Business Intelligence Year In Review: Was 2005 World-Historical?

In a business-historical sense—more precisely, in a BI-historical sense—2005 was one for the history books.

In the world of business intelligence, 2005 was one for the history books. There were acquisitions a-go-go, blockbuster product introductions, and compelling (if not sometimes odd) partnerships. More than that, 2005 had all the trappings of the chess player’s middle game, that portion of a match in which competitors jockey for position, exchange pieces, and try to control as much of the board as possible in a prelude to the all-important end game.

Acquisitions A Go Go

Consider two of last year’s biggest acquisitions—namely, IBM Corp.’s $1.1 billion purchase of the former Ascential Software Corp. and Oracle Corp.’s not-entirely-unexpected acquisition of CRM pioneer Siebel Systems Inc.

Even if the acquisitions of Ascential and Siebel weren’t explicitly (or solely) concerned with BI, they nevertheless had important BI-related ramifications. IBM’s Ascential gambit, for example, simultaneously sidelined one of the largest ETL pure plays and cemented Big Blue’s status as a force to be reckoned with in the data integration space. (

Nevertheless, IBM continues to position its Ascential assets as part of a much broader information integration stack. With its WebSphere-branded integration portfolio (which includes ETL, EII, and EAI technologies, along with Web services connectivity) Big Blue is clearly looking beyond BI—perhaps in the direction of SAP AG and Oracle Corp., both of which have announced ambitious middleware integration efforts of their own.

As for Oracle: on top of the multi-billion acquisition of PeopleSoft Inc. (another peripheral BI player) and in-memory database specialist TimesTen, Siebel’s analytic technology has the potential to make Oracle a bona-fide behemoth in the customer analytics space. (

With the acquisitions of the former Retek and ProfitLogic, also last year, Oracle beefed up its retail analytic chops, too. With this in mind, Business Objects SA, Hyperion Solutions Corp., and other BI players have almost certainly been watching Oracle’s moves with especial wariness. But it’s not clear that the database giant’s end game has anything to do with them. Oracle, too, has set its sights squarely on SAP.

The BI pure-plays had a busy time of it acquisition-wise last year, too. Business Objects, Cognos Inc., Hyperion, and NCR Corp. subsidiary Teradata, among others, all notched key acquisitions. This summer, Business Objects picked up BPM player SRC Software and (in October) data visualization player Infommersion. (

Before that, however, Cognos nabbed financial performance management specialist Optima Analytical Solutions and Hyperion acquired master data management specialist Razza, both in Q1 of 2005. ( To close out the year, Teradata picked up BPM vendor Decision Point Software.

These acquisitions had one overlapping theme—performance management. To the extent that bread-and-butter BI technologies like reporting, OLAP, and ETL have become (or are fast becoming) commoditized, BI pure plays have embraced performance management as a way to differentiate themselves, add value, and—of course—generate new revenues.

Ecce Platformo

History books will likely show 2005 as a seminal year in the evolution of the all-in-one BI suite. This marked a departure of sorts from the best-of-breed philosophy that had long been the rule, where vendors typically emphasized the strengths of their individual tools, as opposed to the breadth of their platform coverage. In any event, with the appearance of no less than four “platform” suites last year, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way: instead of best-of-breed, the tier-one BI players are now emphasizing all-in-one convenience, with (as an added bonus) service-oriented underpinnings, to boot.

And while the jury’s still out on which suites deliver on the promise of all-in-one-breadth, 2005 at least helped to set the stage for what’s to come.

In January, for example, Business Objects kicked things off with its long-awaited XI platform release. ( XI bridged the gap between Business Objects’ own BI offerings and the products of the former Crystal Decisions Inc. It was a pivotal release from the perspective of long-time BO and Crystal users alike, many of whom gave XI enthusiastic thumbs up. (

The XI launch set the tone for 2005. In February, MicroStrategy Inc. announced MicroStrategy 8, its first major platform release in nearly three years. ( MicroStrategy pitched version 8 as a one-stop shop for an organization’s reporting, analysis, and data-mining capabilities. Like previous MicroStrategy offerings, version 8 also supported the company’s bread-and-butter ROLAP technology. And, like Business Objects XI, MicroStrategy 8 boasted new service-oriented underpinnings. It, too, was eagerly received by long-time users. (

To close out the year, Cognos and Hyperion announced major new releases of their own BI suites. Cognos struck first, in September, with Series 8, a significantly revamped version of its flagship BI suite, based—more or less—on the same (service-oriented) architecture that debuted with its ReportNet tool in late 2003. At the launch event, officials explicitly pitched Cognos 8 on the basis of its all-in-one integration.

