BI, analytics and China - how is the attitude towards BI changing?

A look at how attitudes towards business intelligence are changing in China

The following is an article written by Jason Bissell, Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Japan at Birst

For many people, China is the place where manufacturing takes place, providing the world with goods that we like at prices that are affordable. However, this viewpoint can obscure what is taking place within China itself; the digital and online sector is growing rapidly, and now contributes around 5.5% to China’s overall GDP according to Boston Consulting Group. Only the UK and South Korea see digital contribute proportionally more to their GDP. Rather than following the West in its approach to technology and social media, China provides many examples where different routes are being taken and new innovations are possible.

BI is no exception to this trend either. China is the second-largest BI software market in Asia Pacific with companies due to invest around US$217.3 million, according to Gartner. Previously, BI solutions in China have been used tactically in departmental deployments for reporting rather than as a strategic platform to support decision-making. Today, however, companies in China are looking at data and how it is used as part of their long-term strategies for success both locally and internationally. While this shift is taking place everywhere, Chinese companies differ from those in the US or Europe around how they embrace change.

Many established organisations have invested in traditional BI solutions with the aim of generating more data around their performance. However, I have been struck by two trends: first is the increased willingness within Chinese companies to use cloud BI. Birst is still relatively new to the market in China, yet we have seen much more willingness to consider how to leverage the cloud for business intelligence across the board. Rather than just simple data discovery and visualisation, there has been an emphasis on getting everything involving BI moved to the cloud.

Part of this is down to a “get it done” mentality that exists. It also depends on where within the business Chinese companies are implementing BI. Line of business teams are avoiding traditional implementations as they are seen as expensive for what they offer, as well as not providing a fast enough time-to-value that companies are aiming for.

This links into the willingness to take new approaches and dispense with previous models for how to run IT. The size of China’s internal market belies how sophisticated its consumers can be, particularly given the adoption of social media and online shopping. Over 70% of Chinese mobile internet users have used m-commerce compared to about 31% in the USA, for example, according to research by the China Internet Network Information Center. Rather than being behind the West, China is actually further ahead through the work of companies like Tencent.

For example, The Guardian reported that Twitter is adding a “buy” button to its service. Yet this is something that Tencent’s WeChat application has had for months. People in China have bought cars through their social media app rather than online services or in-store, putting them far ahead of what the West might call cutting edge.

The fact that Chinese consumers are so willing to use mobile services has led to a phenomenon dubbed “showrooming” – people checking out physical goods before buying online – and use of comparison sites. In response, Chinese retailers are getting more sophisticated in how they use data and analytics to encourage purchases there and then. The competitiveness that exists in these markets means many more companies are looking at “offline to online” sales and marketing via e-commerce and mobile shopping. The m-commerce market grew by 169%, according to iResearch in 2014.

 All of this adds up. Companies have a huge number of sources of data that they have to manage and understand. Bringing all this data together while keeping that single version of the truth is therefore essential. Cloud BI fits these requirements extremely well, applicable to smaller enterprises that are growing fast as well as more traditional businesses that want to keep ahead of the curve.

 A Chinese saying that sums this up is 山雨欲来风满楼 (shān yǔ yù lái fēng mǎn lóu), which loosely translates as “Coming events cast their shadows before them.” With cloud BI, companies can see these trends in their data and use them to their advantage.