Working under the weight of sluggish adoption rates, business intelligence is gravitating toward more users and access through a mixed bag of new and old solutions, according to the latest annual BI survey from Dresner Advisory Services.

The “2013 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study” assessed questions of 1,182 respondents across industry verticals and covering fellow researchers, enterprise IT leaders, business executives, BICC heads and vendors’ customer communities. Fifty-nine percent of respondents in 2013 came from North America, and 25 percent stemmed from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with the rest originating in the Asia/Pacific region or Latin America.

Penetration rates for BI are about flat from last year, according to the survey and Howard Dresner, the chief research officer at the research and advisory firm. Approximately one-third of businesses reported that BI solutions were in use by less than 10 percent of employees, according to the survey. And approximately half of those surveyed for that same question reported that BI use dipped even lower. Conversely, another 18 percent of respondents stated that BI solutions were in regular use across four-fifths or more of their organization. Success rates, too, are stagnant from last year’s survey: approximately 40 percent “completely agree” their BI implementation has been a success, with about that same amount who “somewhat agree” on its success.

Dresner says penetration levels are no doubt subject to ongoing business pains ranging from business cultural bureaucracy and IT spending limits, to expanding governance and compliance. However, Dresner says that, even flat, penetration levels are encouraging compared with developing BI maturity and the scope of users from the top level executives on down. In addition, there are vast plans to expand the reach of BI: Over the next 36 months, more than 70 percent businesses surveyed intend to increase the number of users and access to BI by 41 percent from their current ranks, according to the survey.

“We are expanding access to BI solutions within the organization, so more folks have access. But I think we’re also expanding outside of the organization: contractors, customers, suppliers, the public at large,” he says. “In general, the envelope is increasing as it’s growing within the organization, and none of it as quickly as anyone thought.”

The tools and trends that businesses are opting for have proven to be a mixed bag of hot tech solutions and sometimes maligned standbys. Dashboards were the leading BI initiative from those surveyed, more than 80 percent of which labeled BI dashboards as “critical” or “very important.” Other leading BI plans were end-user self-service (70 percent labeled it as “critical” or “very important”) and advanced visualization (60 percent under the same two choices).

Small but increasingly greatly from last year were respondents moving to the cloud or as-a-service outlets, which 15 percent of those surveyed called “critical” to their BI plans. In a new area tracked in the survey, embedded applications within BI was in use by nearly 20 percent, which was a surprise to Dresner and will be the subject of a follow-up report later this year.

When it comes to business intelligence functions, the hype around big data has yet to really take hold, according to Dresner. The “panacea effect” being pushed by some vendors and forward-thinking analysts isn’t trickling through – and may not any time soon – when it comes to big data, with nearly 30 percent of those surveyed calling big data “not important” to their BI practices. Also cooling is the trend around data warehousing, which was at one point in lock-step with BI. Dresner says warehousing is firmly implanted at large enterprises, but carries enough cost and complexity for smaller and mid-sized businesses that they’re being sidestepped with emerging database software and on-demand platforms.

The choices of solutions give insight into where businesses are finding the most value and reach with BI plans, according to Dresner. Two decades after Dresner and others discussed “information democracy” as the means to general access to BI, “that’s not where we’re at.” But the solutions and trends rising in use – or falling by the wayside – are part of the evolution in what Dresner has termed the “renaissance of BI,” a step-by-step process that proves to be casting a wider net of users and more often driven in part with executive buy in.

“We’re getting better, we’re getting closer, but certainly there is a lot of room for improvement,” says Dresner. “Users have more discretionary spending than in the past. And if users are becoming the buyers, then the solutions are going to have to look a little different.”

The number of respondents represented a 40 percent increase in from last year’s survey.

This story originally appeared at Information Management.

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