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.
Why is BI TEI (Total Economic Impact) so elusive? Recently I reached out to all major BI software vendors and asked them to provide a customer reference who's willing to stand up and confirm a hard $ return on investment from BI implementation. Guess how many takers I got? None. Yes many are willing to point to expected savings and benefits, but no one's gone back and calculated the actual results. Why? It is definitely very complex. For example:
Make sure you account for both direct and indirect costs.
Direct costs are the obvious expenses and capital expenditures associated with BI software, hardware and consulting services. A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay $5-$7 dollars for system integration and management consulting for every $1 you pay for software. And don't forget to include the costs of training and on-going support.
Indirect costs are for software/hardware/services for non-BI specific components which are nevertheless necessary to achieve a successful BI implementation: data quality, master data management, metadata implementation, portals, collaboration, knowledge management and many others. The indirect costs are not as easy to quantify. For example, do you attribute the cost of implementing a data quality solution to the BI initiative? Most likely your data quality problems exist in your sources, so one might think it should be a separate effort. However, very often you identify data quality problems when you build your first BI solution, so there may be a tendency to bundle in these costs into the BI project. As a result, these indirect costs are notoriously difficult to identify and negotiate (with other stakeholders), but nevertheless they are a major component of the total cost.
I remember my days as a PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant in the late 90's and early 2000, when the company was awash in HP acquisition rumors and then later discussions of the failed transaction. IBM beat HP and picked up a gem — PwC in these days was hard to beat in many areas, especially in business intelligence management consulting offerings. HP then went on an picked up a much smaller BI boutique Knightsbridge. Now that IBM is acquiring Cognos, will HP follow the same fate and acquire smaller Information Builders, Microstrategy or Actuate? There's also still SAS that would give HP a complete BI stack, but as we know acquiring the world's largest privately held company can be a financial and cultural fit nightmare (plus a rumored $20B or more than 10x revenues price tag is hard for anyone to swallow). That's why I thought that HP's potential acquisition of Cognos + Informatica + Teradata could've given HP best of breed components in all areas of BI stack. But just like with PwC, HP will now have to pursue smaller, more niche BI opportunities.
Back to IBM. Well, not so fast. Back to IBM and SAP. In my opinion, IBM/COGN and SAP/BOBJ deals are defensive moves since both companies have been telling us for years that they prefer to grow their BI portfolios organically, with smaller tuck-in acquisition. However, organic growth is not happening fast enough, and giving in to sideway pressures from Oracle (with two top of the line BI products from Siebel and Hyperion) and upward pressures from Microsoft (after Proclarity acquisition and with significant Performance Point market momentum), IBM and SAP had no choice but to react.