The hype about big data being the new oil has dropped faster in the past four years than the price of a barrel of crude.

This is good news for analytics vendors who have something beyond wizardry to offer and even better for companies whose workers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with data. After all, data isn’t as mysterious when you can touch it — and data driven decisions become easier to make and to own when the decision maker has played a role in gleaning the insights.

Forget the Black Box

Sander Klous, a professor of big data ecosystems at the University of Amsterdam, and managing director of big data analytics at KPMG in the Netherlands, argues that big data’s “black box is becoming bigger and blacker, the data that is going into the box is becoming more complex, and the decisions that are being made based on the box are becoming more impactful. Executives and consumers must be able to trust the black box.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Another may be to provide decision makers with transparent, user-friendly technologies that make it feasible for them to understand and interact with their own data.

survey conducted by Epicor last year found 46 percent of managers still make important decisions on instinct. Two-thirds of them said they trusted their gut more than they trusted their data. The remaining third felt that they had to be make decisions before the data crunching results were in.

Self-service or quick-service analytics might help solve these problems, or at least give managers the time they need to play with their processed data and/or to  craft data driven stories. It’s hard to do that with insights that come out of black boxes.

Democratizing Data-Driven Intelligence

Tom Davenport, regarded by many as the father of modern analytics, wrote that we are now living in the Analytics 3.0 era, where self-service is the rule.

Gartner analysts Josh Parenteau, Rita L. Sallam, Cindi Howson, Joao Tapadinhas, Kurt Schlegel and Thomas W. Oestreich made the same conclusion as they prepared the Magic Quadrant for BI and Analytics. An ability for users to play with processed data practically became a requirement. Ditto for accessibility to insights on the spot. So it’s not surprising that vendors like Tableau and Microsoft were named Leaders, and that Salesforce and Domo which aren’t analytics pure plays already qualified for entry.

It’s worth that no vendor in this space is resting on its laurels. SAP made big strides last week when it announced SAP HANA Vora.

So with all that in mind, here’s a quick look at notable news unveiled this week:

At its inaugural Microsoft Data Insights Summit in Bellevue, Wa. this week, James Phillips, a corporate vice president and the general manager of Microsoft's business applications, platform and intelligence (BAPI) organization, made several announcements concerning Power BI. 

What’s especially noteworthy is its hardening for the enterprise, new abilities to ask Cortana — Microsoft’s Siri-like virtual assistant — complex questions and to get visual answers to queries, and an ability to pin data from the Excel desktop to Power BI dashboards, which will keep tiles on the dashboard up to date to help track your data.

Compelling as those abilities are, what I found most noteworthy is SandDance, which is being developed at Microsoft Research.

Spreading Analytical Love

One of Salesforce’s most savvy strategies is to empower its customers’ customers with analytics. This week Salesforce announced Wave Analytics to its Community Cloud.

“Most partners don’t have the insights they need to be successful,” Jamie Domenici, vice president for the Wave Analytics Cloud, told CMSWire. And that’s a shame because when you set your partners up to win, you win bigger, she explained. In other words, “sales is a team sport,” and by empowering your team members with relevant, anonymized data, you’re likely to win bigger.

Salesforce built a new set of tools and dashboards  expressly to help its clients share information and acumen with its community members, be they suppliers, resellers, and other business associates. In a demo, Domenici illustrated how easily sales managers can make and then act on faulty assumptions that have been made as a result of having insufficient access to data.

Tableau Makes Data Unification Simple

Tableau’s mission is the democratization of data — helping customers glean intelligence from data via user-friendly visualization tools, otherwise known as “vizzes”. Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire that its users are so passionate about the experience that they are practically cult-like.

The business viz fanatics are likely to be busy this week because this morning Tableau announced a new release, Tableau 9.3. Union is one of the new tools available, it makes it easy to combine data even when it's spread across multiple tabs or files. Excel or text-based files can also be brought together with just a few clicks—eliminating the need to manually combine Excel sheets.

Other new features include the addition of postal codes for 42 European countries and Indian districts, updated US demographic data layers and zip codes for 2016, and a simplified experience for sharing dashboards with automatic sign-in and other publishing-flow improvements.

And Finally

Oracle has announced a real time analytics platform but its video library is primarily filled with placeholders. Interestingly Gartner doesn’t mention in its MQ ay all, suggesting that it didn’t meet the required qualifications.

All of that being said, the new era of analytics is here and vendors are marching to the beat. Black box or sandbox, we’ll go with the latter.