Events and Trends: A Conversation About 2007 and 2008

Acquisitions of pure-play BI vendors was the big story, but the meaning will play out in 2008. How will the smaller vendors find a place in the new ecosystem?

You and I are at this cocktail party. I run into you every year at these business intelligence parties and we talk about events and trends.

"Come on," I say. "Let's go out on the balcony. It's a little chilly out there, but you get a great view."

Even out here, we can't get away from one thing: this year's death of the pure-play BI market. IBM taking over Cognos was the last nail. Yes, all this was predictable. As industries mature, they consolidate.

The people I've talked to say this is actually a great moment for BI. For example, Claudia Imhoff (Mastering Data Warehouse Design: Relational and Dimensional Techniques; 2003, Wiley, and other books), Tony Politano (Chief Performance Officer: Measuring What Matters, Managing What Can Be Measured, 2003, iUniverse), and Mark Albala (vice president at CS Solutions, New Jersey) say it's a great time for BI.

The glitter has come off and BI is part of a bigger data ecosystem. It's part of a portfolio. That points to an opportunity for new, smaller vendors. It's also wise to keep in mind that consolidation often comes with debt. You can bet that the proud new owners of the acquired business intelligence companies will flirt with temptation: strong-arming old BI customers, telling them to either fall in line and adopt only that vendor's products or pay a lot more for what they use already. If I were in those customers' shoes, I'd take a good look at new, smaller vendors.

At the same time, as part of a bigger architectural remodeling, data quality has recently become more important to people. Albala says it's as if they're saying, "If I'm going to serve this stuff up, I might as well use clean data."

We have bigger and smaller vendors emerging at the same time. Imhoff says that clearing the big trees out of the way should make room for the small trees. You see, it's already happening when you take a look at the TDWI exhibit floor. More than half of all exhibitors at each show are new.

Will they survive? Good question. Imhoff is optimistic, but Politano sounds pessimistic. He says he doesn't see the new, small vendors doing anything the big ones won't replicate.

I think they'll survive by innovating the way the big ones can't or won't. The little ones show the way. That's another law of nature, at least of technology.

First in line this year is visualization -- what Zach Gemignani at Juice Analytics likes to call spanning the "last mile." It's about taking all that nice, clean data that comes out of master data management and making sense of it. Visually. When users can read their data quickly and intuitively, that data has more value.

Just last month, for the first time ever, a BI leader gave a keynote at a visualization conference. Stephen Few, the dashboard critic, (Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data; 2006, O'Reilly) had just spent a day watching interesting work by grad students. Such potential! He urged them to think about practical applications for business data as they design new projects.

At that conference, they also showed new sites that are popularizing data visualization. IBM's Many Eyes in particular is improving public perception. Anyone can upload data and see patterns and trends. Many Eyes, Swivel, Data360, and others also demonstrate the value of collaborating with open data.

I'm just a shrub in this business, but I think many of the big trees are overlooking this trend. It looks to me like visualization is going to be a much bigger deal than they think. Everybody uses visualization all the time. We look down there at the street to see less traffic and we know it's getting late. We see that string of red lights on the awning and know it's the holiday season. Everywhere we look, we recognize patterns, even up there at those three stars. We see Orion's belt. So why can't BI vendors make better use of that natural tendency? Providing users with the right tools to make sense of data is the obvious thing to do.

Visualization will gain a lot of momentum next year.

"Hey," I remark. "It's chilly out here. Let's go back inside and see who's merging with whom."

About the Author

Ted Cuzzillo, CBIP, is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco area. He can be reached at

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