For a nice visualization of this, see Pingdom blog from earlier in 2011 showing Apple with profits of about $420K per employee (almost tripled since 2008 when it was just $151K). Google ranked next with $336K in profits for each headcount; Microsoft followed with a measly $245K.
With that said, software customers still need help. At a minimum, software vendors must provide documentation and training services. They also need to offer a customer service desk to call when clients are in a pinch. Sometimes, customers do need onsite consulting services.
Some BI vendors have found a way to provide services without having lots of people on staff: they enable their customers to help themselves.
Qlik Technologies has a "QlikCommunity" of more than 62,000 QlikView BI users from around the globe. They report having one hundred new users sign up each business day.
Doug Laird, the VP of Global Marketing at Qlik Technologies, says:
“Today’s business users need to make quicker decisions backed by clean, relevant information. This means that queuing up and waiting for IT to generate a report just doesn’t cut it anymore. This is why QlikView’s self-service Business Discovery solution – backed by QlikCommunity – is providing a boost to these users by enabling them to quickly react to changing market conditions. This combination has taken our support to the next level, and is a true testament to the compelling content and engaging experiences enabled through QlikCommunity today.”
Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS, has a similar service called "Focal Point." Their community web page states there are 5000 developers posting 88,000 messages on 13,000 different topics. Information Builders employs some individuals who watch over the postings, engage when necessary, but ensure that solutions are clearly documented for future searchers.
With this type of self-service question and answer forum, BI software customers can search for existing answers to their questions and interact with peers instead of opening a ticket with a support representative. This frees the software vendor to focus on what it does best--building software--and to be more profitable in the process.