My colleague Boris Evelson, who covers business intelligence for Forrester and serves business process professionals, recently wrote a great post about the use of spreadsheets for business intelligence. He explains that while many BI vendors initially sought to replace spreadsheets in the corporate environment, it's now clear that they are not going anywhere any time soon.
Sound familiar? While many governance, risk, and compliance professionals and GRC vendors continue to work toward helping customers consolidate data and move away from spreadsheets, they are still basically ubiquitous. In fact, several of the top GRC vendors are now working to improve the way their tools interface with Excel... Not just for exporting reports, but for data input and analysis as well.
I recommend reading Boris' post, where he details three best practices regarding the use of spreadsheets for BI:
Create spreadsheet governance policies.
Monitor and enforce compliance with those policies.
Give preference to vendors that work well with spreadsheets.
Creating clear policies for what information will and will not be managed on spreadsheets is critical here, and extremely important for the GRC universe. Unless you have specially-built controls, spreadsheets do not give you the level of security, access control, change control, or audit trail you should have for data related to compliance or risk management. Knowing Office tools are going to be handling substantial amounts of important information for the foreseeable future, so it's worthwhile to review and update your policies and make sure they are being appropriately enforced.
If you are an infrastructure service provider and partner of Microsoft you probably haven't been too pleased with the Redmond horde of late. Are they friend or foe? Sure, you can resell and host Windows Server and a plethora of Microsoft applications from your data centers. And if you're ambitious you can even use their Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit to build your own infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud. But Microsoft's own online services for the enterprise are off limits. Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Windows Azure, and SQL Azure are offerings that look a lot like a formidable competitor. Well partner centricity now rules the day when it comes to Azure.
I joined an impressively large crowd at SAP’s World Tour event in Birmingham,UK, last week and was able to spend an hour with Tim Noble, head of SAP’s UK and Ireland business unit, and Chris McLain, who leads SAP’s team focusing on its 150 largest accounts in EMEA. I'm writing an update of my 2007 report "Effective SAP Pricing And Licensing Negotiation" and wanted to know what they thought about the clash between traditional deal-based sales incentives and Forrester’s clients’ need for commercial flexibility and more recognition, by their key software providers, of the wider relationship. It’s a topic I’ve raised before (http://blogs.forrester.com/duncan_jones/10-03-19-open_letter_season_sap), and I was very pleased to hear some things that SAP is doing to reduce this conflict.
I explained why, from my research, software vendors’ insatiable craving for recognizable license revenue at the expense of creating shared incentives for success is damaging to customers and to the vendor. Both Tim and Chris clearly understand the problem. Tim keeps reps on the same accounts for several years and rewards them for metrics such as customer satisfaction to avoid the revolving door sell-and-run approach that characterized software selling before the advent of SaaS. Chris has a team of Global Account Directors that works with local sales, pre-sales, and delivery teams to provide the holistic view that Forrester clients want and struggle to get from SAP’s competitors.
Last year, Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee called for access to raw data as the next step in the evolution of the Internet. Apparently Transport For London (TFL, UK) was listening and has recently opened its doors to the commercial use of large amounts of primary data sets and live feeds. The data newly available includes: tube and train traffic data, feeds from live traffic cameras, Oyster card top-up locations, pier and station locations, cycle hire locations, and riverboat timetables. Following this up, TFL has announced plans to release further information on bus stops, routes, timetables and schedules. Access to this data represents an opportunity for developers to create travel applications based on real-time information. In one such example a web-based mash-up plots the approximate position of every single underground train. While interesting to Londoners who may be able to navigate their morning commute a little better (there's still no escaping the inevitable squeeze on the Central Line), this is a compelling move by TFL to allow access to the same data it uses to power its own information boards. As we see it, such access:
The "smart money" seems to be betting against SAP. I hear all the time about the company's bleak prospects for the future. A client conversation last week reminded me of how strong SAP’s position is, despite its many issues.
This client, a worldwide manufacturer, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in SAP software for its worldwide supply chain, financial management and reporting, inventory and order management, etc. The new SAP environment will replace hundreds of disparate applications and, ideally, result in far more efficient operations, far better visibility into operations, and far more uniform products around the world. The members of this client’s SAP implementation team have finished SAP implementation marathons before (at other employers). They know the good, the bad, the ugly.
In this manufacturer, SAP is sticky for four reasons.
We all know that the war of fighting the proliferation of spreadsheets (as BI or as any other applications) in enterprises has been fought and lost. Gone are the days when BI and performance management vendors web sites had “let us come in and help you get rid of your spreadsheets” message in big bold letters on front pages. In my personal experience – implementing hundreds of BI platforms and solutions – the more BI apps you deliver, the more spreadsheets you end up with. Rolling out a BI application often just means an easier way for someone to access and export data to a spreadsheet. Even though some of the in memory analytics tools are beginning to chip away at the main reasons why spreadsheets in BI are so ubiquitous (self service BI with no modeling or analysis constraints, and little to no reliance on IT), the spreadsheets for BI are here to stay for a long, long, long time.
