Gartner Blog Network

Same Old Business Intelligence

by Andy Bitterer  |  October 21, 2008  |  11 Comments

I must have attended a few dozen BI vendor conferences large and small over the years and sat through many hundred BI briefings. And I have to admit, that my expectations have largely decreased over time. Maybe it’s because the market is considered mature, maybe because I have heard every possible marketing claim, maybe I’ve been around the block a few times. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m missing something.

Sure, the BI market has enjoyed consistent growth, has seen a lot of action on the M&A front, technology has advanced significantly (I remember when gigabytes were considered wild), and yet we are still discussing same old business intelligence. I keep hearing vendors announce that the next version of their tool will be able to address that untapped market within their customer base, growing penetration beyond those 10-15% that are using BI today. I heard this 5 years ago already, but what has changed since then? Not much.

So the tools have a nicer UI, can scale up and scale out, are interactive, and can be mashed, and so on. And yet, BI licenses are not really flying off the shelves because of all the new cool stuff that is available. So the vendors started buying up and down the stack, into performance management, data integration, master data management, data quality, etc.  Technology advanced towards in-memory analytics, data warehouses grew into petabyte range (not many yet, but still quite the accomplishment), Web 2.0 technology allows to build mashups from Google Earth and heatmaps and alerts and visualize the whole thing on an iPhone. What does it all help if people think what they want are “reports”? Ugh.

Here’s the thing. We have done Integration (or at least we are underway): IBM integrates Cognos, Applix, Ascential, DWL, Unicorn,.. SAP integrates Business Objects, Pilot, Firstlogic, Fuzzy, Outlooksoft, Cartesis,… Microsoft integrates Stratature, Datallegro, Zoomix,… Oracle integrates all the rest, Siebel, PeopleSoft, Hyperion, Sunopsis, BEA.

We have done Innovation. Compared to the old days of “management reporting”, new available technology is to die for, from wildly scalable data warehouse appliances, to predictive modeling and mobile BI, all based on SOA, then delivered through software-as-a-service, or through open source license models.

What’s missing is Inspiration. It does look like potential buyers are caught in the “reporting web”, users seem to be largely oblivious to the current developments, and so the great potential value of BI is simply missed because of a lack of BI exposure. Of course, it doesn’t help if attendees at said conferences are bombarded with tech talk about the next great feature. But nobody enables the potential BI users to think outside the “reporting box” and answer the question “what would happen if BI could do that?”

I, for one, can’t say that I’m truly inspired by the messages from the BI vendors. But that’s just me.

Category: business-intelligence  gartner  market  

Tags: business-intelligence  innovation  inspiration  integration  reporting  

Andreas Bitterer
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
27 years IT industry

Andreas Bitterer is a research vice president in Gartner, where he specializes in business intelligence, data integration and data quality, with expertise in analytical applications, data warehousing and information management.Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Same Old Business Intelligence

  1. Dan Sholler says:

    My theory is that the problem with BI is that it is for building things, and no one wants to build things. We build reports and dashboards with it, and that is hard, takes time, effort and makes you learn something.

    What I want, is something that I can point at my data, push a button, and give me the stuff I need (or at the very least, the stuff everyone else has). In other words, I want a packaged BI applications.

    We have been creeping up on this idea for a long time, but at the same time no one has industrialized the production of these applications. Data storage and delivery are still regarded as too idiosyncratic. However, that can change, and it is this change that would create the truly new dynamic (and new value proposition ) for BI.

    Remember, the advantages of information are not in the questions that are asked, but in the quality of the answers. It is having the right data to answer the question that is important. Having the skill to ask the question (i.e. to create the query) is just table stakes. This is precisely the reason our information economy works, and also the reason that Google makes money.

    When the main issue is not how to ask the questions, but whether you have the right data to answer them, that is when you will see the major shift in the BI landscape.

  2. Andy Bitterer says:

    Thanks for the comments, Dan. Here is what I think you said: You want to point a magic wand at “data”, mumble your question and a few witchcraft phrases, and your “answer” comes floating right in front of you in mid-air.

    Kidding aside, BI doesn’t work without “building things”. While I agree that BI will be consumed more and more through specific applications that contain some BI functionality, the question is, who builds these things… Your “packaged BI applications” need to be built, too. Granted, not by the end user, but by programmers, Java or C++ geeks, that have enough knowledge what the end user needs. I see first signs of “model-driven apps development” by which the end user can assemble semantic BI and performance management components into an application, without the need to dive down into code. But that’s still early stage.

    To do the above, you would still need to “build” the models, “build” the data warehouse, “build” necessary transformations. So, the fact that building stuff is hard is largely irrelevant, as BI wouldn’t work without “building things”.

    Goes without saying that the value of BI is in the answers, not in the questions. Then again, there are significant issues even in defining the questions. Because of a consistent lack of definitions or metrics you may get multiple answers to the same question, depending on the individual interpretation of the question. “What is revenue?” “What is net sales?” “What is a delivery date?” If those questions and their corresponding metrics aren’t clearly defined, the answer can’t be trusted.

    BTW, that Google comparison doesn’t work so well. Google does not give you “the answer” either. What Google does is pointing you to a list of documents from Google’s large but limited index that may (or may not) contain what you were looking for in the first place. That’s like asking a BI system about “net sales of iPods last month in Stamford” and the result is a list of all relevant credit card receipts, online orders, etc, throwing in some Stamford Advocate newspaper reports about iPod sales plus a few links to some Stamford sales guy’s iPod videos on YouTube. Is that the answer?

    One of the fundamental problems in BI is the fact that quite a few people approach it as if it is was easy. Those vendor demos showing how to quickly build funky dashboards by click-here, click-there, drag, drop, and voila, done, is putting more oil on the fire. BI has become a highly complex organism with a lot of moving parts. Maybe that’s why users get stuck in “reporting” because that’s what they can grasp.

