Letters to the Editor: The BI Platform Wars are Not Over

A BI analyst and TDWI faculty member takes issue with a BI This Week article about the state of BI platforms.

To the editor:

TDWI’s BI This Week is one of the few publications I read each week. I trust it to highlight what’s important in the industry and to be objective, so I was dismayed to read an inaccurate article with clear vendor bias.

In the article, The BI Revolution: Business Intelligence’s Future), the author wrote, “The old BI platform wars are over and the winners have emerged. Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion grew faster and to greater mass than all the other BI platform companies combined.”

I’d like to address my concerns with author disclosures, incorrect facts, and a difference of opinion.

Author Disclosure

The article byline stated that Brian Gentile was the author. I recognized the name but did not immediately recall that he is the CEO of open source BI vendor Jaspersoft. As a reader, I had to scroll another four pages to find that information. Certain people such as analysts and TDWI thought leaders routinely comment on industry trends in BI This Week. However, when it is a vendor, their views can be skewed by their strategy and position in the market. In an online world, TDWI must do a better job of communicating who has authored such articles lest it’s well-deserved and well-established credibility becomes questioned.

Clear BI Platform Winners?

Gentile says that three vendors grew “faster and to greater mass than all other BI platforms.” Assessing market leadership and growth is not an easy task, made more difficult over the years by vendor consolidation. Mega vendors do not have to split out their BI revenues and privately held vendors don’t have to report anything.

To assess growth, I rely on numbers reported in 10Ks, IDC market share reports, financials supplied by privately held vendors, and customer counts. With this information, the three vendors Gentile listed are neither correct nor complete.

Prior to being acquired by Oracle, Hyperion’s BI platform revenues were 7 percent in 2005 and 12 percent in 2006. Microsoft surpassed Hyperion’s revenues and growth back in 2004, with a growth of 25 percent. If we are just looking at “growing faster,” then it’s important to note that Siebel Analytics grew 31 percent in 2004 and was acquired by Oracle in 2005. It is the Siebel Analytic product, not the Hyperion product line, that has become the basis for Oracle’s lead BI product (now branded Oracle BI Enterprise Edition) as well as its Analytic Applications. Oracle Hyperion Essbase continues to be Oracle’s leading OLAP engine, but the other Hyperion BI products play a less-strategic role.

If the author intended to state the BI platform vendors with the biggest revenues in today’s terms, it should be SAP BusinessObjects, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. Depending upon if one includes statistical analysis as part of the BI platform, SAS is ranked in the top 3 or top 5. If the focus is on who “grew faster,” then vendors such as QlikTech should also be added as their revenue growth has been in the 40 percent range.

Are the BI Platform Wars Over?

Whether the BI platform wars are over is a matter of opinion, and one in which I would say they clearly are not. To suggest that they are over would suggest that the likes of MicroStrategy, Information Builders, SAS, and QlikTech should pack it in; they lost the battle. Yet customers and vendors alike know that this battle is ongoing, with the lines increasingly blurred. Some vendors such as QlikTech, Tableau, and TIBCO Spotfire might even argue that you don’t need a full BI platform. Their products are certainly complementary to BI platforms, but in some cases and depending upon requirements, they can be used instead of a BI platform.

Vendors such as MicroStrategy and SAS will argue their products scale better and handle more sophisticated analytics. Information Builders would argue there has been too much focus on ad hoc, business query tools and not enough attention to interactive report consumption (hence they are first to market with those capabilities.)

Gentile is not the only person to suggest the BI platform battle is “over.” I have read far too many thought leaders describe BI as a commodity, a claim that misleads CIOs and makes the job of any BI director and analyst that much harder. When people suggest that BI is a commodity, it suggests that there is no difference in strategy or product capabilities and that customers should buy based on the lowest price. It makes perfect sense to me that an open source vendor would paint this picture of the market as their products have a lower acquisition cost, whether for a community edition or an enterprise edition.

However, as many BI analysts know, the products continue to be drastically different. These differences have become less apparent than they were a few years ago. At BI Scorecard, we compare products at a summary level based on the major BI platform modules and on 300+ details. In considering both these comparison levels, there is still a world of differences (see this blog entry).

Understanding functional differences before a purchase decision can help ensure customers select a product or platform that provides the best fit based on business and technical requirements. Customers who do this are more aware of limitations, can better plan workarounds and manage user expectations. Dissatisfaction and the number of tools deployed seem higher with customers who fail to understand requirements and capabilities.

As I am criticizing TDWI for not obviously disclosing the author’s possible bias, I’ll disclose here that much of my work in the industry centers on understanding differences among BI platforms. If there were no more differences, I could stop publishing the BI Scorecard, stop teaching several TDWI courses, and stop advising clients on standardization and management of BI tool portfolios.

Do I have a bias to say the wars are not over? I don’t, because there is still so much work to do in the industry for companies to leverage the full potential of BI. Once these wars are, indeed, over, I may simply refocus my BI time on helping clients get more value out of whatever BI tool they have deployed (the focus of my book, Successful Business Intelligence: Secrets to Making BI a Killer App).

I appreciate that Gentile contributes to BI This Week. It’s important for customers and industry thought leaders to know how vendors view the BI market. However, it’s important that TDWI more clearly disclose where the views are coming from and to separate opinion from fact.

Cindi Howson
Founder, BI Scorecard