With that in mind, let me offer a few best practices for controlling and managing (not getting rid of !) spreadsheets as a BI tool:
Create a spreadsheet governance policy. Make it flexible – if it’s not, people will fight it. Here are a few examples of such policies:
- Spreadsheets can be used for reporting and analysis that support processes that do not go beyond individuals or small work groups vs. cross functional, cross enterprise processes
- Spreadsheets can be used for reporting and analysis that are not part of mission critical processes
Whoever said BI market is commoditizing, consolidating and getting very mature? Nothing can be farther from the truth. On the buy side, Forrester still sees tons of less-than-successful BI environments, applications and implementations as demonstrated by Forrester's recent BI Maturity survey. On the vendor/sell side, Forrester also sees a flurry of activity from the startups, small vendors and large, leading BI vendors constantly leapfrogging each other with every major and minor release.
In terms of the amount of BI activity that Forrester sees from our clients (from inquiries, advisories and consulting) there’s no question that SAP BusinessObjects and IBM Cognos continue to dominate client interest. Over the past couple of years Microsoft has typically taken the third place, SAS fourth place and Oracle the distant fifth. But ever since Siebel and Hyperion acquisitions, the landscape has been changing, and we now often see Oracle jumping into third place, sometimes leapfrogging even Microsoft in the levels of monthly interest from Forrester clients.
Broadens the definition of metadata beyond “data on data” to include business rules, process models, application parameters, application rights, and policies.
Provides guidance to help evangelize to the business the importance of metadata, not by talking about metadata but by pointing out the value it provides against risks.
Recommends demonstrating to IT the transversality of metadata to IT internal siloed systems.
Advocates extending data governance to include metadata. The main impact of data governance should be to build the life cycle for metadata, but data governance evangelists reserve little concern for metadata at this point.
I will co-author the next document on metadata with Gene Leganza; this document will develop the next practice metadata architecture based partially but not only on a metadata exchange infrastructure. For a lot of people, metadata architecture is a Holy Grail. The upcoming document will demonstrate that metadata architecture will become an important step to ease the trend called “industrialization of IT,” sometimes also called “ERP for IT” or “Lean IT.”
In preparation for this upcoming document, please share with us your own experiences in bringing more attention to metadata.
Google announced yesterday that it is buying ITA Software for $700 million. ITA does two main things: airline eCommerce and reservations management solutions and a cross-airline flight comparison tool called QPX, used by most of the major travel comparison Web sites including Kayak, Orbitz, and Microsoft Bing.
Google purchased it for the QPX product in a classic example of buying technology instead of either building it in-house or licensing it.
Today, Bing, Microsoft’s search offering, offers a solutionthat is based on QPX to help customers search for flight information on the Bing Web site. Google has nothing comparable; instead, they direct customers to other travel specific sites (see the screenshots below).
Google is focused on the goal of staying at least half a step ahead of Microsoft in all aspects of search technology; in order to stay ahead of Microsoft in this area, Google had three major options: 1) License the technology; 2) Build it themselves; 3) Buy ITA.
Licensing the technology would mean that Google would end up with a solution equivalent to Microsoft’s and not as robust as specialized Web sites like Kayak. Building the technology would take several years, allowing Microsoft and other competitors to continue to differentiate themselves and pull ahead.
This left the acquisition as the only viable path to regaining leadership in this area, while at the same time placing Microsoft in the awkward position of relying on Google-owned technology as the backend for one of their major search features.
Yesterday I attended Computacenter’s Analyst Event. It’s a major independent provider of IT infrastructure services in Europe, ranging from reselling hardware and software to managing data centers and providing outsourced desktop management. My main interest was how it manages the potential conflict between properly advising the client and maximizing revenue from selling software. For instance, clients often ask me if it's dangerous to employ their value-added reseller (VAR) to advise them on license management in case the reseller tips off its vendors about a potential source of licence revenue.
An excellent customer case study at the event provided another example. A UK water company engaged Computacenter to implement a new desktop strategy involving 90% fully virtualized thin clients. Such a project creates major licensing challenges on both the desktop and server sides, because the software companies haven’t enhanced their models to properly cope with this scenario. The VAR’s dilemma is whether to design a solution that will be cheapest for the customer or one that will be most lucrative for itself.
As we said in our recent report “Refresher Course: Hiring VARs,” sourcing managers should decide whether they want their VARs to provide design and integration services like these or merely process orders at a minimum margin.
Computacenter will do either, but they clearly want to do more of the VA part and less (proportionately) of the R. So, according to their executives, they have no hesitation doing what is best for the customer even if it reduces their commission in the short term. But they didn’t think many of their competitors would take the same view.