A number of folks took issue after InformationWeek published a recent article titled How to Choose Among the Four Bright Lights of BI. The article discusses the business intelligence approaches of Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft, the vendors that now account for almost half of the annual $7 billion BI market. All four beefed up their BI capabilities by purchasing specialists (or, in Microsoft's case, selected capabilities from specialists).
The biggest advantage to using one of these vendors, according to the article, is that it allows companies to more readily incorporate BI into the larger enterprise whole, particularly for shops that may already be heavy users of a particular vendor's technology. A homogeneous platform that encompasses databases, enterprise applications and other systems should, in theory, reduce cost and management complexity over time.
But it's not an easy or inexpensive journey. One of the primary knocks against these vendors' solutions is the pricing. All but Microsoft, which has created downward price pressure with its entry into the BI market, typically command a premium for their products.
The article goes on to offer a fairly detailed take on each vendor's relative strengths and weaknesses and the methods to their madness -- what they appear to be doing to coalesce all of their acquired parts into coherent platform strategies. The article was nicely done, although it probably was an overstatement to refer to the vendors as "bright lights" and to phrase the headline in a way that implies that most companies would end up working with one of the four.
Several days later (likely after being inundated with calls and e-mails from other BI providers), article author Mary Hayes Weier essentially offered a mea culpa in a blog post, talking up the abilities of smaller vendors to create innovative solutions, a topic notably missing from the "Bright Lights" article. She wrote:
Are IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP the only companies that matter in the business intelligence software market? Well, of course not. That's ridiculous. Independent BI vendors and even some surprises --Google, anyone? -- are driving a lot of the innovation.
Doug Henschen points out a number of "leading lights" on Intelligent Enterprise, including QlikTech, which is creating a buzz with its use of in-memory technology and visualization, areas thus far largely ignored by the four vendors spotlighted in the InformationWeek piece. Henschen writes:
... SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have a mixed record in this area. SAP has been the most successful of the big four, having promoted its BI Accelerator for several years. Oracle acquired TimesTen in early 2005, but the product seems to have fallen off the radar screen. Late last year IBM acquired Solid Information Technology and Applix (the latter by way of Cognos), so it's a Johnny come lately in in-memory while Microsoft is a total no show thus far.
Some key BI specialists have forged ties with other specialists that have complementary strengths, notes Henschen. Teradata, for instance, works closely with Informatica, Microstrategy and SAS. And Henschen doesn't omit open source BI, referencing Jaspersoft and Actuate.
As I wrote back in December, a number of the BI pureplays insist that market consolidation creates new opportunities for them because the big guys will be preoccupied for a long time with integrating the newly purchased technologies into their existing software stacks. And get real, says the COO of Microstrategy, does anyone really think that companies will ever have homogeneous software environments?
Interestingly, a reader named ElizabethG chimed in after Weier's post, noting that some folks at her company were able to complete a proof-of-concept and implementation of QlikTech's QlikView product in a few months. Assuming that "ElizabethG" is a real QlikTech customer (and not a QlikTech marketing rep), her comments do hint at one of the problems faced by BI specialists. She writes:
... we can't get our central IT department to take us seriously--they refuse to believe that it could really be so simple. If you don't want to spend a fortune and rely on technical staff for all your information needs, you should really look at some of the small vendors.
I've touched on the topic of unyielding IT departments that appear deaf to business users' needs in a number of blog posts, including this one. While today's battle between users and central IT is mostly being waged over the use of communications and collaboration tools like instant messaging, it increasingly involves new versions of traditional enterprise applications, often delivered via a software-as-a-service model.