Monday, March 16, 2009

BI Survey 8: business intelligence trends

Out now is the new edition of the BI Survey - once known as the OLAP Survey, now up to edition 8, covering 2008.

As a specific term, Business Intelligence is more widely known than Online Analytical Processing, but the Survey found that even on this, the software vendors are over-optimistic. They estimate about 14% of employees (of a "typical" organisation) use BI tools, but the Survey finds a reality closer to 8%.

Other points noted in the preview copy I have:
- BI implementations that follow a competitive evaluation of different vendor toolsets are more successful in every way - however, the Survey shows a slight drop in the number of competitive evaluations. My comment: this is not fully surprising, and I can give a couple of reasons: a) the competitive process is seen as too hard, costly, or lengthy; and b) encumbents with BI skills will inevitably veer towards the toolsets with which they are most familiar;

- the most common issue with BI tools is (query) performance - although vendors have a rosier view than business users. ;

- small software vendors provide better support than large ones.

The spate of vendor amalgamations is somewhat represented in the survey. Gone are explicit listings of tools such as ProClarity and Brio (subsequently Hyperion Intelligence), but still represented are TM1 (as Cognos TM1) and Hyperion (via Essbase - all their other tools were subsumed in the Oracle toolset).

Another blogger, Chris Webb, has seen the full report, and makes some comments here.

One interesting point he notes is about MicroSoft's marketing strategies vis-a-vis different product offering. He strongly suggests that MicroSoft is leveraging their BI tools (SQL Server services SSAS, SSIS and SSRS) to promote greater adoption of the MS Office suite - to the ultimate detriment of its BI tools. In effect, their BI toolset is less than could be in the interests of encouraging greater sales of MS Office. This is of note because MicroSoft are increasingly pushing their BI solutions out to Office products. Client-end tools in Excel were only the start.

The degradation of outcomes for one product in favour of another is certainly plausible for an organisation selling multiple products, especially if their marketing strategies are sufficiently sophisticated. However, I would in turn suggest that greater adoption of BI tools is hampered by specialist knowledge requirements, and that the more users are able to work within a familiar paradigm, the easier they find it to use the tools.

On the other hand, MicroSoft's BI solutions have always been far too heavily geared to the technical environment to the detriment of business-level stakeholders, and I'm not yet convinced their Office-related tools are a good fix.

Webb's other notable reading of BI Survey 8 is that MicroSoft's BI products come squarely in the middle of all rankings (eg usability, scalability, etc etc). This is not surprising. While they are capable of producing competent product, I don't think MS's BI products are stellar in the scheme of things - ubiquity is the word that springs closer to mind, since they come free with all enterprise edition databases. Thus MicroSoft will perpetually remain too big to ignore in the BI marketplace.

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