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.
"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.
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.
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."
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."