Most modern large enterprise Business Intelligence (BI) tools are very robust and feature rich these days. Up until a few years ago BI users could blame vendors for most of their BI ills. This is getting harder and harder to do. Many of the BI tools, especially the ones reviewed in our latest BI Wave, are very function rich, robust, stable and scalable. However, while the tools have really improved for the better over the last 5, typical BI issues and challenges remain the same as when I first tackled them as a BI programmer over 25 years ago: silo’d implementations, incomplete data sets, dirty data, poor management and governance, heavy reliance on IT, and many more.
We are right now in the middle of running a BI survey, exploring these and other BI issues. While the results are still pouring in, the preliminary findings are 100% supportive of the evidence we’ve collected qualitatively and anecdotally over the past few years:
Not all data is available in BI applications
Data is less than 100% trustworthy
BI applications are somewhat difficult to learn, use and navigate
Most of the reports and dashboards are developed by IT, not end users
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Ever since our latest BI Wave was published a couple of weeks ago, I keep hearing comments about why we have not included evaluation of Excel as a BI tool. For example, Rajan Chandras, one of the contributing editors to the Intelligent Enterprise, poses really good arguments in his recent blog on why, when and how Excel can and should be used as a BI tool. Excellent question, everyone!
When Business Objects got acquired by SAP earlier this year, it made a statement that it plans to continue to remain an open, heterogeneous BI vendor, treating all partners equally. Apparently, all partners are not created equal – and, as we suspected and long predicted, this Business Objects strategy does not extend to its own parent.
Well, the cat's finally out of the bag. Efforts are already underway at SAP to improve the existing connectivity between Business Objects products and SAP applications. The improved connectivity that may result from these efforts will be very much optimized for Business Objects products only. SAP states that "SAP customers who instead decide to move forward with non-SAP third party BI tools will not benefit from these types of improvements and enhancements."
Remember my blog dated January 16, 2008 where I said that everything that happens in the software market is somehow related to Business Intelligence? I am now expanding that conjecture to include all other market segments. Specifically, the airline industry. And not just Business Intelligence. Just plain old intelligence.
Ever since I was an investment banker at JPMorgan supporting their Software M&A team, I was predicting that the future of products and services in enterprise applications is inseparable. Significant portion of our team M&A advice to product vendors was to beef up their services portfolios and vice versa. These were my thoughts then, that are still very valid today:
CXO engagement. It's much easier to approach a C-level executive during a strategy initiative, which traditionally is the realm of strategic advisory and management consulting firms. The earlier you get your foot in the door with a CXO, the higher are the chances he/she will also consider your products. Hence, ability to influence downstream decisions for procuring products and services decreases in the latter phases of any initiative.
Successful execution. Strong PMO (Project Management Office) capabilities such as methodology, certifications, track record, etc and ultimately successful product/project delivery are key to application vendor success.
Service-oriented architecture (SOA). Large enterprise IT, convinced that no single off-the-shelf solution suite is ever good enough for them, are seriously considering component (services) based architectures, which is causing vendors to move into dynamic (or otherwise known as composite) apps middleware and services to prevent marginalization.
Now that I caught your attention with the title -- it's not what you think. It's not about freeing BI from the constraints and limitations of corporate politics, organizational silos, and lack of proper data governance -- although that's a very worthy topic to write about.
This morning, Google will unveil a beta version of its spreadsheet application with some new advanced features, such as Pivot Table. The Pivot Table is a product developed by Panorama, a small, but upcoming BI vendor (they are currently being evaluated in detail by Forrester BI Wave '08), who were, interestingly enough, the original inventors of Microsoft Analysis Services OLAP (Online Analytic Processing) engine. So now, part of Panorama code will be inside two of the biggest software companies in the world!
While I echo my colleagues' earlier comments on the Microsoft/FAST Search transaction, I also give Microsoft thumbs up for being the first of the major BI vendors to embrace alternative DBMS for BI. For a while now I've been predicting that alternative DBMS for BI will gain continually increasing momentum for the following reasons:
Traditional relational databases were designed from the ground up for transaction processing, not BI. Only in the last decade have they even begun to accommodate BI-style queries, and still play a constant balancing act between OLTP and OLAP optimization. Columnar databases, such as Vertica, Sybase IQ, KX, ParAccel, SAND Technology, InfoBright, are specifically designed and optimized for nothing but OLAP query processing. Their schemas are also much more flexible since it's as easy to drop, add, or update a column in a columnar database as it is to insert, change, or delete a row in a relational database.
Business intelligence (BI) practitioners have always thought of the world as data-centric. Data integration, data warehouses, data marts, reports, and query builders were always about data. BI has traditionally excelled at answering questions like "what happened" or even "why did it happen" but always fell short on "what do I do about it" and fell short of the next logical steps which traditionally have been the realm of business process management (BPM) and business rules engines (BRE). This data-centric view of the world turns out to be plain wrong. The world is much more process and rules-centric. We run many processes every time we come to the office, these processes generate data, which in turn trigger rules, and in turn generate more data output that is being consumed by processes in an endless loop.