It's Thursday night of Forrester IT Forum and I've had 19 formal one-on-one meetings with attendees so far, and talked with dozens of other people during meals and breaks and before and after presentations. There's something striking about these conversations, compared to years past. Pretty much every meeting I've had with non-vendor attendees has been about their organization's enterprise collaboration strategy or Information Workplace strategy — or their need to develop one. I've been speaking with information and knowledge management professionals with titles like CIO, VP Emerging Technology, Sr. Project Leader, Dir. Global Strategy and Architecture, and VP of Information Systems. They are coming to 1:1 meetings extremely well-prepared, armed with architecture diagrams, drafts of their collaboration strategy documents, and lists of carefully thought-through questions. What a difference from five years ago when common questions were, "What are other companies doing in the area of collaboration?" or "Which is a better team collaboration tool: eRoom or Groove?"
SAP has addressed a major gap in its business planning performance management offerings with the acquisition of Outlooksoft today. The internally-developed SAP offerings known as SEM had seen limited traction among its customer base do to usability and complexity issues. SAP has been vulnerable to competitors (e.g., Hyperion, Cognos), particularly in the planning and budgeting domain.
Outlooksoft’s offering, by contrast, features a native Excel UI that appeals to finance and business users, and has integrated capabilities for planning, financial consolidations, and business performance analytics. It has seen good traction as a best-of-breed offering, with a base of approximately 700 customers. Its newest release (5.0) incorporates SOA and Web 2.0 technologies, making it compatible with SAP’s technology directions. Also, Outlooksoft has begun to move away from its sole dependency on the Microsoft BI platform.
SAP's annual Americas user conference was held last week (April 23-25), with impressive attendance of approximately 14,000. The abrupt departure of Shai Agassi a few weeks prior to the event was well covered, as Hasso Plattner stepped in to handle the technical vision keynote slot. A key message of the event was progress in adoption of SAP's NetWeaver platform and the latest release of the ERP suite, renamed ERP 6.0 from mySAP ERP 2005. ERP 6.0 adoption was announced to be approximately 2,600 to date, but upgrades from the older 4.6C and 4.7 versions continue to be a challenge for customers. SAP is looking to have 75% of its ERP base upgraded by mid-2008. Besides relief from rising support costs under the 5-1-2 maintenance plan, customers who upgrade to 6.0 can take advantage of a series of forthcoming enhancement packs as incremental add-ons (a strategy reminiscent of Oracle's family pack releases).
For years I've been predicting that relational DBMS will run out of steam when it comes to effectively managing and manipulating very large, heterogeneous (structured + unstructured) data sets for business intelligence. First, RDBMS were never designed and optimized for unstructured data (not just XML, which is structured data in my definition, but truly unstructured text pages). Second, there's just too much overhead and cost in RDBMS for handling OLTP functions. The result: search index DBMS will be king in BI and DSS in the future.
Today’s announcements that Microsoft may be buying Yahoo came several weeks early. On May 17th I would’ve gone on the record at Forrester IT Forum in Nashville by saying the following, and I quote from my presentation paper: “DBMS/BI vendor may buy a search company, to address the trend of increasing importance of unstructured data in BI and to obtain an early leading position in the space. I know it should be Oracle or IBM, but it probably won’t, since these guys will never admit that their relational DBMS cannot do something. Microsoft is a more likely contender since they know they won’t leapfrog IBM or Oracle in relational DBMS and they could use this opportunity to stick one to Google too.”
I thought Microsoft would buy somebody like Fast Search, but I guess that was too small for them.
I attended a conference sponsored by Carnegie Mellon West; The Fisher IT Center at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley; the Software Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University; and Services: Science, Management, and Engineering Program at UC Berkeley. The one-day event was held at the Microsoft Campus at Moffitt Field in Silicon Valley. The goal of this conference was to discuss where the software industry is going. Ten sessions including individual speakers and panels from university and business communicated the strong message that software is at a crossroads and will dramatically change in the future, and . . . the change has already begun. To access slides of the speaker presentations go to http://west.cmu.edu/sofcon/postcon.
