Business Intelligence: A Technology Category in Tumult

Market consolidation, technical complexity and customer confusion about BI capabilities are powerful and stubborn forces that will continue to shape the business intelligence applications market in 2008.

By Thomas Wailgum
Mon, March 24, 2008

CIO — No one can deny that the market for business intelligence applications is hot. An Aberdeen Group survey found that the number-one technology spending item for companies was "reporting and analytics" in 2007.

In addition, enterprise software vendors spent a fortune acquiring leading BI providers last year. With their billions of dollars, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP showed what they thought of BI's future: SAP acquired Business Objects, Oracle bought Hyperion, IBM purchased Cognos (which closed in early 2008), and Microsoft made smaller value but strategic acquisitions.

A recent Gartner report termed their spending spree as a "tumultuous" event for the industry that shifted the balance of power, and market share, toward the "megavendors." Now, the big four own two-thirds of the BI market, according to Gartner.

"The consolidation in the market has not simplified vendor selection decisions; if anything, it has made them more complicated, because the acquisitions have thrown many existing product road maps into confusion," writes Gartner Research Director Kurt Schlegel, in "Key Issues for Business Intelligence and Performance Management Initiatives, 2008."

In other words, those companies spending millions on BI tools aren't guaranteed anything. "Whatever you buy, it may become something else tomorrow," under a different vendor, says Ken Anderson, an executive strategist at the Burton Group who follows the BI market. That makes it difficult to plan BI strategy. "If you're going to make a large investment in software," he adds, "you just don't know where that's going to go."

In late March, for example, SAP announced the names of the BI products, which had become "overlapping" after it acquired Business Objects, that would be phased out. "They were obviously difficult [decisions], in the sense that each product has customers, each has its merits, each has a team that's passionately committed to it," said John Schwarz, the former CEO of Business Objects who's running the combined BI operations at SAP, in an interview. "So the debates, as you might imagine, were fairly heated."

Another added complexity to the relatively young BI market is customers' inability to figure out just what business intelligence means to them and their company's needs. The unfortunate truth is that the definition largely depends on which vendor is talking and what that vendor is trying to sell.

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