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A Look Back at the Gartner Data and Analytics Conference: NLG in the Spotlight

Gartner’s annual business intelligence-focused conference is a time for the industry leaders to reconvene and compare notes on their analytics best practices. The industry has always been on the cutting edge with practitioners dedicated to improving their business with data-driven intelligence, but the show has especially heated up in the last few years as artificial intelligence has entered the scene.

Conversational Interface and NLG

One of the most exciting sessions, “Innovative BI in Action,” took place on the first day of the conference with vendors hand-selected by Gartner to demonstrate the latest and greatest. Narrative Science and Sisense provided a memorable kickoff by showcasing their brand new partnership.

The demo-gods proved kind as the team illustrated the power of conversational analytics in a live environment. Sisense Head of Product, Guy Levy-Yurista, poised questions to an Amazon Alexa device about an upcoming vacation to compare and contrast airfares along with destination options.

While it is always nice to contemplate vacation, one could easily imagine the implications for using Alexa in a business environment and the ease of receiving answers in real-time about product and sales performance. Hundreds of audience members applauded the demonstration highlighting what would be two of the hottest topics at the show; conversational interface and natural language generation (NLG).

Throughout the duration of the conference, NLG continued to shine. Other notable leading BI vendors such as Qlik, Tableau, and Power BI provided demos of their embedded text capabilities to interested audience members. NLG was a part of most conversations, as the question is no longer what or why but when the technology will be integrated.

The Value of NLG in BI

NLG capabilities have become the defacto option as BI platforms seek to democratize data analytics and help anyone understand their data at any time. Integrated narratives automatically explain rich insights locked in tables, charts, and graphs via natural language and act as a companion throughout the data discovery process.

Gartner has long-touted the value of NLG and has even pronounced it a soon-to-be-necessary part of modern BI platforms. “By 2020, natural-language generation and artificial intelligence will be a standard feature of 90% of modern BI platforms,” according to the firm’s 2017 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics. Additionally, in their recent report, “Critical Capabilities for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platform”, they even docked BI platforms for not having NLG integrated - naming the lack of NLG as a ‘weakness’.

Awareness of NLG in the BI Industry

I’m biased, but one of the most exciting things to witness was the number of attendees talking about NLG and seeking to have it be a part of their BI experience. The field has been around for decades but adoption in the BI and analytics space has only occurred in the last year and a half.

Very few attendees at the 2015 conference would have believed that an AI technology, let alone a relatively-unknown subfield of AI, could now not only make such a splash but also be named as an essential addition to BI. NLG is literally changing the industry’s approach to data-driven intelligence.

If 2016 was about education, 2017 is all about planning and action. Enterprise data-analytics teams are building NLG into their roadmaps and leaning heavily on BI vendors to help them get there. Companies like Qlik, Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, SAP BusinessObjects Lumira and Sisense have already recognized the value of NLG and only more companies are likely to follow suit. As Gartner says, “NLG or narration of insights is the next phase in the evolution from standard reporting to storytelling.”

It truly is a pivotal year for the future of analytics.

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