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BI: Standardize Vs. Diversify

Our research says enterprises aim for fewer BI tools.

Among the more than 500 business technology professionals who completed our InformationWeek Analytics/Intelligent Enterprise 2009 Business Intelligence Survey in July, 47% reported that they'd standardized on one or a few BI tools deployed company-wide. In 2007, only 33% of the 500 IT pros we surveyed said they'd deployed BI tools to that degree.

The trend toward BI tool consolidation and standardization isn't just marketing fabrication. If you're anything like George Neill, director of IT at Organic Valley, a nationwide dairy co-op with 500 employees and about $500 million in sales, chances are you want to simplify purchasing and get the most out of every dollar spent.

"When you're a smaller organization, it just doesn't make sense to have a lot of tools with similar functionality," Neill says.

Given this penchant for consolidation, the BI megavendors--SAP Business Objects, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft--would have you believe they're well positioned for this. Logic and our research suggest they're right, to an extent. Powerhouse technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint and the Oracle database were pervasively deployed across many enterprises even before the great BI consolidation of 2007--the year Oracle bought Hyperion, SAP acquired Business Objects, and IBM picked up Cognos.

Acquisitions have promoted further consolidation. But that's not to say that all businesses are settling for just one vendor or toolset. In fact, technology diversity rules in large and some midsize companies; in our survey, we qualified our question, asking if firms have standardized on "one or a few tools."

The top trend from this survey is that businesses are setting BI standards--even if that means using two or three products. With multiple tools, each generally provides different aspects or styles of analysis and reporting. For example, until recently, specialist vendors provided advanced analytics tools, such as statistical analysis and modeling suites; the leading BI suites, meanwhile, were dedicated to query, analysis, and reporting capabilities. That's not changing, and existing deployments still tend to reflect that divide.

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Another key trend revealed in our survey is that businesses are forging new BI agendas. Yes, the longstanding challenges of accessing data and developing reports are still there, as is the push to share BI more broadly across the enterprise. But there's growing interest behind advanced capabilities such as analytics, embedded BI, and search-style querying.

New business requirements and new vendor capabilities make it unlikely an organization will settle on a single BI vendor. But consolidating around two or three vendors can help meet requirements and get the resource- and time-savings of standardization.

chart: How Does Your Company Deploy BI Tools?

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