“It’s the first solution to leverage the full range of BI capabilities in one product....[W]hen you think about what’s traditionally available on the market today, they’re bringing together a series of products that are loosely coupled together in a suite solution. This is one product, one architecture,” said Cognos senior manager for product marketing Michael Smith. ( There was a catch, of course: Cognos 8 didn’t actually become generally available until November. Missing-in-action or no, the revamped suite was a hit with beta testers, who generally gave it high marks. (

A few weeks later, Hyperion introduced its own next-gen BI suite. Like competitive offerings, Hyperion 9 promised to be (almost) all things to (almost) all people. And, like most competitive offerings, Hyperion 9 boasted service-oriented underpinnings.

At the same time, however, Hyperion officials had little to say about the role of the company’s flagship Essbase OLAP engine in the new release, preferring instead to talk up the combination of BI and business performance management (BPM) that—CTO John Kopcke insisted—was Hyperion 9’s strongest selling point. Notwithstanding the Essbase obliqueness, Hyperion users gave the new release—which was generally available at the time of its launch—a thumb’s up, too. (

Creeping Commoditization

Even as the big BI players embraced performance management and all-in-one suite-dom, commodity players such as Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. announced ever more aggressive BI strategies of their own.

Microsoft’s long-awaited SQL Server 2005—which will almost certainly be remembered as last year’s most important product release—is a veritable BI factory, complete with revamped ETL (SQL Server 2005 Integration Services), OLAP and data mining (Analysis Services), and reporting (Reporting Services) capabilities—along with native support for XML. ( Integration Services, for example, replaces the former Data Transformation Services (DTS) and is, according to Microsoft, a bona-fide enterprise ETL tool. Analysis Services ships with new and improved data mining algorithms, while Reporting Services got refreshed with an end-user report authoring tool, based on technology Microsoft acquired from the former ActiveViews.

And if a random sample of SQL Server pros is any indication, SQL Server shops are anxious to get SQL 2005 into production—precisely to exploit its enhanced BI capabilities. (

Elsewhere on the commodity BI front, Oracle’s long-awaited Oracle Warehouse Builder (OWB) 10 product, code-named “Paris,” was MIA last year—but that didn’t keep the database giant from trumpeting a raft of soon-and-inevitably-to-be-available OWB 10 improvements, including improved connectivity into non-Oracle data sources, drag-and-drop ETL design, and integrated data profiling. Officials position the next-gen OWB as a complement to 10g’s existing OLAP capabilities, along with Oracle’s own Daily Business Intelligence solution.

Competitors try to dismiss the Microsoft and Oracle homegrown BI offerings as not ready for prime time, or as too platform-centric for enterprise use, but there’s a real sense in which commodity BI has impacted, and will almost certainly continue to impact, the marketplace. In just five years, for example, SQL Server’s integrated Analysis Services component has displaced Hyperion’s Essbase for the OLAP engine market share crown—and the software giant is similarly optimistic about its improved SQL Server 2005 reporting and ETL capabilities.

Best of the Rest

Also in 2005, Information Builders Inc. (IBI) delivered the long-awaited version 7 release of its WebFOCUS enterprise reporting solution. Officials say the revamped WebFOCUS delivers improved connectivity (courtesy of IBI’s iWay data integration subsidiary), ease of use, and scalability features, along with WebFOCUS’ trademark user self-service capabilities. (

Microsoft was busy on other, non-SQL Server-related fronts, too. The company announced an initiative with SAP, code-named Mendocino, to tightly couple its Office productivity suite with SAP’s enterprise applications. By the looks of it, Mendocino isn’t just a pipedream, either: the two partners staged a technology preview in late December, with availability scheduled for sometime this summer. Elsewhere, Microsoft announced its first-ever BPM product, Business Scorecard Manager (BSM) and disclosed an integral role for its SharePoint collaborative technologies in its BI desktop of the future. (

Open source BI continued to make inroads, too, thanks in part to the successful debut of the Business Intelligence Reporting Tool (BIRT) for Eclipse, which was co-sponsored by reporting specialist Actuate Corp. BIRT 1.0 went gold in June. ( Elsewhere on the open source BI beat, Business Objects last April announced a partnership with MySQL AB to embed the latter’s open source database into versions of its BusinessObjects XI for Linux and UNIX. Business Objects and MySQL expanded that agreement in December. ( And last summer, IBM announced new Linux-powered data warehousing bundles, based on its pSeries RISC servers and DB2 Universal Database. (

It’s been a historically busy year!

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.