Our enterprise business intelligence (BI) buying guide and midmarket BI buyer's guide looked at many of the best-known business intelligence vendors.
But this article, our small business BI buying guide, focuses on lesser known products that might be every bit as good as some of those offered by the more established players. While most of them focus on the SMB market, several are more than adequate for midmarket implementations. And in any case, the small business market is changing: SMB buyers used to be happy enough using watered-down versions of enterprise-class business intelligence tools. Others opted for open source and on demand solutions that lacked functionality. Those days are over.
"Today, many of the enterprise-class software providers provide fully-functional versions of their BI software platforms at price points that match small business budgets," said Justin Norwood, business analytics and technology global leader at Capgemini. "The choices are much better today than in years past – and buyers should not discount the possibility of buying an enterprise-class solution."
Here are a few of the candidates: Targit, Board International, LogiXML, Corda Technologies, Bitam, arcplan and Salient Management Company. While none of them is a household name, all earned a review in the latest Gartner Business Intelligence Magic Quadrant.
Arcplan Business Intelligence
arcplan Engage is a BI search and collaboration tool that combines traditional business intelligence with Web 2.0 communication and knowledge-sharing functions like rating, tagging and commenting. It makes all BI content in an organization accessible, searchable and shareable, whether it is stored in arcplan, SharePoint, email, or other IT and BI systems.
Roland Hoelscher, arcplan's CEO, says that no training is required, as Engage utilizes functionality users are accustomed to from social media sites. Users can comment directly on BI content and save it to a personal "BI Wall" for easy access. Further, the system empowers users to add content, with users rating the best content as well as requesting enhancements directly through the system. Costs: Perpetual license ($650 per user) and monthly license ($59 per user/month) available (introductory pricing).
"We see BI getting increasingly complex, shutting out most of the potential users who can benefit from easy access to corporate information," said Hoelscher. "BI 2.0 is all about engaging business users and making information more pervasive for better decision-making."
arcplan has done very well at luring over SAP customers, according to Gartner. However, that success now means that it is in the crosshairs of a vast marketing and selling machine pushing SAP BusinessObjects. It remains to be seen how it fares head-to-head with the new and improved SAP BI offering.
This Mexican firm was founded in 2000 and its focus has been Latin American business. Gartner said customers choose Bitam for its ease of use, the quality of its references and low cost. The software offers mainstream BI, analysis, scorecarding, strategic planning and financial planning. It can be delivered on premise or as software as a service (SaaS). Pricing is based on the number of applications, users and amount of data stored in the system.
Gartner noted that it tends to be used for small data sets and by smaller groups of users compared to other vendors. But this may mean that it is used to the peculiarities of the SMB space and knows how to deal with this market.
Board International provides an integrated BI suite that includes planning, reporting and analysis. While its strength has traditionally been in custom analytic applications using its own online analytical processing (OLAP) database, it comes with federation features to incorporate other data stores. Gartner said a good portion of its customer base use Board in tandem with OLAP databases – this may limit the number of SMBs who might be attracted to Board mainly to those tightly focused on those involved in complex and high-powered number crunching.
Interactive visualization and dashboarding are further areas of strength for Board. Also appealing to SMBs is Board's Microsoft focus. It technology is Windows only, which is probably the case for most SMBs.
That said, customers tend to be mainly in Europe, it lacks reporting strength (perhaps not an area many SMBs will be too concerned about), and licensing costs are high per user, according to Gartner surveys. This is understandable given its OLAP and other advanced capabilities. But it might be a negative for SMBs looking for a simple BI package.
According to analyst Rita Sallam of Gartner, Corda Technologies started out selling Java development tools for charting, dashboarding and maps. Since it released its CenterView product, it offers a niche BI tool for dashboarding and interactive visualization. Overall costs are said to be relatively low.
"The main reasons for buying Corda are functionality, data access and integration, and its integration with information infrastructure," said Sallam. "Its customers rate Corda's dashboarding and interactive visualization functionality as above average, and its ease of use for end users was rated in the top three of vendors surveyed."
More recently, the company was acquired by Domo. It remains to be seen how this will affect further development and innovation of the business intelligence side.