Feature: The Eighth Annual Editors' Choice Awards

Join us for our annual take on 'The Dozen' most influential vendors driving the intelligent enterprise. Plus, we also laud 48 'Companies to Watch' in categories including business intelligence and enterprise applications.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 11, 2006

18 Min Read

Hold the proverbs: We know we live in interesting times. Ambitious business goals demand the best information technology can offer. For the IT community to achieve that, business users must become IT's favored customers and collaborators. A chasm must be crossed, and there's no going back.

Led by the most innovative and influential in BI, service orientation and BPM--companies spotlighted in this year's Editors' Choice Awards--we're finally seeing tools and solutions to support business/IT collaboration. Or, put differently, the technology will only work if business and IT come together.

We present our eighth annual list of 60 companies in two groups. First, there's the Dozen: twelve elite vendors that are providing critical leadership for organizations focused on becoming "intelligent" enterprises. Then we present the 2006 Companies to Watch, 48 top providers in our six primary coverage areas.

The choices are the product of a year's worth of editorial research, reviews and conversations with the IE community of readers and contributing experts, boiled down into who and what will be important as we look ahead. Which vendors should be on the list next year? Send comments to [email protected].

BEA Systems
BEA has long had to navigate tricky waters: around bigger competitors, through the fog of acquisition rumors and management changes (with founder Alfred Chuang as one constant) and across the void from one software paradigm to another. Yet the company's identity has always rested on a vision of open, standards-based distributed computing. BEA's WebLogic and AquaLogic products regularly rank tops in reviews. Having initially prospered with e-business and J2EE application server-based systems, the company is now effectively leading its customer base into SOA (service-oriented architecture).

To make SOA reach its promise, BEA has had to cultivate a new customer base: business analysts and managers. With two acquisitions--Plumtree for portals and Fuego for BPM (business process management)--BEA uniquely serves both sides of the equation. BEA is in a prime position to align SOA-based business processes with the user's portal environment.

As long as Oracle can persuade Peoplesoft, Siebel and other acquired customers not to jump ship, the company is in a good position. Oracle's DBMS remains the data-thumping heart for the majority of enterprise applications; even CRM competitor Salesforce.com has standardized on Oracle. And after all those acquisitions, the company's portfolio has never been wider or vertically deeper. However, this also means that Oracle has a lot more customers to satisfy. Oracle has wisely discarded most of its "bad boy" image and, leading with president Charles Phillips, replaced it with more openness and clarity.

Oracle's Fusion challenge is to build value atop of its platforms so they don't devolve into legacies. This has Oracle putting maximum attention on BI, performance management, process management, search and analytic applications, and fleshing out its offerings with things like SOA management, e-billing and spatial information management. Customers seem confident that Oracle's captains are on the right course.

"In the past, we managed and modeled information at rest in repositories," says Ambuj Goyal, IBM's general manager of Information Management Software. "Now, we are delivering information in motion." In a nutshell, that's the challenge IBM's bedrock customers face: The world has gone distributed, and they have to turn their oceanliners laden with decades of critical IT investments in the right direction. Software dreams are cheap; CIOs and IT architects with long experience in trying to solve distributed computing problems need to see what SOA can deliver when the pressure's on.

Where is information most in motion? In business processes: With WebSphere BPM, IBM has stepped ahead of other platform vendors in enabling its customers to understand and manage the entire process lifecycle. Through process understanding, IBM brings SOA into focus. The business context also guides how IBM brings its database and information integration strength to bear for "information on demand," wherever that may be.

Teradata Division of NCR
"Data warehouse" may no longer be the best way to describe what Teradata customers are doing with their repositories of increasingly detailed data. The stuff doesn't sit around; companies such as Harrah's Entertainment and Continental Airlines employ Teradata's "active" data warehousing to immediately improve customer experiences. Rival technologies and vendors try, but it's tough to dislodge the enterprise data warehouse as the best way to deliver a single, consistent source of "the truth" to support all user's data views. Teradata itself isn't sitting still. As its February acquisition of SeeCommerce for supply chain analytics showed, the company is determined to bring data riches to more vertical lines of business.

To SAS, being information-driven has never been a trivial matter. If you're going to replace gut feel with decision-making powered by assembling, accessing and analyzing data, you better be serious. It comes as no surprise that the toolset widely regarded as the leader for soup-to-nuts data mining is SAS Enterprise Miner. But for nearly all its 30 years, the expertise SAS put in to developing analytical tools and packages has generally required a similar level of expertise to gain full advantage from them.

