Intelligent Enterprise 2008 Editors' Choice Awards - InformationWeek

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Intelligent Enterprise 2008 Editors' Choice Awards

Intelligent Enterprise unveils its take on 'The Dozen' most influential vendors that will drive the intelligent enterprise in 2008. Plus, we highlight 36 'Companies to Watch' in five categories.

THE DOZEN

Editors Choice Awards 2008 Editors' Choice Awards 2008

The 12 companies that will matter the most to the intelligent enterprise in 2008.

ADOBE. Computing expectations from employees, partners and customers are rising in lockstep with those of consumers. That's why rich, dynamic Web 2.0-style interfaces are making their way into the enterprise. It's not just a matter of visual sizzle (although that helps when it comes to intuitive navigation and data visualization); Rich Internet applications (RIA) have to handle big data sets, work offline and seamlessly resynchronize with backend infrastructure.

Adobe is the key company to watch in the race toward mastery of RIA/Web 2.0 development. Having acquired Macromedia and assimilated its technologies, Adobe has a strongly positioned client (Flash) on millions of computers, a corps of evolving development tools (Flex, AIR, ColdFusion) and an apparent willingness to embrace open-source approaches. It can also bring to bear widely accepted creative tools and the de facto standard in bridging Web- and paper-based interaction (PDF). It's a distinct and compelling alternative between Microsoft and the Java camp.

GOOGLE. It casts a giant shadow far out of proportion to its actual footprint in the enterprise arena. For example, Google has singlehandedly reshaped the enterprise search market — and the expectations of search performance — yet its enterprise-oriented search appliances represent a tiny fraction of the company's overall revenue. It gives away Google (Web) Analytics as a sideshow alongside its ad delivery business. It was among the pioneers of Ajax in delivering Google Earth, and the dynamic interfaces and mashups of RIA are now trickling down into the corporate world. Google's foray into Web-based productivity tools has yielded Google Gears, which will help enterprise-oriented software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors everywhere solve the problem of working with on-demand software offline. In its latest grand initiative, Google's Android platform is shaking up the consumer mobile phone industry, and it may well lower the cost of smartphones and lead to more robust mobile app development environments for business.

Perhaps Google's biggest impact on the enterprise is its day-to-day worldwide impact on hundreds of millions of computer users, defining expectations for simplicity and performance — and making an indelible mark on enterprise IT.

IBM. Going into 2007, Big Blue had the broadest and deepest portfolio available in information management. The one thing it lacked was a front-end business intelligence (BI) platform. With the acquisition of Cognos, set to close Q1 2008, IBM will have complete coverage across the entire enterprise infrastructure stack. What's more, it gains an enviable collection of performance management applications that will deepen its relationships with CFOs (many of whom now oversee the CIO).

Blend the Cognos portfolio with IBM's data integration, data quality, data warehouse, content management, text mining and other offerings, and there's no more extensive information management portfolio available, period. Does all that technology hang together? With so many acquisitions in recent years, bits and pieces inevitably require sorting out. The (still relatively new) Information Server line is a start on the technology side, while the overarching On Demand strategy keeps the goal focused on giving business people ready access to all decision-relevant information without having to worry about where it resides or, for that matter, how raw data or unstructured text is turned into insight.

Finally, there's IBM's worldwide services depth and industry-specific consulting, a clincher for many large firms that are more concerned about global support than the latest products and technologies.

INFORMATICA. Pure-play vendors always seem to claim independence as a chief virtue and magnet for heterogeneous enterprises. Informatica makes this claim, too, but then, the company has seen nothing but growing demand in the wake of industry consolidation that left this vendor standing as the largest independent data integration alternative.

Informatica's appeal is not just in its size and stature; it's one of the few vendors offering a combined platform for data integration and data quality. On the integration side, PowerCenter has led the move toward real-time integration (while still supporting batch-oriented approaches). The recent 8.5 upgrades of PowerCenter and PowerExchange extend the real-time edge to changed-data-capture and fault-tolerant messaging for high-volume data exchange.

On the data quality side, Informatica Data Quality delivers the key elements of profiling, standardization, matching and cleansing, and the latest upgrade addresses the demands for faster, more reliable data migration, data lineage and exception handling with an intuitive, Web-based Data Quality Assistant. A natural next move for Informatica would be to build or acquire its way into master data management leadership.

MICROSOFT. It took Microsoft only a few short years to bring content management and collaboration capabilities to more users than all the pure-play enterprise content management vendors combined. So in 2008, no one should be shocked to see small and midsize companies adopting Microsoft BI in droves, with the combination of Office and SharePoint providing pervasive low-cost access to intelligence. An upgrade of SQL Server planned for 2008 will bolster the underlying infrastructure. Microsoft has yet to prove itself in the performance management arena, but there's no doubt that PerformancePoint will establish a beachhead this year.

Of course, Microsoft is pushing ahead on many enterprise fronts — portal and collaboration deployments with SharePoint, integration with BizTalk, applications with Dynamics, RIA development with Silverlight and so on. Following its usual practice, Microsoft will persistently chip away at gaps and weaknesses on all these fronts while steadily moving upstream into larger enterprises.

NETEZZA. In the face of ballooning data volumes and incessant demands to make use of the information, Netezza has sparked the growing popularity of the data warehouse appliance. As conventional databases scratch for scalability with aids like partitioning and grid architectures, appliances offer a cheap pressure-relief valve, shouldering data-mart and niche-application demands and delaying upgrades of the enterprise data warehouse (EDW) for at least a few years. For enterprises with focused needs, the appliance may someday become the EDW.

