Much of Gartner's business intelligence (BI) research focuses on customer satisfaction and usability. Two of the biggest takeaways from several Gartner reports released over the past few months are the poor satisfaction rating mobile BI received in the face of its high popularity and the poor performance of big vendors compared to their smaller counterparts.
Users apparently are overly enamored with the latest display-type bells and whistles, while not paying enough attention to product integration. Is this a sign that BI purchasers fall into the same trap as many car buyers? That is, paying too much attention to cup holders and music systems and not enough to vehicle fundamentals?
Mobile BI Sucks
Gartner analyst Rita Sallam doesn’t go so far as to say that mobile business intelligence sucks, although she raises questions about its value to the enterprise based on Gartner's survey responses.
"Despite the amount of attention vendors are paying to mobile BI, it is still early in terms of customer adoption and had a relatively low score in terms of how its capabilities were meeting user needs," she said. "Users appear to be less satisfied with their mobile capabilities than the other 14 capabilities assessed in the survey."
Gartner looked at mobile BI based on its ability to provide devices with reports and other dashboard content. Its usage showed the highest growth among all business intelligence features considered, with 6.2 percent of respondents stating they make extensive use of mobile functionality.
Vendor ratings in this category also varied markedly, as would be expected. The analyst firm placed Logi Analytics in the lead on mobile BI (based on user survey results), followed by Targit, Panorama Necto, Bitam, Alteryx and Quiterian.
Among the larger vendors, MicroStrategy took the highest spot in sixth place, followed by Information Builders and SAP BusinessObjects BI. Scoring below the survey average on user satisfaction were (in descending order among the major vendors) IBM Cognos 10, Microsoft 2012 SQL Server, Oracle OBIEE, SAP Netweaver BW, SAS, IBM Cognos 8, SAP BusinessObjects 3.1 or earlier, and Microsoft 2008 SQL Server.
What this seems to show is that small independent vendors continue to lead the way on mobile business intelligence. However, mega-vendors and large independents are beginning to gain some ground. That said, they still have a good amount of ground to cover based on the number of them being graded below average.
Big BI's Dilemma: Integration's Invisible Value
Let’s compare the mobile BI winners to those graded highest by users against all 14 of the categories selected by Gartner for the survey. The top five in overall product capability were Panorama Necto, Birst, Bitam, LogiXML and Board.
"The customers of Panorama Necto, Bitam, Prognoz, Board, Salient and Alteryx rate them highly across product functionality, ease of use and in enabling an above-average percentage of users to conduct complexity of types of analysis," Sallam said. "Birst and Logi Analytics, on the other hand, are also rated highly across functions and ease of use, but are used primarily for less complex types of user analysis."
Notice again that not a single mega-vendor or large independent gained a top five place overall. Information Builders placed highest, followed by MicroStrategy and IBM Cognos 10. Those scoring below average (in descending order) were SQL Server 2012, SAS and BusinessObjects 4.0. All of the bottom six positions were held by various Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and IBM products.
So what’s going on here? The nimble little guys who tend to focus on specific parts of BI are considered to do a better job than those who have erected an all-encompassing business intelligence platform complete with a vast array of integration features. How could that be?
The big boys have spent decades assembling end-to-end business intelligence platforms that in many cases integrate with CRM, ERP and other enterprise applications. They have had to do this in the face of constantly evolving technology and frequent mergers and acquisitions. It would appear, then, that their best efforts to provide users with fully integrated tools are largely taken for granted by customers – at least, according to this Gartner survey.
"Integration isn’t regarded as an attractive element to users compared to features such as dashboards and mobility," Sallam said. "This emphasis and higher user satisfaction on information delivery and analysis capabilities, however, should not diminish the importance of strong integration components in any BI architecture. During the product evaluation phase, a balanced view of all BI capabilities is recommended."
The bottom line seems to be that users are rarely going to ever be happy with integration as a feature. It is essentially plumbing, and like the pipes in one’s own home, you really don’t care about them as long as it all works correctly. The only time this comes to your attention is when a sink clogs or a pipe bursts. Similarly, vendors that focus on integration can expect little thanks from their customer base.
Winning Points on Presentation
It’s an interesting exercise to compare the mobile and overall tables. Smaller independents such as Panorama Necto, LogiXML, Bitam, Birst and Prognoz (in roughly that order) placed in the top 10 on both metrics, which indicates they serve mobility needs while also taking care of the majority of factors that users care about in business intelligence.
Mega-vendors fared poorly overall in the rankings, although IBM Cognos 10 broke into the top 10 overall and almost recorded an average grade on mobility. Microsoft SQL Server 2012 failed to score above average in either category but still did better than SAP or Oracle. Clearly, users are telling the mega-vendors that they are not meeting all their needs.
What about the large independents? Information Builders narrowly beat MicroStrategy overall, while the latter leads in mobility. SAS, however, earned a below-average user rating on both counts. These companies, to some degree, may be being painted with the same brush as the mega-vendors in that they have been around for a long time, offer sophisticated end-to-end product suites and are racing to catch up with the latest Web technologies. But they are closer to achieving the popularity enjoyed by some of the little guys than SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.
Open source vendors Actuate, Jaspersoft and Pentaho all earned below average marks in the Gartner composite product rating. Only Pentaho received an above-average grade on mobility (but only just). They trail the large independents on both counts.
Sallam summarizes these scores by putting them in the context of deployment complexity. The acid test for the small independents comes when they are forced to deliver full BI capabilities within a large enterprise setting.
"Generally speaking, those vendors perceived as delivering the highest business benefits also have below-average and less complex deployment sizes," said Sallam. "In addition, they tend to concentrate on the latest information presentation and data discovery technologies, which are highly valued by users."
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).