Saturday, October 30, 2010

Disappearing Business Intelligence Products

A recent conversation with a Business Intelligence software vendor did not go well for me.  I told them that I knew of close to a dozen local companies who had either already eliminated their BI product or were planning to do so.  I saw it as a disturbing trend and asked how I could help.

They did not deny the facts.  Instead, they took my comment as a personal attack and never want to talk to me again.

I truly feel sorry for sales people working for BI software vendors.  It is a tough job even for the market leaders, much less the underdogs.  Sales people must often sell brand new innovations that nobody else has yet bought, recent technology that may or may not yet have any referenceable accounts, or legacy products that other companies are getting rid of.

By the nature of their jobs, software sales people are forced to ignore reality.  Their sole responsibility is to sell their company's product A, B, or C.  Just figure out how to make people buy it.  If they can't, they are put on the infamous "performance improvement plan" (which is BI vendorspeak for "You have three months to find another job"). 

Software sales reps have to pretend that their product is the right one for the prospect and keep pushing the decision maker for a purchase.  That is a tough job and I sympathize with what they go through.

My personal problem is that sales people who have to ignore facts hate people like me who point out the facts.

Which reminds me of a funny story.  Presenting at a seminar, a vendor rep claimed, "After implementing our software, company ABC saw a 300% decrease in project costs!"  A hand immediately went up in the crowd.  "I'm sorry, but if you eliminate all costs that is a 100% savings.  How is it possible to reduce costs by 300%?"  The perturbed sales rep countered with, "I'll send you the white paper."

Facts get in the way of a good sales pitch.

Sales people do not want to discuss problems customers are having with their software.  They do not want to know about bugs in their products. 

But that's not completely true.  More correctly, sales people do not want their prospects and customers to hear any negatives.  If I have the audacity to point out troubling facts to the BI vendor, they are worried I will pass that along to the market in general.

Sales reps should remember Sun-Tzu's famous saying, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."  I have never heard anybody recommend "Take a hike, jerk" as a life mantra.

The BI software market is consolidating.  The mega-vendors (IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and Oracle) purchased the pure BI vendors that will survive into the future.  SAS leads the statistical BI market as a pure BI vendor, but the other BI firms face tough times.

In general, companies are replacing their existing BI products with those from the mega-vendor list.  Legacy reporting tools are being eliminated and replaced with modern technologies.  If a vendor's BI product did not make the jump to the web, it is probably dead.

If that BI tool is not prepared to move onto mobile tablet computing, it might also be headed for the scrap heap. Howard Dresner points out a predictive fact in a recent study on mobile BI.  A third of the people he surveyed said they would move to new technology that supported mobile BI.

Don't you just hate facts?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Forrester Wave Q4 2010 for Enterprise BI Platforms

Looking at my blog statistics, I see people searching the web for a list of hot BI companies and products. Many want a comparison of the different technologies available so that they can make a better purchasing decision.

One of the best ways to understand the BI software market is to pay for some research from the industry analysts, such as Gartner, Forrester Research, and Yankee Group. Their reports may cost you from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

If you can't afford the details, you can often find high-level summaries that give away the highlights for free.

For example, Boris Evelson at Forrester Group recently released his latest research on Enterprise BI Platforms. You can find out more about the Q4 2010 Forrester Wave on Boris' Information Management blog.

As expected, Boris points out that the mega-vendors continue to be the clear Business Intelligence leaders. However, it is not just about their software products; they are able to provide customers with "overall information management functionality."
  • IBM Cognos
  • SAP BusinessObjects
  • Oracle
  • SAS

In this release, Boris has upgraded some other familiar vendor names into the Leaders category: 
  • Information Builders
  • Microsoft
  • MicroStrategy

Outside of these premier Leaders, Boris has categories for a runner-up "Strong Performer" and a lurking bunch of "Contenders." Already in the Strong Performer group were: 
  • TIBCO Spotfire
  • Actuate

Boris moved two BI players out of their Contender role and into the Strong Performer group: 
  • QlikTech
  • Panarama Software

The mega-vendors clearly provide an entire "stack of technologies" that includes hardware, software, and complementary products and services. They want you to buy everything from them as the sole preferred vendor.

While that might be a safe enterprise decision, Boris recommends considering privately-held Information Builders as a serious alternative to the very large vendors. IBI has its own integrated stack of BI products:
  • Universal Metadata and Data Access Layer
  • WebFOCUS Reporting Server for web-based on-demand access
  • User interfaces for the entire enterprise of varying needs
  • WebFOCUS Distribution Server/ReportCaster for automated information delivery
  • iWay Software ETL for batch data movements
  • iWay Software Service Manager for real-time data movements
  • Database update capabilities
  • Custom database
  • Broad support for multiple platforms, databases, and web technologies

Boris also points out that SAS "continues to amaze the market with uninterrupted 32-year growth."  It is truly awe-inspiring that Jim Goodnight took a college project for analyzing agriculture and turned it into a multi-billion dollar product.  SAS is truly the stuff software legends are made of.  

Keep an eye on QlikTech which has been a darling in Europe and is starting to be hot here in the United States. Boris acknowledges QlikTech as a real BI vendor following its successful IPO.

Be sure to see Boris' complete research, including the detail 147 evaluation criteria and vendor specifics.

About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.