The use of business intelligence (BI) software has been skyrocketing in recent years. According to Tom Pringle of technology market research firm Pringle & Company, companies spend about $79 billion a year on BI software and services, a figure he expects to reach $143 billion by 2016.
"The key driver in the increasing adoption of BI in the enterprise is the need to find hidden signals and meaning in all this Big Data and to disseminate that meaningful information to every corner of the organization," said Thierry Audas, senior director, Business Intelligence Product Marketing for SAP in Paris. "The enterprises that will thrive in today's highly competitive environment will be those that leverage the latest BI technologies to connect people to all this information."
Such is the allure of business intelligence that dozens of companies have entered the market over the last few years. However, long-term BI stalwarts continue to dominate the market.
This guide highlights five of them -- IBM Cognos, SAP, MicroStrategy, SAS and Information Builders -- focusing on recent changes to their product lines.
SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence
SAP is the global market leader in business intelligence, with nearly a quarter of the worldwide sales volume according to IDC and Gartner. SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence includes a range of solutions for companies of all sizes, across all industries and geographies, and a Software Development Kit that enables partners and integrators to embed it into their business applications.
This spring SAP released version 4.1 of the software that includes improved interoperability and usability across the BI suite, industry-focused visualizations and spatial analytics, Big Data support for Amazon Elastic MapReduce and Hadoop Hive, and improved access to Oracle's Exadata, OLAP and Essbase. It also includes enhanced workflow capabilities in conjunction with SAP HANA and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP BW).
"The primary mission of BI has been to help organizations run better by connecting people to the information they need to make better decisions," said Audas. "In all companies, industries and geographies there are new data sources available that didn't exist even a year ago, and the volume of data available to a typical organization is growing at an astounding pace."
SAP also just launched a cloud-based, self-service BI solution called SAP Lumira Cloud which lets users analyze data and collaborate with colleagues on data, visualizations and other business intelligence artifacts. It is primarily aimed at small or medium organizations and departments within large organizations.
Personal editions of Business Objects BI start at $99 per user with online purchase. Other prices are tailored to the requirements of the organization.
Information Builders has been helping customers analyze data since 1975. This year the company added two new products to its lineup: WebFOCUS Social Media Analytics which uses data from social media interactions to provide insight into sales and marketing, product quality, and other customer-centric issues; and Cloud Hosting Services, a new platform-as-a-service (PaaS) through which customers can combine the benefits of Information Builders’ customizable, scalable BI capabilities with the flexibility afforded by cloud delivery models.
Information Builders supports every type of user, but pays particular attention to non-technical users that may have difficulty using platforms designed for data analysts.
"Our best users sometimes don't realize they're using business intelligence," said Kathleen Moran, Information Builder’s global director of Public Relations. "They rely on data for informed, real-time decision making, but their requirements are much different from analysts. As such, solutions for them must be flexible and easy to use -- more like an app than like Excel or other tools -- allowing operational employees, external customers, partners and suppliers to access, understand, and manipulate data."
Information Builders has an integration line of business that provides integration with hundreds of information systems including structured, unstructured and semi-structured (e.g., XML or EDI documents with textual elements) files; social media streams; ERP, CRM, and other packaged applications; legacy systems, such as hierarchical and network databases; and specialized analytical databases, such as columnar and multi-dimensional data. Its Active Technologies capabilities consist of an HTML5-based bundle that includes data, user interface and an analytical engine, all in the same file.
WebFOCUS is generally priced based on the servers the software runs on, so customers usually pay more only when the number of concurrent users they have outstrips the power of the server on which they're running.
MicroStrategy released its first business intelligence product in 1991, a graphical presentation and analysis system for executives. It has built its platform from the ground up, spending about $100 million a year on R&D, rather than acquiring other firms and integrating their software.
The company focuses on enterprise BI running on large data warehouses, but also accesses data from databases, flat files, text and other enterprise sources. It offers solutions for key verticals (media, financial services, healthcare, retail, hospitality, education) and functions (finance, supply chain, sales, HR, website analytics).
In 2010 MicroStrategy started offering mobile on the iPad and iPhone and followed it up with two cloud offerings. MicroStrategy Cloud, released in 2011, is an enterprise version in which the data and analytics software are hosted and results are provided to portals, enterprise or departmental analytic apps or to mobile apps. In October 2012 the company released MicroStrategy Cloud Express, which is a monthly subscription model, priced per user, with a capacity-based annual contract. With Express, data volume is limited to 1 GB per user. Data is unlimited with the enterprise version.
According to IDC, SAS holds a 12.7 percent share of the business analytics market, 9 percent of overall BI, and 35.2 percent of advanced analytics. Two key products that help it achieve this are the SAS Enterprise BI Server and SAS Visual Analytics. Both support a wide array of data sources, including databases, spreadsheets and Big Data.
SAS Enterprise BI Server (EBI) integrates SAS Analytics and SAS Data Management. It includes role-based, self-service interfaces for all types of users within an IT governance framework and a centralized point of administration. Recent enhancements include report delivery through mobile devices. Price is determined based on the server group classification, on an annual fee basis, and it includes technical support.
"SAS EBI provides easy-to-use interfaces covering a broad range of user bases that are tailored to different types of personas, such as power users, analysts, information builders and decision makers," said SAS Principal Solutions Architect Renato Luppi.
SAS Visual Analytics leverages SAS’s in-memory analytic engine, the SAS LASR Analytic Server, which is said to provide easy access to analytics, both descriptive and predictive, and also to conduct ad-hoc data analysis, visually explore data, develop reports, dashboards and KPIs then share insights through the Web and mobile tablets. It's scalable and can be used to analyze any size of data, including Big Data.
Its SAS Visual Analytics supports data discovery and exploration for users across the organization. Recent enhancements were made on the analytics capabilities, with the addition of decision trees and scenario analysis. It currently runs on Linux servers, with the next version also supporting 64-bit Windows. Price is determined based on the number of total cores in the cluster, on an annual fee basis, and it includes technical support.
IBM made two major analytics acquisitions in recent years: Cognos and SPSS, both of which have been in business since the 1960s. Both are now part of the IBM Software Group's Business Analytics Portfolio. The IBM Cognos 10.x suite includes versions ranging from a free version for visualizing spreadsheets on a desktop, Cognos Insight Personal Edition, at the entry-level end of the scale, up through an Enterprise edition which runs on AIX, HP Itanium, HP-UX, Linux, Solaris or Windows and analyzes databases, spreadsheets, unstructured data and Big Data.
For workgroups and midsized companies, IBM released Cognos Express which consists of four modules: Reporter, Advisor (analysis and visualization), Xcelerator (Microsoft Excel analysis) and Planner (planning, budgeting and forecasting). The modules can be purchased separately or as a complete suite.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).