The changes are around growth of software-as-a-service, new roles of services as a value- add to commoditized software, and new businesses and pricing models. The overwhelming consensus was that software-as-a-service is where the growth is today. Speakers pointed out some of the most successful companies in terms of generating revenue like WebEx, Amazon, Google — all service-based. At the same time they do not see companies that have built their business around software like Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft going “down-the-tube” just yet. In fact Oracle already has Oracle On-demand, a very successful service solution while supporting their enterprise installed customers. Companies that have these installed applications will not find it easy to change to a service-model, even it they wanted to. It requires architectural, economic and cultural changes and requires a ten-year time table to move from an installed software model to a services model. It seems much easier to start from the ground up like Salesforce.com.
Remember George Costanza from a Seinfeld episode where he was pulling his hair out about “the two worlds colliding”? He was agonizing over the world of his girlfriends and the world of his friends that should never mix. In my world, process and data, separate disciplines until recently, are now “colliding”. While some of the vendors have already been toying with the convergence of both disciplines (IBM, Oracle, SAP), today’s announcement by Tibco that it will acquire a Spotfire, is the first transaction that will merge a pureplay middleware vendor with a pureplay BI vendor (a convergence that Forrester’s been predicting for almost a year, please see our Business Intelligence Meets BPM In The Information Workplace research document. But by acquiring Spotfire, Tibco has actually achieved more than one goal.
Being efficient is no longer enough. Enterprises can no longer stay competitive just by squeezing more efficiencies from operational applications, including workflow, business process management (BPM) and business rules engine (BRE) — business intelligence applications are needed to become more effective. For example, while workflow and rules are be used to efficiently process a customer credit application, Business Intelligence analytics are needed to effectively segment customer population and extend the credit offer to a much more targeted customer segment for a better response, cross-sell/up-sell ratios.
The actual convergence of process and data. The other slant is the natural interdependency of process and data from two angles: a) one needs data to feed and enrich the business process and process rules, and b) an event (an alert, for example) triggered by a data condition has to go into a process so that it can be followed up and acted on.
At the AIIM show in mid April, Xerox Global Services gathered a number of information management industry pundits to talk about issues related to eDiscovery. The conversation shed light on myriad issues that organizations face to meet the requirements of the newly amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). You can listen to a podcast of the discussion here. The major points of note:
I’ve recently conducted research on the issues of VLDB (very large databases) and how it affects BI, since the challenges of reporting and analyzing Gb data sets are very different from reporting and analyzing multi Tb data sets. Among many other interesting findings and conclusions I uncovered the following approaches to handling VLDB challenges as they relate to BI:
Generic solutions by DBMS vendors:
Share everything vs. share nothing architecture
Caching, in-memory databases
Specialized file systems
Indexing (bit-map vs. B-tree)
BI-specific solutions by BI and other vendors:
ROLAP and reporting tool specific SQL optimization
Alternate DBMS (such as search indexes and vector DBMS)
I predict that for the foreseeable future, spreadsheets will remain the most widely used enterprise application. The widespread adoption isn't hard to understand — spreadsheets are powerful and flexible, yet intuitive and easy to use and learn. Plus, ad hoc applications and spreadsheet models isolate users from constant reliance on IT and incur low costs. Since the early days of BI, spreadsheets have played a natural and major role in the BI process/architecture, including:
I've been in the BI business for over 25 years so I've seen many ups and downs in the BI cycle. We are definitely in the "up" cycle these days. I see two main reasons for it:
Enterprises can no longer stay competitive just by squeezing more efficiencies from operational applications – business intelligence applications are needed to become more effective.
Digital data (structured and unstructured) volumes are growing at 30% a year, and will be reaching zetabyte sizes by year 2010 – that’s a number with 21 zeros! Solid BI implementations will be critical to successfully turn that data into useful information.
Does anyone have any comments on where we are in the BI cycle and what are some of the more recent key drivers?