Now, high-powered computing has hit the mainstream. Market demand for BI and analytics tailored to nontechnical users has challenged SAS to change gears. By most accounts, SAS 9 Enterprise Intelligence Platform more than hits the mark. And through its Marketing Automation and other analytic applications for vertical operations and industries, SAS is gaining a serious following among serious business users.

With Office, Microsoft has millions of business users interacting with its applications every minute. Yet, bringing up BI through each stage of SQL Server's development, the company has taken its time crossing the chasm from the developer environment to the world of the business user. The acquisition of ProClarity is a big leap across that chasm. And with Dynamics SL, Microsoft is stepping up to meet customer interest in performance management and preconfigured, role-based BI. The BI sizzle will give users something to work with while Microsoft takes the hard road and develops a single code base for service-oriented Dynamics applications.

Jumping from an applications-centric world to service orientation is tough, even--or perhaps especially--for a company as established as Microsoft. However, showing less fear about jeopardizing its desktop dominance, Microsoft is displaying creative leadership for customers trying to attain flexibility through SOA and on-demand services.

Business Objects
Deluged with data, corporate business users want BI software to help them focus on what's important. In that endeavor, Business Objects has done a good job. Everybody loves BI these days, including the Microsofts and Oracles, which are commonly expected to vacuum up what remains of BI as an independent category. But, with former Symantec president John Schwarz now at the helm as CEO, Business Objects is staying focused--and delivering its highest revenues ever.

Acquiring data quality vendor First Logic in February, the company is expanding its enterprise information management footprint. In BI itself, Business Objects is racing competitors to capture the hearts and minds of nontechnical users who haven't yet adopted BI. The company's play is "Intelligent Question," and it seems clear that the answer so far is, yes, BI is in good hands with Business Objects.

EMC is transitioning relentlessly from being identified only with storage to embracing the greater information lifecycle. EMC is now more relevant to organizations faced with intense and varied information access, movement and management needs. Acquisitions are stoking EMC's engine, primarily through David DeWalt's Software Group.

Heading into the third year since it picked up Documentum, EMC has seized the opportunity to become a one-stop shop for content management. Last October, EMC bought Captiva, a leading capture vendor, to go with other moves to improve content access and integrate it with records and process management. After its January purchase of rights to grid information integration software developed by Acxiom, EMC has something for customers determined to exploit the intelligence potential of distributed, heterogeneous sources. That's good: Few companies these days can bear the thought of information merely taking up space and costing money.

Progress Software
Events, services and processes: These are what businesses want to build, monitor, understand-and continuously improve. Unfortunately, first-generation Web services did not bring organizations much closer to dealing with such abstract concepts. They often made things tougher by further burying developers in spaghetti code. Through enterprise service bus (ESB), process management, SOA and other new technology for event stream processing, Progress Software and its subsidiaries are enabling organizations to rise above the chaos and respond to changing business conditions as never before.

With an infusion of process modeling and features in its 7.0 release to enable ESB to truly perform as a critical, message-based transaction hub, Sonic Software is once again setting the pace. Actional, a more recent acquisition, brings SOA management into the portfolio. And with Apama, Progress is capturing the attention of financial services companies: that is, tech's leading edge.

With System 9, Hyperion rolled out the fruits of its 2005 Razza Solutions acquisition: master data management (MDM). It turns out that especially for financial management applications--the primary focus of System 9--the lack of MDM is a hindrance for performance management and BI reporting. MDM makes reference data far more available and helps bring order to reporting hierarchies. Hyperion's improved user interface went beyond skin deep to offer easy integration among Hyperion's own elements and with Microsoft Office. For CFOs and other financial managers, Hyperion is setting the standard for performance management. As a result, customers have a smart way of bringing budgeting, planning, forecasting and other financial operations into the 21st century.

What happened, and what can I do about it? That's essentially what users want their dashboards to tell them about the behavior of operations in which they play a role. BI based on conventional data is helpful, but even more valuable are updates about the streams of "events" that define what happens with operations. Bringing to market brainy research into in-memory, event-stream processing and business-rule processing, Celequest has become the leading independent in the fast-growing field of business activity monitoring (BAM). Larger vendors, such as Adobe and BEA are reselling technology from Celequest. The company is also gaining favor for ease of use. Celequest Activity Suite lets business users build operational performance management dashboards themselves.

