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The Business Intelligence Guide

Its not news that the market for business intelligence applications is hot.

This has been back by reports from research analyst companies such as Aberdeen Group and Gartner.

An Aberdeen Group survey survey reported BI reporting and analytics as the#1 technology spend item for companies in 2007.

And of course, we cannot discount the logic behind enterprise software vendors spending a fortune acquiring leading BI providers in 2007.



IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP all demonstrated their belief of BI's future:

  • SAP acquired Business Objects
  • Oracle bought Hyperion
  • IBM purchased Cognos
  • Microsoft made strategic BI acquisitions


A recent Gartner report identified the BI spending spree as a "tumultuous" with a major shift in balance of power, and market share, toward the "megavendors." The big four now own two-thirds of the BI market, according to Gartner.

Whilst this may appear fortuitous for the vendors, it has launched havoc in the buyer side of the market, with confusion over projected product road maps and committment into BI capability development.

This is making BI very difficult for companies to evaluate options - how does one really know who or where their vendor offering will be supported in the future.

This complexity in a relatively young BI market is clouding the already difficult quest for IT managers to figure out just what business intelligence means to them and their company's needs.

If its not hard enough to cut through vendor marketing hype, buyers now have to contend with market instability. That makes BI vendor selection a much more complex, and difficult task.

BI tools span a wide spectrum of:

  • Performance management applications
  • Online analytical processing tools
  • Querying and reporting
  • Data mining
  • Business analytics
  • Dashboards
  • Decision support systems
  • Data warehousing

All of these critical functionalities are typically grouped under the business intelligence umbrella by vendors. However, the robustness of the total solution often depends upon the integration of not only the technology components, but also the licencing and support. Acquired components can complicate an already highly administrative environment.


BI Users Must Define Their Priorities

That pervasive uncertainty places the onus on business users and IT departments to figure out exactly what types of information they need to extract from their BI systems, say analysts.
"You basically have to figure out what items interest you, and what's important to you," says Walter Lee, an analyst at Burton Group. Therefore, companies must formulate a BI requirements strategy, or methodology, as Lee terms it, that is based on the analytic and reporting data that will best synch with their overall business strategy. But that too can be difficult, Lee notes. "It can be a convoluted and lengthy process."

Even when IT departments are able to hammer out the back-office integration and data-sharing complexities (which are not trivial), many companies still struggle to get business users to actually use the BI applications.
A February 2008 Gartner report on self-service options for business intelligence concluded that users find BI tools difficult to use and consume. "Anecdotal evidence suggests no more than 20 percent of users in most organizations use reporting, ad hoc query and online analytical processing tools on a regular basis," writes Gartner's Schlegel. He also notes that most IT departments are overwhelmed with BI requests to meet business requirements and often have difficulty building BI applications due to a shortage in developers' skill sets.
"Lack of both end-user and developer skills is frequently cited as a major barrier when deploying BI applications," Schlegel writes. "In both cases, there is a need to make analytical applications easier to build and consume, to overcome this skills gap."

Burton Group's Anderson doesn't take exception to the 20 percent usability rate, though he does note that that number is common in many application deployments outside of BI. "If you have a complex problem and user interface, no matter how well written it is there's only a certain amount of people who are going to use that tool," he says.

But a sizeable challenge with BI tools right now is ensuring that the data and analytics that are ultimately presented to users are meaningful and actionable by those users.
"Just because you see [a BI trend] doesn't mean you're going to be able to do anything about it," Anderson says. Companies have to figure out "how do you transform that data into actionable items. In U.S. businesses, we sometimes falter on that."


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