Upstarts Shine at TDWI's San Diego World Conference

There's a lot of excitement in the BI space in spite of all of the megavendor consolidation. We examine three new offerings.

One of the great things about business intelligence (BI) is that it's full of surprises. Chock full of surprises, as a matter of fact -- as TDWI's recent World Conference in San Diego ably demonstrated.

After almost a decade of consolidation, the BI space has coalesced around a few heavyweight vendors. The latest market research from International Data Corp. (IDC) claims that megavendors IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG control about 80 percent of the BI market. However, there are plenty of players battling over the remaining 20 percent.

Some of these are stalwarts -- Information Builders Inc. (IBI), Microstrategy Inc., or SAS Institute Inc. --, but a good many are upstart challengers, and several were on hand in San Diego.

An Agile Complement to Traditional Analysis

The seeming maturity of Quiterian's product, DDWeb, can be chalked up to its lengthy gestation period in the EU; Quiterian, a Barcelona-based BI ISV, turned eight this year. TDWI's World Conference was selected as one of two venues for the product's introduction to the North American market. Alberto Saavedra, vice president of U.S. sales at Quiterian, describes DDWeb as an agile data mining tool. DDWeb is meant to complement the established data warehousing and analytic practices that exist in most organizations today, Saavedra says.

"Every [customer] that we go to already has some form of BI in place. They bring in all of the data to the data warehouse and then they deliver useful information for the front-end and so forth. All of that is fine ... and we're not going to replace that for large companies, but it has a certain development cycle, and it has inherent problems," he explains.

"We bring the data into our proprietary repository. Once it's there, ... non-technical users can get most of what they need without having to go to IT. They can analyze their data, they can do their own data mining, they can do their own dashboards, they can try different things, they can test their ideas about customer behaviors, about supplier behaviors."

DDWeb isn't going to replace traditional analytic technologies, Saavedra concedes; at the same time, he counters, traditional analytic tools tend to fall short of what DDWeb is designed to deliver. "If you're going to deliver dashboards to hundreds of people and you want them to have interactivity and you want the data to be the single version of the truth in your data warehouse, then fine, use traditional BI," he points out.

"If you want to test ideas with incomplete data or with less-than-perfect data to see if it makes sense to do something down the line using traditional BI, this is what to do."

Analytics for the Rest of Us

Metric Insights' flagship product, Instant Insight, is an analytics-for-the-rest-of-us kind of tool.

"It's intended for lightweight consumption of analytics. We're targeting a specific niche. There [are many] companies that do a very good job at the deep analytics, [but these are] tools analysts would normally use: Tableau, MicroStrategy, QlikView. A lot of those would not be great for mass adoption of information," says Marius Moscovici, founder of Metric Insights.

Instant Insight presents the fruit of deep analysis exposed via a Web-based dashboard interface.

The idea, Moscovici explains, is to give rank-and-file users at-a-glance access to the metrics or indicators that most impact their work. Analytics -- i.e., visualizations (be they charts, reports, or more sophisticated visual representations) -- are searchable, says Moscovici, and also support drill-down, of a sort. "You have the ability to slice and dice actual visualizations themselves in a way that you usually associate with slicing and dicing data," he explains. "We use predefined drill paths. The idea here is that whoever built the analytics packages in the first place knows how [drill down] should be done."

In terms of provenance, if not functional scope, Instant Insight is reminiscent of another disruptive upstart offering -- Lyza from LyzaSoft. Like LyzaSoft principal Scott Davis, Metric Insights founder Moscovici built his product from scratch.

Like Lyza, Instant Insight incubated -- it was in effect field-tested -- in the consulting trenches. Somewhat after the fashion of the seminal Lyza, Instant Insight incorporates social concepts and methods, such as tagging and annotations. Lyza is considerably more socially-aware, but Moscovici says he plans to build more sociality into Instant Insight as his product evolves.

At launch, he explains, the goal was to offer a quick-to-deploy alternative to traditional monolithic analytic tools: "We wanted to make this a very light-metadata, fast-deployment kind of tool. Rather than taking more of the classic approach that you'll see with a Microstrategy or a Business Objects where you have to define a metadata layer first and then build the reports or the analysis, here you build the reports first. The metadata is the reports and the metrics."

Here Comes the Search King

With 12 years in the business, faceted search specialist Endeca is by no means a newcomer to BI. It explicitly brands its flagship Endeca Latitude as a BI product. These days, however, it's probably best known as an e-commerce player, concedes director or product marketing John Joseph. "We're the search technology [that's] used by about half of the Top 100 e-commerce sites -- companies such as Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot," he explains. "So we've become known as the standard for search technologies in e-commerce."

Joseph and Endeca are determined to change that perception.

"You can look at [faceted search] as a unique case of a business intelligence problem, where a consumer actually has to analyze data, find some information, and ultimately make a decision based on what they see," he explains. "Within the last year and a half, we've had a big BI push, but even before that we started working with some early adopter organizations ... [such as] Raytheon, about solving business intelligence problems, taking our search technology, adding analytics to it, adding visualizations to it, and bringing it within the enterprise to help people find information and make what we call 'daily decisions.'"

What's a "daily decision?" Think of it as a business-critical question of the day.

"Say this question pops up -- for example, I get a report on something and it shows us that sales dropped, the key question is why? Why did that happen? As soon as you start digging down that path, it's question after question after question," he argues. Of course, not all users will need or want to ask the same kinds of questions. No problem, says Joseph. "With Latitude, you can develop analytic applications that are process-tuned, [so] they're tuned to a particular user, the questions they want to ask, the data they want to see, and so on."

Stay Tuned

In the coming months we'll be offering more info about these companies and others. We'll talk with users of software from Quiterian, Instant Insight, Endeca, and other vendors to get a sense for how they're using these technologies to augment, complement, or -- in some cases -- replace existing BI offerings.

It just goes to show: there's a lot of excitement in the BI space, in spite of all of the consolidation at the top.

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