As BPM providers get gobbled up, the remaining pure-plays have to be nimble. Savvion is doing just that by offering its Business Process Modeling Notation standard-based Process Modeler as a free download. Savvion reports that more than 40,000 people have picked up the offer, creating a network effect and making the company something of a BPM Johnny Appleseed. With a chance to perform simulations with the tool, downloaders are discovering Savvion's potential for collaboratively building executable business processes. Savvion's focus is on getting customers from modeling to process execution rapidly; BAM capabilities and features for real-time response to exception conditions are there to keep the improvement cycle--and Savvion's growth--on the upswing.

Business Intelligence

* Information Builders. IBI's biggest news of late is from its iWay Software company, which introduced SOA Middleware and an ESB offering in February. IBI itself continues to gain plaudits for WebFocus. Bringing AJAX into play for BI development has IBI on the cutting edge.

* Autonomy. When the top two companies (that is, Autonomy and Verity) in enterprise search merge, the new entity is bound to carry weight. Autonomy was already strong in speech and video search, both areas of growing interest.

* SPSS. Smart fraud detection can save you money. Discovering and predicting customer preferences can help you make a lot of money. SPSS tools and applications are highly relevant for both objectives.

* Panorama Software. After playing a critical role in getting Microsoft into the BI/OLAP game, Panorama has its sights set on one of BI's biggest challenges: easing SAP users' path to timely business insight.

* Fair IsAAC. Automating decisions through BRM (business rules management) and predictive analytics, Fair Isaac makes information riches actionable and sets the stage for process excellence.

* WebSideStory. This fast-moving challenger remains a pioneer in hosted analytics and leader in delivering a complete picture of online marketing information. Recent acquisitions bulk up its technology with search, e-mail campaign management, streaming data analysis and visualization.

* Inxight software. With its products resold widely, Inxight is a technology leader for text analysis, extraction and visualization in many languages. Inxight gets customers beyond the data to understand behavior, attributes and relationships.

* MicroStrategy. Technical merit keeps MicroStrategy on the shortlist for big BI initiatives. Improved data access, user interface and data mining services let MicroStrategy thrive despite tough competition.

* Tableau Software. How users actually see data has a profound effect on BI's effectiveness, especially as dashboards grow in popularity. Tableau's "Show Me" functionality embeds best practices to guide users toward productive visualization.

* Actuate. Integrated with its Nimble EII (enterprise information integration) technology, Actuate's BI/OLAP tools enjoy wide access into heterogeneous data sources. Actuate's embrace of Excel has won fans among spreadsheet jockeys.

* Endeca. The dream is to bring BI and search together. Endeca lets customers live that dream through cross-tabulation of search results and BI-style drill-down and visualization.

* Qliktech. Queries and aggregations in memory, based on a highly normalized relational database--that's how QlikTech takes advantage of modern computing for analytic applications. Predefined templates that target major enterprise applications have QlikTech on the fast track.

* WebTrends. Even in the midst of a technology overhaul and services scale-up, WebTrends has lost none of its market presence. Performance analysis and management of cross-channel marketing are a big focus in the recent WebTrends Marketing Lab and WebTrends 8 release.

Business Process Management

* Lombardi software. Effectively employing (and helping set) open standards, Lombardi stands out for integrating performance monitoring with process management.

* Corticon technologies. This business rules engine provider takes a model-driven approach that's managed through an Excel-like interface--a key reason Corticon is leading the way in giving control to business users.

* Appian. This pure-play has effectively integrated content management and analytics with BPM. And by easing interaction with Microsoft Outlook, Appian makes user interaction with processes that much easier.

* ILOG. With JRules, ILog is automating policies: a critical job. The latest release supports and synchronizes the rules management efforts of IT and business analysts.

* Software AG and Fujitsu Software. These partners have pooled their SOA, ESB and BPM products and expertise, and combined worldwide footprint and scale make them a global force in BPM.

Information Integration

* Informatica. Comfortable with its identity, Informatica looks like the Switzerland of data integration. The acquisition of Similarity Systems adds data quality to its portfolio. PowerCenter 8 lays the groundwork for broader challenges as customers move toward SOA.

* Tibco. One major BPM goal is pretty simple: Speed. TIBCO has that in mind as it brings BPM and BAM together with SOA and real-time data integration so customers win the present and master the future.

* Kalido. As BI and performance management require pulling data from more sources, master data management is going from nice-to-have to necessary. Kalido gets it better than most.

* Composite Software. Composite had a lot to do with putting EII on the map; its technology is resold by larger providers, including Informatica. Branching out into BAM, the company is addressing more of the whys and wherefores of EII projects.

* Cerebra. W3C's Web Ontology Language (OWL) and Resource Description Language (RDF) may soon be as important as XML. Focusing on metadata and federated querying through an inference engine, Cerebra makes semantic integration a reality.

