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8/23/2007
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An Inside Look At The Second-Fastest Growing Company In Business Intelligence Software

Panorama Software has a "coopetition" relationship with Microsoft that's more complicated and deep-rooted than most.

In October 2005, Oudi Antebi was on a world tour with Bill Gates, demonstrating to audiences Microsoft's Business Scorecard Manager and other business intelligence tools.

Three months later he defected to the comparably tiny Panorama Software to lead a strategy that would propel it into the position of second fastest-growing vendor in the hot BI market. But Antebi's former employer has come back to haunt him, last year acquiring ProClarity, Panorama's most direct competitor.

Panorama's revenue grew 66.5% last year to $37.8 million in the market for business intelligence software, compared with an overall growth rate of 11.6% for the market, according to a recent IDC report. Since 2004, its revenue has nearly doubled, and in the first half of this year revenue for the privately held company is up 42% over 2006, Antebi says.

Panorama's growth in 2006 was exceeded only by QlikTech, profiled by InformationWeek last month as the fastest-growing BI company. Microsoft, meanwhile, also had a healthy year in BI, growing its business in that area by 28.1%.

Panorama has that thing with Microsoft that tech vendors love to call "coopetition," but its relationship with the company is more deep-rooted and complicated than most. In 1996, Israel-based Panorama sold the guts of its business to Microsoft: online analytical processing technology that became the BI platform of Microsoft SQL Server, now called SQL Server Analysis, plus a query language for accessing the platform called Multidimensional Expressions (MDX). Some, like Antebi, joined Microsoft, while others stayed and created a new business for Panorama: developing applications for SQL Server BI and MDX. Given the technological advantage Panorama had with MDX, it was restricted to direct sales in Israel for five years. Since the sale to Microsoft, MDX has become a leading language for multidimensional databases and one that many vendors support.

In 2003, after the direct-sales restriction expired, Panorama moved its headquarters to Toronto to tap into the U.S.'s growing appetite for BI. Two years later, Antebi was driving the marketing of Microsoft's Business Scorecard Manager 2005 when he got the call from Panorama CEO Eynav Azarya to come over and help launch a new direction for the company. Here was the deal: Panorama would focus on creating apps that would run on the BI layer of other major vendors beyond Microsoft, starting with SAP. Antebi says that strategy has earned the company double-digit revenue growth every year since crossing the Atlantic. "The key to our success has been this philosophy: If you can't beat them, join them," says Antebi, whose title at Panorama is VP of marketing and strategy. "The world of enterprise software is consolidating, and more and more companies want to bet on the big players. We said, instead of fighting them, let's join them. If you have the SAP religion, we're part of that religion."

Antebi points out that while many competitive BI vendors also offer reporting tools, scorecards, and dashboards that run on or integrate with business software and systems from the big vendors, those BI vendors often require customers to use their metadata layer, and require data to be extracted from business software applications and systems before front-end tools can be used to slice and dice that data.

On Monday, Panorama took another step beyond its ties to Microsoft: it announced it was diversifying its platform beyond Microsoft SQL Server Analysis and SAP NetWeaver BI to include additional MDX-supported platforms, including Oracle's Essbase and IBM. Panorama believes its familiarity with MDX will give it an edge over other vendors, Antebi says.

It's a wise move. Customers using Microsoft's SQL Server Analysis as an OLAP back end will now look first to ProClarity as an OLAP front end before considering Panorama, predicts Gartner in a report it published on the BI market earlier this year. Panorama's advantage, notes Gartner, is it has more big-customer references than ProClarity. But while it's a leading front end for both Microsoft and SAP BI, Panorama's biggest threat is those companies' efforts to improve their own front-end BI software.

Can Panorama keep up its rapid growth? That all depends on whether it can maintain its successful symbiotic relationship with Microsoft, SAP, and other large vendors, without being devoured by them in the process.

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