytics provides “teams with automated data collection and powerful reporting to connect DevOps toolchain metrics and performance back to the milestones and business value (features, user stories) being delivered in every release.”

Anders Wallgren, CEO at Electric Cloud, based in San Jose, Calif., stated it offered instant insights to relevant pipeline analytics, helping troubleshoot bottlenecks and spot trends, for both IT and business leaders.

So, what’s the big deal about dashboards and insights? Plenty, according to Kawaguchi — particularly CloudBees Blue Ocean. He said he sees it as another element fueling the DevOps digital transformation.

A friendly UI that both business and IT can understand improves the constant delivery user experience. Think of it as extending the pipeline beyond IT to business and marketing. With relevant insights, organizations can better meet customer needs and react to customer demands.

It’s both an evolutionary and revolutionary software explosion, fueled by cloud, mobile, automation and easy access to actionable data. Take another look at Walmart as it scrambles to stave off Amazon, or at Marriott and Hilton doing the same with Airbnb. Look at Tesla and it’s software fix to its hardware problem. It’s already here, altering survival dynamics and giving rise to entirely new paradigms.