* MetaMatrix. Having started with EII, MetaMatrix is moving quickly to "data service management," or what it takes to enable superb heterogeneous data access within a SOAP or SOA context. MetaMatrix Query puts it all in the hands of Java developers.

* Siderean Software. Navigator 4.0 can search it all--relational databases, XML content, RSS. More important, Siderean can integrate metadata from unstructured information and convert it to W3C's RDF standard.

* Ipedo. XIP can now map Web services to virtual relational tables. That means BI and other SQL clients can consume live Web services data that analysts can integrate with traditional sources. SOA will make this very useful.

Performance Management

* Cognos. Dashboard ease of use, essential for operational performance management, is far from easy to produce on the back end. Integrated authoring and publishing and unified server architecture give Cognos 8 an edge.

* Pilot software. To Pilot, performance management isn't about putting lipstick on a BI pig. PilotWorks 2006 displays a deep understanding of what really needs to happen.

* Arcplan. Plug it in and go: That's the goal with dynaSight analytic apps, which bring service-oriented, pre-built BI objects to operational business users managing performance. Customers applaud wide access to disparate sources.

* Applix. If done just like BI, performance management hits a scalability wall. Applix in-memory technology plus a thoughtful understanding of the challenges get customers over the wall.

* Extensity. In March, Golden Gate Capital acquired Geac and split off the performance management section into a company focused on financial applications. Stronger backing has Extensity hitting on all cylinders.

* Steelwedge Software. Elevating planning out of the silos and up to an enterprise level is a sure-fire way to improve performance, control and accountability. Focused on manufacturing, Steelwedge is an innovator.

* Edge Dynamics. "Demand-driven" is the mantra for supply chain and channel management. Focusing first on pharmaceuticals, Edge enables better visibility into orders and inventory so customers can stop leaking revenue.

Enterprise Applications

* SAP AG. NetWeaver's ambitious scope may be "boiling SAP's ocean" but the results are compelling. Model-driven Visual Composer makes business processes and services more effective through embedded analytics.

* SAlesforce.com. Ready for more than CRM, Salesforce.com's Sandbox and AppExchange build out development and SOA integration in ways befitting a full-fledged enterprise-application platform vendor.

* WebMethods. The SOA dream is to enable easy assembly of services to support end-to-end business processes. Drawing on its EAI and WebMethods Fabric (ESB) products, WebMethods is among the few that can put it together.

* Fiorano Software. SOA is just hype if developers can't quickly and easily create components that touch multiple apps and data sources. Fiorano gets the job done.

* Cape Clear software. If Web services result in just another round of vendor lock-in, the effort will have fallen short. Cape Clear stands for keeping SOA and ESB open and no more expensive than necessary.

* Above All Software. Legendary entrepreneur Roger Sippl (Informix, Vantive, Visigenic) is leading the charge for organizations trying to create composite applications through a single interface.

* RightNow Technologies. Offering a common database and workflow platform to go with strong Web analytics, RightNow is just in time for rising on-demand enterprise CRM.

Information Management

* Mark Logic. Offering a compelling way to search the "vast middle" of data that's neither highly structured nor completely unstructured, MarkLogic server makes good use of the emerging XQuery standard.

* Stellent. Embracing new forms of content, Stellent lets customers, integrate blogs, wikis and RSS feeds with Web directories, the Universal Content Management platform and records management apps.

* PlanView. IT performance management puts shoes on the cobbler's children: that is, data-driven metrics and scorecards to manage IT systems and applications like a business. PlanView is a top shoemaker.

* Hyperroll. Query performance remains a BI/OLAP sore spot. HyperRoll's aggregation engine puts the query pedal to the metal and enables data warehouse managers to avoid repetitive design and build steps.

* CA. With limited resources and ambitious goals, IT cannot afford chaos. CA's Clarity (formerly Niku) is leading the way toward IT governance-and less risk, more order and greater value.

* Adobe Systems. By stepping up to demand for end-to-end business processes and Web services, Adobe gives a big boost to rich Internet applications for users who want it all now.

* StreamBase systems. Complex event processing and streaming data analysis promise to revolutionize the use of real-time data for fraud detection, algorithmic trading and more. Headed by database pioneer Michael Stonebraker, StreamBase is at the forefront.

* Attensity: Large volumes of unstructured data become rows and columns for analysis with Attensity's Exhaustive Extraction engine. Companies can analyze and measure product complaints within customer call records among other previously difficult sources.

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