The BI Boom, Part 1: New Players

In a year of consolidation in a hot business intelligence (BI) marketplace, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP secured leading positions in 2007. This has cleared the way for a new generation of BI specialists to emerge and take root.

“We like to compare the massive consolidation we saw in 2007 to a forest clearing. As the older, taller trees are chopped down, it enables the newer growth to flourish,” Ken Rudin, CEO and cofounder of LucidEra, told CRM Buyer. “Innovation is coming from new, more agile vendors who can fully embrace new business models such as SaaS (Software as a Service) without worrying about potential civil wars from within. For the larger vendors, BI will stand for ‘bloated integration’ for the foreseeable future as customers struggle to upgrade and migrate and sales territories and business units get sorted out. In the meantime, the demand for the promise of decision support and performance management solutions continues to grow.”

BI platform investment has been CIOs’ highest priority for three years running, according to Gartner surveys. Even with housing credit and finance problems and a slowing economy, Gartner still sees healthy growth ahead for the BI market, and opportunities for innovative, niche providers in particular.

Recession-Proof BI?

“In the face of a recession, BI could be a tool to improve efficiencies in a tough climate by analyzing and measuring operations,” Dan Sommer, Gartner senior research analyst for software markets, told CRM Buyer. “However, we have adjusted previous forecasted North American BI growth in 2008 because especially the financial sector will cut spending on IT for the coming one to two years. Worldwide, growth is forecasted at 11 percent for 2008.”

Organizations have been striving with mixed results to make better use of the reams of data they gather, analyze and store. Advancing technology is enabling innovative BI companies to provide business end users the ability to more flexibly query and manipulate larger data sets.

It’s also leading to more user-friendly data visualization tools for business end users that can be much more effective when it comes to analyzing and refining ad hoc, as well as structured, queries and analyses of voluminous data sets.

Meanwhile, the development of rich Internet applications (RIAs) is enabling BI developers and their customers to gather, organize, analyze and make almost immediate use of data from their customers, audiences and Internet users, as well as their own employees.

Data Discovery

At a recent BI Summit, Gartner highlighted what it considers the BI market’s top 10 emerging players. “What distinguishes these up-and-coming vendors is that they try to facilitate the delivery and usage of BI, where they specialize around one or many emerging technologies or delivery mechanisms,” Sommer explained.

More specifically, Sommer and Gartner analysts see up-and-coming vendors making headway in five important areas of BI IT: in-memory data management technology, interactive visualization, alternative delivery models, bringing together traditionally structured BI and unstructured search methods and tools, and optimizing data warehouses and databases.

What this new generation of up-and-coming BI vendors offers that others do not boils down to providing end users fast, flexible access to real-time, dynamic and static internal and external data and equally flexible and powerful data query, analysis and presentation/visualization capabilities — much easier said than done, of course, and not fully achievable — until recently perhaps.

“Most BI, and certainly BI from the legacy players, is designed to distribute largely structured information in the same way every day. This is fine for a lot of problems and works well if you know what the end users are going to ask. However, in any kind of a business problem which requires discovery or any ad hoc exploration it’s a big problem,” Doug Cogswell, CEO of Advizor Solutions, told CRM Buyer.

“The pain points that we see are people continually asking IT for new ‘queries’ against the database, and then new reports. Or we see them dropping data into Excel and then trying to cut it around in pivot tables — not an easy thing to do. This is dysfunctional. Our goal is to provide great products that allow end users to explore data and answer their questions on their own, without help from IT or other data or analysis experts,” he said.

Competitive Advantages

Having released a new version 5.3 of Advizor Solutions BI suite, the company’s developers of late have been concentrating their efforts in two areas, Cogswell explained: continuing to make it easier for business people to access, analyze and share data and results, and increasing the capacity of its in-memory data management.

“Interactive visualization relies on having data in-memory for quick response time. Many of our customers are now using Advizor not only against desktop datasets such as Excel, but more and more against their enterprise data warehouses. So, we are now often pulling in 10, 15 or even 20 or more tables from an Oracle, SQL Server or Teradata data warehouse. Advizor has full capability to load millions of rows of data — this will soon jump to tens of millions — and then easily link and join those rows in our applications,” he added.

The challenges of managing “an exploding volume of data” and getting the most value of their BI-data warehouse solutions is also the challenge facing Greenplum’s BI customers, added CEO Bill Cook. “The growth in data is frequently tied to a particular aspect of their business in which customer-driven data is growing at a very high rate and the customer wants to gain competitive advantage from their data. The decision to purchase a BI/DW solution rests primarily on the business opportunity available from the increased intelligence.”

Comcast Entertainment, Didit, iCrossing and Sun Microsystems are using Greenplum’s BI solution to perform fast, in-depth analyses of customer behavior in order to better understand their preferences and improve customer relationships. VideoEgg uses it to store and analyze “massive amounts of user-generated data to develop and deliver highly targeted ads” while Skype uses Greenplum for data mining in order to detect abusive use.

“Another example is in the pharmaceutical industry, in which market data is processed quickly enough to enable this company to deploy its sales organization to the doctors and hospitals that have very recently changed the brand of drug being prescribed for groups of patients. The only change we see in this behavior recently is that more and more companies are becoming aware of the asset they possess in their large data stores and are looking for ways to ‘monetize’ their data assets,” Cook said.

The BI Boom Part 2: New Twists

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