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Business Intelligence Tools: Year in Review

Originally published diciembre 16, 2008

I was cleaning out my office cupboards the other day, not because it’s an annual ritual, but rather because I couldn’t cram so much as another CD into them.  I am one of those hoarders who likes to save everything. My Outlook file crashes at least once a year because it exceeds the 2GB limit. My husband, in particular, calls me a pack rat, but I counter that if I didn’t save all these things, how would I ever be able to provide a historical perspective on the business intelligence (BI) industry.

So with that, I offer a year in review on the BI tools market.

Q1 2008

Acquisitions completed! The year kicked off with mega vendors SAP and IBM completing their respective acquisitions of Business Objects and Cognos.  With business intelligence now as smaller units in larger companies, some feared innovation would stagnate, yet both acquired vendors have continued to release major innovations. On the downside,  Business Objects has significantly raised consulting prices to SAP rates (but therein presents an opportunity for more affordable boutique consulting firms). IBM is less transparent about how well the BI division is performing.  While there seems to have been a pause in the marketplace about how customers should change their BI tool strategies, I’m not seeing any major change in strategy except that incumbent software vendors certainly have a stronger advantage than before.

Predictive analytic partners: Late in 2007, SAS and Teradata announced a joint technology partnership to push more predictive analytics to the database. As these vendors were formerly such steadfast competitors, the execution of these plans was initially met with a degree of skepticism. And yet, in Q1, SAS released SAS Scoring Accelerator for Teradata, with internal benchmarks citing an impressive 4500% performance improvement. 

Business intelligence meets search – not so fast: Microsoft acquired Norwegian search vendor FAST, an indication that enterprise search is both gaining ground and converging with business intelligence. However, FAST was later charged with accounting fraud, and police recently raided the subsidiary’s Oslo offices. Things are otherwise quiet about how the acquisition will benefit Microsoft’s BI capabilities. Beyond Microsoft’s moves, the convergence of search with business intelligence is slow, despite the appeal of its power and simplicity. Meanwhile, other BI vendors such as Oracle and MicroStrategy are unconvinced of the value and lack support for search.

Q2 2008

Predictive analytics take two: Not wanting to concede the predictive analytics market to SAS, analytics vendor SPSS signed agreements with both Business Objects and Cognos late last year. In June, Business Objects released the Predictive Workbench that is not only a rebranding of SPSS Clementine, but also has technical integration with the Business Objects’ universes acting as a data source.

Google mashups get easier: Information Builders released its WebFocus for Google Maps, readily allowing report developers to overlay data such as sales, shipping information or crime statistics with a Google map in a few clicks of a mouse. This type of mashup capability reduces development from weeks to hours.

Q3 2008

Business intelligence joins the iPhone craze: iPhone 3g was released with Oracle, MicroStrategy and Pentaho being early supporters. There certainly is a cool factor to having a live dashboard on an iPhone; but beyond the cool factor, support for mobile business intelligence is becoming more commonplace for all BI vendors as Blackberries, Symbian and Windows Mobile phones are also supported by some vendors. Such portability in business intelligence is a boon for traveling managers as well as front line workers.  Despite improvements, there is little consistency in how smartphones or interactive capabilities are supported.

Oracle integrates and improves: Executing on the 2007 acquisition of Hyperion, Oracle released  new versions of OBI EE and Hyperion EPM with greater integration between the two product lines.  For example, Hyperion SmartView (which is an Office Add-In) can now access OBI EE as a data source, in addition to Essbase and Planning. The EPM Workspace (an intuitive portal) now supports content from the analytic applications that are built on OBI EE with pre-built content to E-Business Suite, J.D. Edwards and PeopleSoft.

Microsoft touts in-memory and Excel: At its second annual user conference, Microsoft announced SQL Server 2010, Project Gemini, that will include in-memory analytics and allow users to slice and dice greater volumes of data directly from a familiar Excel add-in. And while many of the headlines have been centered around Gemini, Microsoft quietly released SQL Server 2008 that includes an improved Report Builder interface.

Excitement in the appliance market:  While I don’t normally focus on the BI technical infrastructure, it’s noteworthy that Microsoft completed its acquisition of DATAllegro, and Oracle announced  a jointly developed appliance, the HP Oracle Exadata Storage Server.

Q4 2008

Business intelligence software as a service:  With the success of as a bellwether, the software as a service (SaaS) market is inviting new players with BI solutions. Birst seems to be making the most noise, having launched this quarter. Oco’s deal with Business Objects promises customers a short time to value for vertical applications such as sales and profitability analysis.  Blink Logic meanwhile shifts to a SaaS model for general purpose business intelligence and dashboards.

Economy tanks and … As the world faces a global recession and credit markets freeze, many BI vendors respond by touting business intelligence’s benefits in a down economy. Such headline grabbers are now bordering on cliché, but this much is true: whereas many business sectors are shrinking, business intelligence continues to grow. In the first three quarters, several BI vendors reported total revenues growing in the 10 to 13% range. Not everything is rosy though. SAP did lower their Q4 forecast  (but from an outlook of 20% growth), and Actuate’s total revenues were down.  Fourth quarter results will be revealing in terms of which vendors are really thriving.


While the economic headlines thrill nobody, perhaps a glimmer of positive in this is that companies will be forced to work smarter and leaner with business intelligence helping them to do so. As evidence of this, check out these survey results (see Figure 1) from Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App (553 respondents). Of those who describe their BI deployments as very successful, the rate of respondents who describe their companies as being lean is correspondingly higher at 79% (vs. BI failures where only 47% describe themselves as lean). 

So if in the past companies could afford to run on gut-feel without business intelligence, perhaps indeed the current crisis will force companies to realize that business intelligence is not as optional as some once thought.

SOURCE: Business Intelligence Tools: Year in Review

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