Business Intelligence Comes Out of the Back Office

NASHVILLE, TENN.—Analysts from Forrester Research, The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), and Dresner Advisory Services shared a stage here Monday morning as part of the Information Builders Summit user conference, responding to questions and comments about the current state of business intelligence—and addressing the trends, forecasts, and challenges in the BI industry. Among the topics discussed—the economy, marketplace consolidation, and data warehousing—the panel session had one main take-away: Business intelligence (BI) is maturing and expanding.

Wayne Eckerson, director of research and services with TDWI, noted that for the past 10 years BI has targeted the technological-savvy employee—the super-user. He pointed to TDWI data showing that a mere 24 percent of users actually access BI tools. "It’s a huge problem [underscoring] why BI is not invasive," Eckerson told the crowd.

However, a common theme projected throughout Information Builders keynotes and sessions is the idea that BI is no longer just a back-office tool. Kevin Quinn, vice president of product marketing with Information Builders, says that the spread of BI and the movement of intelligence away from the technology department is evident in the Information Builders’ customer base. Smaller businesses, he says, are seeing that a platform solution—such as the company's WebFOCUS—can be very attractive for those lacking large-scale technology-department support to handle complex solutions. Additionally, Quinn says the pricing model and open-source aspects of WebFOCUS appeal to those with limited budgets.

On the other hand, Quinn points out that the company is in competition with vendors offering BI solutions at no cost at all. "The large megavendors have potential to do things like [say], ‘Oh, we’ll give you business intelligence for free.’ I think people recognize that other than the free BI software, somehow [the vendor] will make money of it," he says.

Quinn also suggests that the privately held Information Builders has been fortunate to be spared the acquisition complexity facing many of its peers. "Right now we are seeing more opportunity than we ever have," he says. "I think that has to do with the fact that we're independent and people do feel comfortable with the fact that we will be able to work with all the technology they have; they don’t have to get bought in and tied in to one technology vendor." The analyst panel had also addressed the issue of commoditization in the industry—specifically, what that trend means for customers and the growing market.

"It’s not commoditized; the market is maturing," Eckerson affirmed. "Last year was the banner year for consolidation. I think that last year was following the trajectory that many maturing markets follow," he continued. Eckerson told the audience that last year there were two different dynamics:

  • One was the number of new, low-cost providers entering the marketplace.
  • Second, vendors such as Microsoft began bundling BI for free.

Although consolidation in the marketplace may appear worrisome on the horizon, Harold Dresner, author, former Gartner analyst, and founder and current president of Dresner Advisory Services, says that, in many ways, pure-play companies merging with or getting acquired by larger enterprise-software vendors sparks new development. "A lot of companies emerging today [are] filling the gaps in the marketplace as they emerge," he says. "It’s a healthy marketplace. Consolidation is not a bad thing because it frees up innovation."

Dresner says there are two trends at play in the BI field going forward:

  • First, the technology continues to grow, both in sophistication and scale.
  • Second, it’s crucial to recognize the role of power users.
As technology becomes more sophisticated—and to compensate for its unavoidable shortcomings—it’s important to get 100 percent penetration of the user base and to align with BI.

So how do companies go about expanding BI? Eckerson advised attendees to "make BI as hidden as possible and embedded—so users don’t even know they're using BI. It becomes a utility to get work done." Dresner agreed that BI needs to be pervasive; however, he challenged Eckerson’s point. Users, Dresner said, have to believe that BI is critical to personal success. If senior management owns this, "everyone beneath will see value from it," he says.

"It can change the culture."

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