  3. Gary Calcott says:

    This is imho a clear case of diminishing returns. “Traditional BI” is fundamentally looking at what happened in the past with an aim to improve the future. As event processing infrastructure moves from specialized domaims such as algo trading into the mainstream we will be able to build systems which are able to do BI in “real time”. We are seeing several examples of this in logistics/transportation and broader, risk-exposure scenarios in capital markets.

  4. Timo Elliott says:

    Maybe we’re attending the wrong conferences? Helping people to think out of the box isn’t about technology, after all — isn’t this what people go to business consultants, industry tradeshows and creativity workshops for?

  5. Neil Raden says:

    Part of the problem is that BI tools are still about data, not about business concepts and models. When business people are confronted with BI, they have to incorporate a lot of concepts that they haven’t seen before, made especially difficult by using words they are already familiar with, but with a different meaning.

    As Dan said, storage may be idiosyncratic, but that could be addressed by employing a more useful representational framework for metadata, such as ontology and reasoners.

    Decision support systems were by and for business people until data warehousing came along, then it became on IT affair. That’s why most BI tools today (though it is changing) are still based on manipulating and reporting data, not creating collaborative models.

    If you include spreadsheets and personal databases in the BI tally, you’ll find that the market share of the largest BI vendors is about 0.1% and you will also find that BI penetration is closer to 75%, not 5-10%. Knowledge workers voted with their feet because a spreadsheet solves their proximate problems.

    People shun BI because they don’t understand the meta-models and too often, what is presented to them isn’t relevant enough for their day-to-day work.

    The solution is to resolve this IT vs “the business” duality that was created by IT (you won’t find anyone in an organization who says “I’m the business”) and to lobby for software products that make data smarter. We have the resources to do it, someone just needs to jumpstart it.

    twitter: nraden

  6. Mark Madsen says:

    I don’t know that I agree with Neil on the “DW became an IT affair” side. While it is pretty IT focused, that’s largely because of tools maturity and the challenges inherent in data management. I see it as a period of back end data infrastructure building, and that stuff should be IT.

    The BI tools we look at are the same thing we had at my first job writing report-bursting code off 9 track tapes. We went from greenbar on paper to greenbar in EIS tools to greenbar in a browser. I agree that there’s a relevance and accessibility problem – navigating and finding information is not as easy as it needs to be.

    I think the IT-biz duality you mention with BI will evolve away as IT takes care of data infrastructure and new tools and models for data delivery and use develop.

    I speak at BI conferences, but I don’t attend them. The interesting new things are happening in other fields in academia and in the IT market. Go to an emerging tech conference, or academic conference, or web developers event and you see BI everywhere. It’s just that people don’t call it BI and just plug into data.

    Spend a little time with design people (in the traditional, not software) sense and you’ll see a whole range of new things people are doing with data. Heck, look at what Radiohead did with digital data in a music video:

  7. It takes two to tango, as they say.

    I don’t think the blame can always be laid solely at the vendors’ doors for lack of progress, innovation and pervasiveness of BI.

    Users need to exhibit enough creativity themselves in order to drive the success/adoption/ubiquity of BI forward.

    I can’t say if that is a lack of education/training on what may be possible, or simply a raw materials issue. You can’t make a purse from a sow’s ear.

    Regarding Andy’s point in the comments : “Goes without saying that the value of BI is in the answers, not in the questions. Then again, there are significant issues even in defining the questions”

    I think that the impetus (and the resulting acceleration of adoption) for BI is dictated far more by the questions themselves, more than the answers.

    The refinement of the question scope is a secondary issue if the creativity and drive to ask a large number of incisive questions is simply not enough.

    Of course, these users may be weary (and wary) of asking questions over years that the BI vendors have not been able to help them answer, leading to cynicism and apathy about any claimed improvements in capabilities and ease of use.

    Vendors could throw users a rope by providing more interesting case studies and usage scenarios, but in the end, the needs of individual businesses is so diverse, it can serve only as inspiration, rather than a template. Again, it is up to the users to project that inspiration on to their own business requirements – unless you prefer the external professional services route.

    As Mark Madsen says, BI is everywhere, and maybe highlighting more of these creative examples would inspire users to do more with the technology they have invested in.

    Maybe more organizations like DunnHumby will spring up, specializing more in asking BI questions rather than selling BI technology.

  8. […] For new vendors, it creates a flourishing market for new, innovative solutions to address the new driving force in BI – the end user. We’ve already seen innovations with SaaS BI, visualization, and social analytics. We’ll see more of this in 2009. In fact, we need to see more of this, to get ourselves out of a BI rut. […]

  9. Peter Thomas says:

    I managed to miss this post when it first came out.

    It seems to me that advances in the value that BI can add must now be to do with how it is used, rather than technological progress. I think that many (not all, many) of the tools that you need to drive BI adoption in organisations have been there for years. I managed to reach 90% of my target audience (50% of the organisation) and achieve 93% user retention back in 2003 with plain old PowerPoint 7.

    As with any mature technology, it now has to be about adding value, rather than being sexy. Maybe this is why the vendor presentations lack sparkle – it’s like MS telling us how much better Excel 2007 is than its predecessors.

    I’ll try to stay more up-to-date with your blogging in future!


  10. […] I rather belatedly picked up on an article by Andreas Bitterer posted on the Gartner blogs network. The title of this piece is Same Old Business Intelligence. […]

  11. […] I rather belatedly picked up on an article by Andreas Bitterer posted on the Gartner blogs network. The title of this piece is Same Old Business Intelligence. […]

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.