The economy shows signs of recovering. Companies that weren't using BI to work smarter are no longer with us. BI budgets are once again expanding. The challenge is to continue to spend wisely, but also, to keep up with insatiable user demand. Central BI can't handle it all.
Bringing BI to the masses also means balancing what to handle centrally and enterprise-wide, and when to let users do their own thing. It's not always a matter of departmental BI being a throw-away or stand-alone application. Sometimes it's a matter of intelligently separating responsibilities. SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 has an interesting approach to metadata development that supports such an approach. eThority also seems to nicely blend enterprise class with departmental control.
If a shrinking economy helped spur open source adoption, what will a recovering economy do? I would argue that open source BI is not growing primarily because it's free; it's growing because it's open, allowing for easier embedability. Such aspects are more important to ISVs and others who build industry-focused applications, which in itself is a sizable market.
For open source to compete more squarely with commercial BI, the products must continue to improve; some are strong in one or two core areas, but not across the BI spectrum. Beyond the U.S. market, open source BI is also attractive to governments and foreign companies that don't want such critical assets to be powered entirely by U.S.-based software makers.
5. Will New Releases Bring Upgrade Fever or Flu?
Major new software releases mean powerful new capabilities, as long as the upgrade process is seamless. Painful migrations can leave IT resources strained with testing, bug resolution, and redesign.
The top-four BI vendors (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) all had major new product releases in 2010. Customers who have been burned with painful migrations in the past will not rush to adopt the latest versions. In some cases, 2011 will be a time to assess the cost of upgrading versus the cost of switching preferred vendors.
It has been interesting to see how both IBM Cognos and SAP BusinessObjects have a "co-existence" strategy in their latest releases: leave old content as is, running on the new platform. That approach is fine as a transition strategy; but the proof point will be in how easy and quick it can be to shut down previous versions and move reports and metadata layers into the upgraded software.
In-Memory and More
So what about all the other things I wrote about last year: in-memory, cloud, BI for SMBs, culture, and predictive analytics?
All these areas continue to be critical, and I continue to be both impressed and overwhelmed by the degree of innovation and success from smaller vendors in the BI space. My five picks above are the things that I think will garner the most attention, generate the most activity, and cause the most disruption in 2011.
If I added a sixth item, it would be continued growth of in-memory analytics. In-memory proved to be one of the biggest BI technology themes in 2010 (think Microsoft's PowerPivot and SAP's HANA). It will be a capability that many companies will implement this year, whether as part of visual discovery and dashboards (item 1), insatiable user demand (item 4), or instantaneous response time that mobile requires (item 2). It seems, though, that while in-memory is a cornerstone to some vendors' BI strategy, others are more reticent. Will vendors like Oracle continue to have a wait- and-see approach, or will they advocate greater focus on other technologies for fast, big data BI such as appliances, indexing, various caching, and columnar databases?
As I look at last year's take on the year ahead, my BI predictions seemed fairly accurate. And with the Packers winning not one but two of their playoff games so far, perhaps my accuracy is finally carrying over to football! I hope it's a good omen for next weekend!
Happy New Year!
Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.