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Archive for June, 2009

News came to me yesterday that LucidEra was closing its doors (datelined 22 June, but not yet mentioned on their site). This company was a 2005 startup whose specific focus was Software-as-a-Service business intelligence.

Now, the SaaS BI concept hadn’t made a lot of sense to me: business intelligence doesn’t seem to lend itself too well to the SaaS model, in particular because of a) the disk, processing, and data demands at the core of effective BI, and b) the customisation needs of BI, per enterprise.

So recently I watched a presentation from the BeyeNetwork (pronounced B-I-~) on effective SaaS BI.

What of the question marks over this model: flexibility? Response times? Startup and business investment costs? So I watched the presentation to get a better understanding of the context in which it does make sense. Presenters were Claudia Imhoff and Colin White.

SaaS is depicted as a cousin to cloud computing: the former refers specifically to software capabilities, while cloud computing is more a matter of hardware: processing power and storage space (this dichotomy may or may not remain as the technologies evolve).

Whether or not there’s a vendor sponsor behind a presentation or paper, when there’s a barrow to push a presenter will accentuate the positive. So one needs to sort through the claims.

At various points those claims included:

1. Low cost

2. Low maintenance

3. Low risk

4. Ease of entry

5. Rapid development (load your application with data and off you go)

6. Flexibility (“some” products allow customers to develop their own BI applications)

7. Security

8. High availability

9. New features developed [and deployed] rapidly

(Some of these points may seem to contradict each other.)

The negatives raised were:

1. Many SaaS vendors are small, which raises support issues

2. Vendor revenue is smaller (close to pay-as-you-go), which raises vendor stability issues

3. The need to traverse enterprise firewalls, which was said to lead to stovepiping/data flow issues

4. It may necessitate complex integration with existing systems

5. It may require significant customisation.

A survey by BeyeNetwork of over 200 respondents of SaaS BI implementation plans found:

20% had already implemented;

7% were implementing;

31% were planning an implementation;

43% had no plans.

This result may be skewed by those sufficiently motivated to participate in the survey – probably those who already had some level of interest in the concept.

Within that survey, business areas targeted were sales, marketing, finance, and to a lesser extent IT. I’d guess the unstated implication is that it appealed most to those already comfortable with the paradigm – those familiar with the most successful SaaS venture, Salesforce.com.

Indeed, the tenor of the case studies suggested SaaS BI implementations were often initiated by business units rather than IT – perhaps sometimes because the intra-enterprise relationships weren’t as smooth as they could be. Yet as a workaround, this solution is suggestively fraught: the typical challenges listed by those survey respondents were:

– confusing terminology

– no ROI measure

– lack of IT support

– concern over vendor viability.

All this does not look highly promising: SaaS BI sounds like a rather bleeding edge technology, that is ready to bite the unwary. However, I would note here that one of the case studies given was an implementation of Business Objects as SaaS – so vendor issues can be addressed by using widespread, mature technology.

Yet the presentation didn’t quite speak to my concerns about the ongoing customisation needs of an enterprise. BI is – should be – an ongoing project for any organisation, as business needs change constantly, and new opportunities for leveraging the benefits of BI are constantly emerging. In this sense, I am quite skeptical of claims of ease of entry and low cost, low risk: any decent BI implementation will at the very least require an investment of time and effort to bring the functionality up to speed and integrate it with existing resources (data in particular).

On the other hand, SaaS BI may settle into a specific niche. Perhaps it is best suited for single business units seeking an out-of-the-box functionality with a quicker turnaround time and smaller investment cost, that doesn’t necessitate budgetary issues or IT involvement. Although I come with my own biases – good integration is part of my vision – there may be a place for executing a fleet-footed capability. If I were an IT manager being asked to tick off a small-scale project, I would just request that no data is locked away from mainstream corporate data systems.

I don’t think the closure of LucidEra is necessarily a big nail in the coffin of this paradigm. As for the future, I cannot say: technology evolves so rapidly that today’s poison may become tomorrow’s meat.

