Business Intelligence Buyer's Guide for Enterprises

by Drew Robb

The enterprise BI market may be dominated by the likes of SAP, Oracle and IBM, but smaller names like Information Builders also have much to offer.

Which business intelligence (BI) product is right for you?

Info-Tech Research analyst Gareth Doherty cautions users that the BI field has so many tools and sub-categories that evaluation can be confusing.

This buyer's guide to enterprise business intelligence, therefore, takes a rather narrow view of the market for the sake of simplicity. It focuses on the big six (SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAS and MicroStrategy), which per Gartner, account for 72 percent of the market. Information Builders is also included, as Forrester named it along with the other six as leaders in a recent Magic Quadrant.

"Choosing a BI suite involves a long-term commitment to a product and vendor that could result in an expensive divorce if the relationship sours," said Doherty. "BI tool selection requires understanding all facets of your information architecture and business processes in order to choose a tool that is genuinely compatible with your needs."

Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester, recommends sticking to the tried and true evaluation steps:

  • Define factors such as geographic scope, technology needs, and the type of third-party support you need (consulting, implementation, hosting/outsourcing);
  • Send an RFI/RFP to potential candidates and check reference customers;
  • Subject the best couple of candidates to product evaluation before making a final decision.

"BI projects are never short, and, alas, many of them don't end, since a fast-paced business environment often introduces new requirements, enhancements and updates before you're even done with your first implementation," said Evelson. "Therefore, we typically recommend doing sufficient due diligence upfront when selecting a BI services provider, as you may be stuck with them for a long time."

Without further ado, here are some of the major candidates. But don't limit your search to these seven vendors; see our small business and midmarket business intelligence buying guides too.

IBM Cognos

IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence provides a broad view of system activity and the ability to streamline environment changes. Harriet Fryman, business unit executive at IBM Business Analytics, lists the benefits as:

  • Delivers information that the business understands, owns and trusts. Based upon a common business model, IBM Cognos 8 BI provides users with a consistent view of information.
  • Increases the reach of business intelligence by attracting more business users and engaging them with an interactive experience.
  • Improves alignment between strategy and operations with visibility from business operations and enterprise applications, to advanced analytics and strategic plans.

IBM Cognos 8 remains much better integrated than competing offerings, with shared metadata across the platform, enabling ease of transfer from report to query to analysis, said Rita Sallam, an analyst at Gartner. "However, customers reported a much diminished customer experience than in 2008, with support rated amongst the lowest in the Magic Quadrant," she added.

SAP Business Intelligence

SAP has a couple of BI products: Business Objects and NetWeaver. When SAP acquired Business Objects in 2008, Business Objects didn't possess a data warehouse product, so its compatibility with NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) has been leveraged to create a broader offering. So which one is king?

"Our principal BI product is SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Suite, which includes Crystal Reports, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, SAP BusinessObjects Voyager and SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius Enterprise," said Jason Rose, senior director for BI solution marketing at SAP BusinessObjects. "Through these solutions, our customers are able to access, navigate, analyze and share information across the enterprise via reporting, interactive analysis, dashboards and visualization tools, data exploration and information infrastructure. While we cannot discuss pricing, I will say that we [are] competitive in our market and work with each customer to meet their needs."

SAP records some of the largest deployments in terms of data volumes and end users, according to Gartner. Its vast global reach amounts to 46,000 customers in all corners of the world. However, support grades having been declining for three years in a row.


Oracle Business Intelligence

Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g delivers a range of analytic and reporting capabilities. It unifies Relational OLAP (R-OLAP), Multidimensional OLAP (M-OLAP) and enterprise reporting on a common technology foundation. Users can access and navigate hierarchical data stored in Oracle Essbase and popular relational data sources from a common interface. Other new features include better reporting, and Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management to track metrics and key performance indicators.

"Oracle's newest BI release is massive, spans multiple product categories, and raises the bar for competitors in dramatic fashion," said Merv Adrian, analyst at IT Market Strategies.

Gartner notes that Oracle offers the widest range of BI capabilities, but gave it low marks on innovation.

Microsoft Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is part of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM package and has just been enhanced in the beta version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. New business intelligence capabilities include an end-user reporting wizard, advanced report scheduling and cross-entity views of system data.

Gartner gives the company kudos for developing a mature BI product relatively rapidly and investing heavily in it. Coupled with its low pricing model, this tool is now firmly placed among the top BI vendors. Weak points, according to Gartner, include ad hoc analysis and the lack of a unified metadata layer.

MicroStrategy Mobile BI

MicroStrategy 9 has been designed to make BI faster, easier, and more user-friendly. Enhancements were aimed at higher performance, faster deployments, better dashboards and easier administration.

This has been added to recently by Microstrategy Mobile. It enables companies to extend graphs, grids, enterprise reports and information dashboards to Apple's iPhone and iPad. It takes advantage of the native capabilities of the iPhone and iPad to deliver BI to users. Features include integrated Google maps, Apple multi-touch gestures (such as swipe, tap, flick and rotate), BI-specific gestures for data exploration, App Integration, sensor-based query and mobile information capture.

"Mobile BI applications can be deployed within several days," said Wendy Cover of MicroStrategy. "We believe the Mobile Internet will dwarf all previous Information Technology waves with its sheer number of users and convenience, and that mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad will become the de facto way that companies access business information."

Gartner notes that the platform has a steep learning curve but that it has a high rate of customer satisfaction.

SAS Leads in Analytics...For Now

SAS Enterprise BI Server has features such as Microsoft Outlook integration, BI Search, Mobile BI, grid computing, visualization, dashboards, portal, integrated analytics and more.

Gartner said SAS focuses on advanced functions such as forecasting, predictive modeling and optimization, which are then embedded into cross-functional and industry-specific analytical applications. This makes it the king of the analytics and data mining sectors. It has developed strong relationships with the likes of Teradata, Netezza, IBM, HP and Greenplum/EMC to add sophisticated analytics to these data warehousing platforms.

But IBM is gunning for its territory. IBM's acquisition of SPSS means it has a product in its arsenal that can potentially unseat SAS as the top predictive analytics vendor — SAS can't compete with the sheer marketing might of IBM. Additionally, Gartner said SAS lacks the breadth of other products.

Information Builders

Information Builders' flagship WebFOCUS Business Intelligence product delivers dashboards, portable analytics and ad hoc reporting, as well as performance management, advanced analytics and integration with Excel, Adobe PDF and other desktop tools.

"Information Builders specializes in building highly parameterized enterprise reporting for report consumers," said Sallam.

On the downside, Gartner feels WebFocus lacks strong OLAP capabilities and lacks the brand awareness of the big five.


  This article was originally published on Tuesday Oct 12th 2010
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