Business analytics has become the highest ranked technology innovation, according to our benchmark research on business technology innovation, but a lack of trained resources and inefficient technology have hampered the best of organizations when they attempt to roll out analytics. Our benchmark research on business analytics in 2012 found that the majority of analysts in organizations spend more of their time on data-related activities than on analytic tasks, and our 2013 research on business technology innovation finds little improvement. At the same time, organizations are dissatisfied with trying to gain insight from dashboards of charts; see “The Pathetic State of Dashboards”. The worst thing wrong with business analytics today is that we are not able to read them quickly to determine what is relevant and what insights might demand action.
A company called Narrative Science aims to change that with new technology that can analyze data to create human-readable narratives in text form. Just like reading the cover page of the Wall Street Journal with text and a supporting chart, Narrative Science has developed the software to create these narratives from the data. The platform, called Quill, provides consistent form and depth in the text that is originated from the data and analytics that could be sourced from reports, spreadsheets, data files or databases. Using an expert systems approach, Narrative Science identifies data and facts, determines and prioritizes relevant elements and places them in a text structure. This approach changes the paradigm in how analytics are consumed by business management and managers.
I recently visited the company’s Chicago headquarters to get some perspective on the origins and advancements of its technology. I found a team very focused on how to use data and analytic processing techniques to present the right depth of information – that which can be read easily yet offer meaningful insights. Operating beyond the traditional business intelligence software market and approaching the needs of people from what they should be able to read has provided Narrative Science a fresh approach to what they offer in Quill.
I put Narrative Science’s technology to the test by providing the company some data from our latest benchmark research on technology innovation to see how it would work against a semistructured set of data and analytics. It created an intelligent narrative on a specific question that let me read and understand what was in the research. I included this episode in my keynote presentation at our recent Business Technology Innovation Summit to indicate how technology is advancing business analytics in ways beyond just the power of big data or the depth of analytic processing. This example is just one of hundreds of scenarios that Narrative Science could address with their software.
Narrative Science’s largest business challenge is prioritizing where to focus its efforts. It has a large market opportunity, and the company needs to grow its foundation of business processes to support a range of customers. It will likely require further capitalization for expansion, since the technology can be used in so many areas of focus. From an analytic process perspective, intelligent discovery using data to determine correlation and causation is no easy feat, let alone determining how to create the proper form of text output that can be read in a logical narrative and paragraph form. Narrative Science will need to provide the right level of controls with Quill to ensure that the software can handle large numbers of users and large volumes of data while generating meaningful documents that can created, distributed and read. Technically the product is easy to use but ensuring that it can make easily accessible the information from an on-demand or delivery perspective is critical for its future. Business professionals should also be able to train it on templates that describe the data and utilize cloud computing to handle the processing needed and make the results available on smartphones and tablets.
Despite these challenges which can be overcome, the company seems poised for growth. Customers can use its technology to make their workforce smarter at using analytics and data. Ventana Research was so impressed with Quill that we awarded Narrative Science our 2012 Technology Innovation Award for Business Analytics. The technology addresses the usability challenge in business analytics, which our research found to be the highest in importance for organizations selecting analytics technology. Of course the technology does presume that people must be able to read, but that should be an easier skill to find than the ability to eyeball pie charts and bar charts to tease out any issues in the visualizations, or trying to find the facts that matter the most.
It is not often that we see significant advancements in technology for business, but with Quill, Narrative Science has the potential to change the way organizations use and consume business analytics as information. It also could make sense of big data by bringing to the surface useful information. I look forward to seeing how Narrative Science makes Quill more easily available to digest the many existing data streams in organizations and transition today’s fixation with charts and dashboards to a narrative of insights.
CEO & Chief Research Officer