Q&A: Timo Elliott, BI evangelist at SAP

We got some one-on-one time with SAP’s leading mind on business intelligence to get to the root of the technology.

What it definitely can do is get much easier to use. There is a huge opportunity. We actually know an immense amount about what people are doing.

If you look at all the different systems that we are using today, most people are in touch with technology at almost every instant. Our backgrounds are on Facebook, LinkedIn, we actually have a huge amount of information that we don't really bring into the context of providing information.

The very first step typically taken is what you would like to see. But we can get rid of that step. We should [be able to] give all of the information [needed] without me having to ask any questions. We can do that for almost any job.

What sort of time scale are we talking about?

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Thankfully, I think I have quite a secure career. I don't think our need for more information is going to go away any soon. It is a sort of arms race. As soon as technology makes something easier, business people just move on. What business people do is what machines can't do.

Some people would say we could have automated bookmaking. But this can't necessarily happen because a decision is needed that somebody makes when they don't have all the data. If you have all of the information available, then it is usually pretty obvious what you should do. So many things that we used to think of as decisions are now done by machines.

If I go to Amazon there is not a person deciding what books I should see, it is a machine, an algorithm. But somebody used to do that. So people just move on, and they move on to do the most sophisticated thing.

One of the ironies of this industry is people are actually less satisfied with BI interfaces than they were 20 years ago. Now this sounds terrible for the industry but it is not because we haven't done a better job, the technology today is vastly better and easier to use than what it was 20 years ago. But expectations have risen faster so it is a bit like we are on the down escalator and trying to walk up.

There is an opportunity with technologies today to leap forward so we can get back to where people are expecting us to be, making it really easy, making it much faster and then I think the big ingredient we have missed for many years is just people.

I don't think people have understood the consequences of this relatively new area yet.

I read somewhere that 96 per cent of us think we are above average drivers. I think it is the same with analysis. The vast majority of business people think they are better than average analysts and I think they are, given the data sets they know to look at, but I think they are often blindsided but not realising they are supposed to be looking at a much bigger picture.

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