Business intelligence (BI) has evolved from reporting, analytics, and dashboards into a wealth of complexity, with the convergence of structured and unstructured data and the incorporation of BI into other business functions. Though it’s climbing to the top of company to-do lists, BI remains an immature market. “We’re still in a world where reporting happens in spreadsheets,” says David Hatch, research director at Aberdeen Group. Recent acquisitions have yet to be fully integrated, and instead of focusing on the basics (Where to get the data? How to clean the data?), vendors are too preoccupied with “bells and whistles,” says Boris Evelson, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The problems in BI today are exactly the same ones from over 25 years ago,” he says. Still, new players pop up every week, adding to Evelson’s list of nearly 300 vendors, each with some novel BI solution. “It’s a vibrant market with tons of areas to innovate and improve,” he says.
Cognos remains a leader in this space, and its Cognos 8 product receives praise for its strong services-oriented architecture (SOA). With its acquisition by IBM formalized this past January, it’s now part of IBM’s Information on Demand strategy—leading some analysts to be wary regarding the company’s direction, integration challenges, and an uncertain roadmap. Nevertheless, it maintains a relatively strong score here, tying for second with SAS Institute. Moreover, the Cognos product itself stands strong, having mostly grown organically: “It may not have as many bells and whistles as Business Objects,” Evelson says, “but it’s all integrated.”
A leader for the second year in a row, Information Builders is a small company with a big punch. David Kasabian, research director at AMR Research, notes that the company’s known for its interactive reporting but lacks in certain features (such as ad-hoc analysis), bringing it down in depth of functionality. Still, unlike other vendors of its size, Information Builders goes head-to-head with the industry giants—and topped the category in its score for company direction. Despite handling very large executions, the firm maintains the flexibility for smaller deployments that “require less granularity of functionality and less scale,” says David O’Connell, senior analyst at Nucleus Research. As a small company, it also offers the service intimacy akin to a “family-owned business” where everyone knows the CEO and is on a first-name basis, Evelson says. It comes as little surprise, then, that the company also scored the highest in customer satisfaction.
New to the business intelligence category, Microsoft is forging a name for itself in BI and analytics. Much like its philosophy behind the ease of use of its Office products, Microsoft’s BI solution is cheap, fast, and can be deployed with very little pain, O’Connell says. As much as other industry solutions deplore the use of Microsoft’s Excel in the enterprise, it still remains the most easy-to-use and pervasive BI tool today, giving Microsoft the advantage of customer familiarity.
Oracle maintains its leadership position with its breadth of BI offerings, derived mainly from its acquisitions of Siebel Systems and Hyperion Solutions. Its main offering, Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition Plus, includes standard BI features (dashboard, queries, analysis, reporting) and an online analytical processing (OLAP) server from Hyperion’s Essbase System 9. The problem, however, is that with the advanced functionality, clients are having a difficult time discerning what product to use where, Kasabian says. Moreover, the double-edged sword of its acquisition strategy leaves Oracle with some integration challenges to overcome. Both issues are likely reflected in its low customer satisfaction score.
SAS Institute nabs the winner title for the fourth year in a row. Users are “fanatical” about the product, says AMR’s Kasabian, which explains SAS’s high ranking in customer satisfaction, second only to Information Builders. SAS validates its top score of 4.5 in depth of functionality with what Evelson deems “one of the best high-end analytics products on the market.” In March, SAS acquired natural language processing vendor Teragram, a move that intends to further strengthen its text mining and analytical BI technology. Having also focused on organic growth, SAS faces far fewer integration issues compared to other BI vendors that have, for example, partnered with SPSS. This privately held company sets its own rules and continues to extend its offerings, internally and through acquisition.
one to watch : business intelligence
Despite adding to its arsenal by acquiring data quality solution provider Fuzzy!Informatik in 2007, Business Objects continues to bear the burden of its own integration with SAP. Evelson says the process has been challenging for many clients still struggling to complete upgrades to the company’s core BusinessObjects XI product, often requiring a complete rewrite. On top of it all, O’Connell says that SAP is doing little to assuage implementation woes. Still, analysts recognize Business Objects’ pre-acquisition strides in search, unstructured data, and its on-demand offering, earning it high marks in depth of functionality. The mix of good and bad definitely makes it—well, SAP—one to watch.
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