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Cost, IT Support Top BI Obstacles For SMBs

Microsoft had the largest market share, followed by Business Objects, LogiXML, Cognos, and SAP, according to a LogiXML survey.

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Nearly half of non-technical users reported dissatisfaction with their company's business intelligence (BI) implementation in a recent survey conducted by LogiXML.

"It pointed to something we've seen, which is this widening gap between IT and business users with respect to their BI expectations," Ken Chow, LogiXML's chief marketing officer, said in an interview.

Overall satisfaction improves when technical personnel are included, but not dramatically: Close to 38% of all survey participants said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their BI tools. The "vast majority" of the survey's 575 respondents worked at small and midsized businesses (SMBs), according to Chow, who described the SMB segment as a "sweet spot" for the vendor.

Given that, the fact that more than 20% of firms said they weren't using any BI technology didn't come as a major surprise to Chow. Nor did their reasons: Cost (27%) and lack of IT staff (26%) were the top two roadblocks to a BI implementation, according to those companies. Chow said IT resource constraints can pose a particular problem with platforms that require significant development effort. "I think that's going to continue to be a major hurdle for the SMBs," Chow said. "That's one of the reasons that some of the desktop analytics companies have been able to gain traction, as well companies like us and other sort of niche vendors."

Aside from budget considerations, ease of use is key for any vendor hoping to gain a foothold with smaller companies, Chow said. It's also critical for improving satisfaction with current deployments, especially among non-technical users. Chow believes vendors have to do a lot of the heavy lifting on that front and bridge the gap between business users and IT. "We have to take part of [business users'] burden for IT, and we have to make it easier for them," Chow said. "One of the laments that we've heard a lot from IT is that the business users don't know what they want. And what we hear from the business users is that IT doesn't listen to us. The truth is somewhere in between."

The apparent gap between IT and business users is evident in another of the survey's stats: Not entirely unlike the consumerization of other workplace technologies, a significant percentage--32%--of respondents said it was common in their organization to buy and/or use BI tools without involving the IT department.

"Once business users reach a point where they're not getting what they want, they go out and buy it themselves," Chow said, noting that trend has been a growth factor for LogiXML. "A lot of IT folks don't know it's happening until someone comes along and says 'Could you hook this up to this database for me?'" Another 26% of firms polled said they weren't aware of it happening in their organization. Business users buying their own BI tools helped feed another finding: More than half (52%) of the companies included use between two and four different platforms.

Microsoft had the largest penetration among platforms in the survey, followed by Business Objects, LogiXML, Cognos, and SAP. MicroStrategy--which Chow said has "pretty much declared an all-out war to win the SMB"--ranked sixth. Chow said open source providers are gaining some traction with SMBs but still have a relatively small market share. Jaspersoft was tops among open source platforms followed by Pentaho, though each accounted for less three 3% in LogiXML's survey.

"Do nothing and use Excel" is also a formidable competitor for LogiXML and any other BI provider targeting smaller companies, Chow said. The ease-of-use refrain kicks in again: Getting over the initial implementation hump and subsequent learning curve is the challenge.

"I think it has to do with predicting and automating as much of that configuration as possible for the SMB," Chow said, adding that starting with reasonable goals--rather than expecting a BI neophyte to become a data modeling expert overnight, for example--is crucial. "If you can't get someone to immediately see and understand the value they're going to have working with it, in a very short period of time, they're going to abandon you very quickly."

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