BI’s Gang of Three

What do Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP have going for them, and where do they need to improve if they’re to tackle the best-of-breeds?

In the ever-changing business intelligence (BI) market segment, Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., and other BI pure-play vendors continue to set the pace—although larger (and less specialized) applications vendors, including Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG, are fast catching up.

That’s one upshot of a recent BI market report from market seer Gartner Inc., which flagged several other salient BI market trends—including a shift to process- and strategy-driven BI. But the big story, Gartner reiterates, is the growing threat posed by Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, which—along with other industry heavyweights (such as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc.)—are starting to focus more seriously on BI superpowerdom.

This is especially true for Oracle, which—thanks to its acquisitions of Siebel Systems Inc., Sunopsis Inc., and Hyperion Solutions Corp.—now has the stamp of a brawny BI competitor, wrote Gartner analysts Kurt Schlegel, Bill Hostmann, and Andreas Bitterer in a report earlier this year.

"Oracle’s applications have given the company a large, heterogeneous applications and infrastructure installed base. These customers need an integrated way to access, analyze and deliver information and insight from multiple business applications," the trio notes. "[T]he newly branded Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition from the Siebel acquisition—which Gartner previously rated as visionary [in its magic quadrant]—has given Oracle a new opportunity to create a compelling BI platform strategy and become a significant BI platform and applications vendor in 2007 and beyond."

While Oracle continues to improve its BI capabilities by dint of acquisition, other competitors—such as Microsoft—employ a mixed approach.

In Microsoft’s case, the road to BI maturation has been slow but steady. As Redmond preps its inaugural PM product for release later this year, however, it finally seems ready to join the big leagues.

On the other hand, the Gartner trio notes, Microsoft’s BI stack still isn’t up to best-of-breed snuff. "[T]he capabilities and integration of its current BI platform offerings have improved significantly, but are still not as mature as those of the market leaders. Microsoft’s BI products will appeal to the large community of Microsoft application developers, and the pricing, packaging and integration with its Office … and SQL Server products will be attractive to organizations that have standardized on the Microsoft information infrastructure," Schlegel, Hostmann, and Bitterer write. "However, organizations that have heterogeneous applications, information infrastructure and development environments will find the Microsoft BI-related marketing and announcements to be interesting but potentially distracting, since they may not easily integrate with their existing investments in infrastructure and applications."

SAP, for its part, hardly spent 2007 lying down. Earlier this year, it purchased a strategy management vendor (the former Pilot Software), and—just last month—picked up Microsoft-oriented PM specialist OutlookSoft. SAP also further plighted its troth to Microsoft, expanding its joint collaboration with that company (otherwise known as Duet) to include SQL Server 2005, too.

Notwithstanding any of this, SAP would still be a major BI player. The company counts nearly 13,000 NetWeaver BI deployments, for one thing. On top of this, SAP has an organizational edge, too.

"The stability and consistency of SAP’s organization and product development plans contribute to its viability as a BI platform. SAP is also in a good position to make BI more pervasive by embedding analytical components within the NetWeaver business process platform," the Gartner triumvirate writes.

At this point, anyway, SAP is a mostly-SAP play. And that must limit its aspirations. "[A]lmost all SAP BI deployments happen in heavy SAP R/3 and mySAP application environments."

To be fair, NetWeaver is in most cases consuming non-SAP data, Schelgel, Hostmann, and Bitterer allow: "SAP can point to only a couple of large sites using NetWeaver BI without a dominant SAP application focus." Thus follows Gartner’s predictable prescription for BI superpowerdom: "To become a leader, SAP needs to demonstrate that it can succeed as a BI platform consistently in non-SAP application-centric environments."

About the Author

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