But for the moment, I would suggest treading lightly when considering such a move, taking into account all the issues above.

2-Jul-09 Update: to add to the pot, I received results of another Saas BI survey – this time from IT Toolbox.  Again comes the caveat that the respondents (numbering 167) constituted those so motivated to do the survey.  Of those, about one sixth had already implemented such a project; two thirds were implementing/planning, and a further sixth had no such plans.  The biggest perceived attractions were small cost and development time, and again sales and marketing were the biggest target departments.  Half the projects were in conjunction with an in-house BI implementation.  Biggest hurdle – unsurprisingly – was buyin from IT – again reinforcing that such initiatives originate from specific business units.  Notably, respondents were very lukewarm on outcomes, with only 20% of projects meeting/exceeding expectations.

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Computer Associates is one of the world’s largest providers of software and services (number 7 by software revenue, in the Software Top 100).

At this month’s day-long CA forum in Sydney (CA Expo 09), their CEO John Swainson gave us his vision of the future.  Following on from the last post, I thought it might be salient to drop this in, although it’s not aimed specifically at BI.

If you tried to guess the  future of IT, you might think services-everything and/or convergent/pervasive systems/devices – and you’d not be far off.

Swainson’s list was:
1.  Virtualisation
2.  Convergent networks
3.  SOA
4.  Social networking in the enterprise
5.  Cloud computing
6.  Networked devices  [“Scott McNealy: The network is the computer”*.]

This is pretty much a vision of pervasive, service-oriented computing.  Infrastructure becomes sufficiently commodified that it’s more cost-effective to outsouce most of it, and both enterprise and individual come to value their digital information more than anything else.  A dichotomisation, if you will, of Information and Technology.

But social networking in the enterprise?  Let’s not go overboard – viz the recent Harvard study of Twitter, for example, that found this buzz-of-the-month is far less used than its hype would suggest (the median Twitter user would tweet once – ever).

Yet the human networking paradigm is certainly spreading, and we can all envisage a place for it in the enterprise, for example:
– socialising knowledge (ie knowledge management);
– facilitating existing channels (ie Business As Usual improved);
– facilitating transparency (spreading information and understanding, which can greatly reduce the meetings treadmill).

So, it could be said that there’s nothing startling here.  Still, there is some fascination in experiencing trends converging in this information age.

*However, that  phrase is credited to John Gage originally; then popularised by McNealy.

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Porting here a mention of HP’s predictions on business intelligence trends, originally posted on my non-tech blog on 17th March, 2009:

Buried amidst the consolidation of business intelligence (software) vendors, HP appears to base its solution on Knightsbridge, which it purchased in 2007.

It can’t be too surprising if HP (and, previously Knightsbridge) aren’t familiar names in the BI field. They do not figure regularly in industry reports and forums. HP’s profile is quite low – so low, in fact, that they’re not even mentioned in Wikipedia’s list of BI tools. I expect their marketing strategy is limited to supplementing their provision of whole-of-business solutions to the marketplace: when selling to enterprises, something akin to “Oh, and we also supply business intelligence solutions – and consulting services. No need to go to the market for that”. (However, for a counter-view on HP’s BI profile, see this blog by Shawn Rogers.)

Notwithstanding, they recently released their take on BI trends for 2009, as follows.

Trend #1: Consumerisation of IT
In effect, business to adopt consumer-level technologies such as facebook and twitter. BI-specific effects in collaboration, visualisations, new data sources.

Trend #2: Post-Western tech economy
“Emerging regions” will transition from being simply “suppliers of low-cost talent” to being developers of best practice and global standard-setting consumers. Benefits to BI in terms of innovation – in analytics, unstructured data, etc.

Trend #3: BI importance increases; data governance and quality to become critical
So says HP – but see BI Survey’s comments on less than expected adoption. However, it’s to be expected that in hard times businesses would turn to BI for efficiency gains.

