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Users find data preparation tools vital to BI strategies

Data preparation isn't the sexiest topic, but it's critically important to IT and business users, according to a study by Dresner Advisory Services.

As data preparation tools become increasingly self-service-oriented and cloud-based, more enterprise users are employing them -- and recognizing their importance in their organizations' business intelligence strategies.

That's according to Dresner Advisory Services' 2019 Data Preparation Market Study. In the survey, 63% of all 350 respondents said data preparation is either "critical" or "very important." About 87% said data preparation is at least "important."

"Data prep has long been identified as an essential process of analysis," said Jim Ericson, vice president and research director at Dresner Advisory Services and co-author of the study, released Feb. 28. "Although it's not really glamorous, it has gotten a lot of prioritization. It's a really high priority among users."

It's such a high priority that respondents -- mainly professionals in an IT, BI or executive management function -- ranked data preparation tools as more important than more familiar categories, like cloud computing, big data and the internet of things.

Still, user enthusiasm about data preparation tools and processes declined slightly year over year, according to the study. Although Ericson doesn't think that means data preparation is becoming less important, he said it could signal a watershed moment for data preparation.

"Other priorities have come to the fore, as this has been digested and has become more mature," Ericson said. "So, in that sense, you could say that data preparation might be becoming commoditized, but it's still evolving. As new data architectures and data types come onto the market, everybody is going to have to keep their eye on the ball for evolving needs."

The state of data preparation in 2019

Evolution of data preparation

Progression in the data preparation market has already begun, according to Ericson. Respondents to the Dresner survey preferred on-premises deployment of data preparation capabilities to private or public cloud deployment, but that's changing, Ericson said.

"This year is the first year that we're seeing more cloud-based services than on-prem services," he said. "Most of the users that we hear from still have their data preparation tools on-prem, but they're migrating toward cloud."

The options that are coming to the data preparation market more and more are cloud-based, so both the industry as a whole and the users Dresner surveyed are projecting that they're going to be using data preparation tools off premises, Ericson said.

Data prep has long been identified as an essential process of analysis. Although it's not really glamorous, it has gotten a lot of prioritization.
Jim Ericsonresearch director, Dresner Advisory Services

A growing number of vendors offer both cloud-based and on-premises data preparation tools and capabilities.

Notable among these vendors is Tableau, which recently released its self-service, desktop-based Prep Conductor tool. With its release of Prep Conductor, Tableau moved further into the data preparation market, competing with the likes of Trifacta, Tibco Software, Power BI and Unifi Software -- all of which offer both cloud-based and on-premises self-service capabilities -- as well as Datameer, which provides cloud-based data prep software.

A wider variety of end users -- particularly savvy business users -- are also using data preparation tools, according to Forrester analyst Cinny Little. "More and more, business user-friendly data preparation at the enterprise level is a priority that firms are reaching for," she said.

Ericson agreed, saying that data preparation tools -- as they're being sold and marketed now -- provide a lot more distributed self-service capabilities for less technically inclined users than before. The survey respondents who said they used data preparation tools most frequently were research and development, finance, marketing and sales professionals.

"You find a lot of intense use and innovation in places like sales and marketing," Ericson said. "They use data preparation because they want to be able to ask and answer questions without having to go to IT."

That doesn't mean IT and data professionals are any less needed in data preparation, Ericson said.

"There's always going to be a requirement for IT to do complex data manipulations and queries that are not in the realm of tools," he said. "There may never be a time when [data preparation] is completely distinct from IT, so IT professionals need to keep their eye on the ball as some of these emerging architectures come to market."

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