In 2007, Netezza established a developer network and opened up its technology. As a result, SAS, SPSS and others can help their customers embed analytic and algorithmic code right inside the box, with the promise of cutting hours if not days off of complex, high-data-volume analyses. Netezza certainly isn't alone in its market. But with a head start of 100-plus clients, it is to appliances what Salesforce.com is to SaaS.

ORACLE. What the 2006 purchase of Siebel did to elevate Oracle's BI and analytics capabilities, 2007's purchase of Hyperion did to elevate its performance management arsenal. In fact, Oracle's aggressiveness is once again driving the IT industry, sparking last year's performance management land grab and leading, ultimately, to the acquisitions of Business Objects and Cognos. Hyperion's performance management assets will bolster what is now called the Oracle Enterprise Performance Management System, while Essbase OLAP joins the Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation. Meanwhile, Oracle never forgets its database roots. With its lead in Grid architecture and advances in compression and partitioning, last year's 11g upgrade will see peak adoption in 2008, and Oracle will remain the industry's dominant database vendor.

The challenge in the coming year will be keeping on track the progress of Fusion Applications without letting BI, analytics, performance management, content management, process management and so on languor as check-box add-ons that no longer set the pace of innovation.

SAP/BUSINESS OBJECTS. Companies want more from business intelligence. Those already invested in BI want it to be accessible to more employees. Midsize companies need BI to be more affordable. Employees on the go want reports and alerts delivered to mobile devices. IT-challenged companies want SaaS options. Organizations embracing SOA need BI services.

Business Objects has delivered on all these fronts, and SAP set its sights on the company precisely because it has been the biggest and boldest BI vendor. In 2007, Business Objects challenged Microsoft head-on with its "Edge Series" push into BI for the midmarket. It pursued SaaS more aggressively than its competitors, and it has been among the leaders in delivering data quality and mobile solutions. Looking over the horizon, Business Objects pushed into text mining with the acquisition of Inxight. It has also partnered to fill gaps in its portfolio, as in its recent OEM deal with SPSS to add predictive analytics.

Together, SAP and Business Objects have promised to open up yet another front: delivering BI that's deeply and seamlessly embedded into business processes and applications. This will make insight more accessible to all and impactful for the enterprise. The key question for 2008 and beyond is, can a "standalone" Business Objects continue to innovate under SAP's wing? If it can, SAP's vast customer base will be first in line for the next generation of BI- and performance-management-enabled applications.

SALESFORCE.COM. It's the David in an IT industry full of Goliaths. Salesforce.com has given rise to the SaaS market almost singlehandedly, whacking SAP and Oracle with a few rocks in the process.

Knowing it can't go it alone, Salesforce.com has marshaled an army of AppExchange partners, and its Force.com platform and Apex development language are the foundation for a new breed of next-generation, on-demand business applications. In short, Salesforce.com is showing the IT world what SaaS can and should be, and the entire industry has taken notice.

SAS. How likely is it that a given credit-card transaction presented to a bank is fraudulent? Or, what is the probability that a particular valued customer will leave you next month? You can't drill down and find that information in a database, because it's not there; it has to be computed. That's what analytics are all about, and it's why SAS — the dominant player in analytics — will continue to stand apart from BI-only competitors.

It's not every business that needs this type of insight, but SAS has covered the gambit of applications that demand complex, high-data-volume analytic and statistical analyses that yield answers on tough problems such as credit-card fraud, customer attrition, money laundering, retail price optimization and others. SAS also covers data integration and conventional query, analysis and reporting, while its DataFlux unit tackles nettlesome customer and product data-quality problems and the emerging master data management approach. It's a rare one-stop-shop that even some of the new mega BI vendors can't match.

TERADATA. Here's a company that spent much of 2007 with one arm tied behind its back, what with the spinoff from NCR and all the corporate machinations that entailed. That didn't stop Teradata from continuing its drive toward more low-latency, analytics-driven decision support, so be prepared for much more in 2008.

Teradata's "Active" data warehousing approach is about deep analysis of historical and near-real-time data to support operational BI. The company and its more than 800 customers are out in front when it comes to driving innovative, high-velocity business approaches. Norwich Union, for example, crunches daily GPS data to do custom auto insurance billing based on exact driving patterns. And the Meijer supermarket chain uses Teradata to do real-time custom couponing at the checkout counter.

Teradata formed important partnerships with Microsoft and SAS in 2007 that should flourish in 2008. Microsoft's BI suite will provide a low-cost way to share Teradata insight, while SAS analytics embedded within the Teradata database will speed access to complex, high-data-volume analyses that drive critical and time-sensitive decisions. In short, it's tough to beat Teradata. But now that it's an independent company, it's easy to imagine it as a prized acquisition.

VMware. Intelligent Enterprise doesn't have a virtualization beat (see the NWC Virtualization Immersion Center), but we recognize it as a technology that will have a huge impact across all the categories we cover. Virtualization enables organizations to do more with less by cutting costs (through server consolidation), reducing complexity and unlocking access to resources. The latter will include information services, intelligence services, decision services, process services and many other resources, so there are few IE readers who won’t be impacted by this technology.

Why VMWare? It's the market leader, and the company's dazzling August 2007 initial public offering raised more than a billion dollars, which will certainly fund a lot of R&D. Virtualization has been validated, and VMWare is poised to tap into rising demand.

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