Trend #4: BI Buyers more scrutinising
– linking projects to business outcomes.

Trend #5: Market demands lower BI complexity
Commodified BI, standards for data marts. Here, HP contradicts its own earlier comment about SaaS/Cloud issues not yet figuring prominently in BI. They note it under “consideration”.

Trend #6: Analytics moves to the front office; business users get greater sophistication
– including data modelling in the hands of business managers – scary!

Trend #7: Data integration increases in importance
Consolidating data from traditionally disparate sources; increasing focus on enterprise-level information management strategies.

Trend #8: A blurring between data warehouses and operations systems/data
A need for realtime operational reporting – enter, data hubs, Enterprise Service Buses, etc.

Trend #9: Convergence of structured/unstructured data
– this is a brave call, as business are only just starting coming to grips with the unstructured data buried in documents, notes, etc. My call is that it will be some time before unstructured data sees much effective use, let alone convergence.

Trend #10: CEP (Complex Event Processing) comes of age
– this seems to be an amalgam of alerting and data mining, nearing real-time.

As they later note: “To make the most of BI, first you need to get the data right”. Much as that sounds a truism, it is a point that needs to be hammered at every opportunity, from data modelling to quality/management/governance.

HP’s full report here.

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So many little snippets to report… I hope to do justice to them, but meanwhile, here’s just one.

Yesterday I was talking to Hanne Breddem, Australian TDWI president, about the consolidation of BI software companies over the past five years, which had resulted in most of the big names being swallowed up by the top global software companies. In particular, of the top five (by this list – ordered on global software revenues), Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle now own a good swathe of the top tools of five years ago (now encompassing the likes of Cognos, Hyperion, Siebel, and Brio, amongst others).  Hanne in turn pointed out the corresponding emergence of another generation of small and agile players (she made particular mention of an Australian company, Yellowfin, which I know has been around for a while but seems to be just taking off).

So I turned to The BI Survey.  Previously called The OLAP Report, this is the major annual report into the state of the BI software market, put together by Nigel Pendse [and associates].

The latest is The BI Survey 8: it encompasses 2150 corporate respondents, and lists 36 products (albeit another 57 respondents reported products that were too thinly used to be listed).

So, not to dwell on the past, it’s worth listing the current major BI players, ordered by size of user base. Due to the nature of the responses, products remain disaggregated from their owners, so some of the old names stil make an appearance.

In BI Survey’s order, they are as follows (with the owner’s position in the software top 100 in brackets):

1. MicroStrategy (?)
2. Infor PM OLAP (27)
3. Qliktech Qlikview ( – )
4. Board ( – )
5. Microsoft Analysis Services (1)
6. Cognos Reporting (2 – IBM)
7. Business Objects (46)
8. SAP BI/BW (4)
9. WebFOCUS ( – Information Builders)
10. Cubeware Cockpit ( – MIS AG)

Those bubbling under included still-current brandnames such as Hyperion Cognos, and Crystal, in various product permutations.

Now admittedly I should make an important qualification: this list is ordered by the number of respondents reporting their use of the tool.  There are a number of alternative methodologies that might put the established brandnames (Cognos, MicroSoft, and Oracle’s set) nearer the top – BI-specific annual revenue might be one example.  Yet this list gives some insight into the current penetration of products into the marketplace.

Now, MicroStrategy should figure on the Top 100 Software list at about 74 – but their revenue listed on Wikipedia might include consulting rather than just software sales. (The 100th revenue report in that list was $US228m.)

So that corporate consolidation process has not [necessarily] concentrated the BI market in the hands of a few large players – it’s just the most recognisable brands have consolidated. I must admit, I had not heard before of three of those players (Infor, Board, and Cubeware). These newer products may have presence more than market maturity.  Yet the listing speaks to the robustness of the BI market – and the demand for innovative or agile solutions despite the constant acquisition process.

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