Stealing the Show

Reporting is the hottest thing in the BI market. Careful thought will make your investment a success.

A "reporting" theme has dominated the resurgence in the BI market of the last six months. New methods for delivering information via reports have reached the pinnacle of market attention in 2003. Delivering more reports to business users and acquiring new technologies that combine different types of reporting (ad hoc, production, and management) or extending the value of BI platforms for global deployment have become a high priority with IT departments.

The Reporting Band-Aid

But do we really understand what we're doing with reporting technology, or are we just providing a quick fix to the problems of the past? I'm not sure many of us really know, but I do know that just raising this question starts a heated debate regarding the reasoning for many new and existing projects. Many of these projects start as management-driven performance improvement projects and quickly transform into information deployment projects with the expectation that reports will improve performance. Many of you are trying to find new approaches to respond more efficiently and faster to business requests for information, and reporting just puts a band-aid on this organizational pain.

The recent interest in reporting has shifted the focus away from the organization's ability to manage performance to it providing packages of historical information in the form of a report to measure performance. Reports can play a critical role helping business users at many levels understand historical performance, but they are only one step in the overall process for improving performance. Your organization must acknowledge that "reporting" isn't the total answer for improving performance, just as providing information is not sufficient for driving actions that improve results — a goal that must be at the forefront for both IT and business this decade.

Product Potpourri

Once you set realistic expectations for what reporting will accomplish for both business and IT, you must next realize that not all reporting software is created equal. Depending on users' organizational level and information requirements, many reporting technologies will require different levels of IT expertise to create, deploy, and manage reports. Vendors are highlighting the details of the styles of reports, but you must keep an eye on the underlying architecture that supports these deployments. Selecting the wrong product and supporting architecture could greatly impact supporting hardware and personnel costs as Ventana Research discovered in our recent TCO research (

This year has brought many new reporting product releases to market including Actuate 7, BusinessObjects Enterprise 6, Cognos ReportNet, Crystal Enterprise 9, Microsoft SQL Server division's Microsoft Reporting Services, and MicroStrategy Report Services, its new extension to its platform. All these new releases, along with Crystal Decisions' acquisition by Business Objects and Brio Software's by Hyperion Solutions, indicate that the information technology for supporting enterprisewide reporting is still being perfected. (See Table 1.)

Looking at the diversity of two new products — Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services and Cognos ReportNet — shows the widely varying strategy of these two vendors' approaches for enterprisewide reporting. With Reporting Services' very IT-centric approach, your application developers must be well versed in Microsoft Visual Studio's development paradigm, and you must use Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Windows as the mid-tier platform to support reporting requirements. The recent release of Cognos ReportNet, on the other hand, operates in either a Microsoft or Unix mid-tier environment, doesn't require a vendor's RDBMS to query multiple databases or ERPsystems, and can be operated by business analysts and IT for report design and deployment. These approaches are as far apart on the reporting spectrum as you can get.

Table 1 Vendors are offering many new and updated reporting solutions.

It's an interesting time for this peaking reporting market. Although some new products are mature at first release, vendors such as Actuate, Crystal Decisions, and Information Builders have improved their established products and are leveraging their established customer base to cut off the newcomers before they evolve and take market share. Brio was an early innovator in reporting technologies but unfortunately didn't time the market correctly; it peaked in the late 1990s as a major player and is now working on catching up to other vendors. Now, we'll see whether Hyperion can breathe new life into a good product set. Business Objects, in an evolutionary year for its technology with version 6, decided to acquire the fastest growing revenue producer in reporting, Crystal Decisions, to further increase its market size, but its future reporting and BI investments are still unknown. MicroStrategy, improving its solid BI platform, recently released MicroStrategy Report Services, which now provides production reporting for its platform.

The Next Step

So with all these interesting market developments, what do you do now? It's clear that there's an overabundance of IT options. Building user and information requirements may not be enough to pick the right product. You must map out a strategy for improving the effectiveness of people to drive more efficiency in day-to-day business processes. This requires a larger context to compare and contrast the options in front of you based on more than just stating or measuring historical performance. You must have a platform that can help you understand, optimize, and align performance systematically throughout your organization. Ventana Research sees vendors such as SAP, Siebel Systems, and SymphonyRPM concentrating on platforms and suites for performance improvement and, for now at least, staying out of the reporting battle.

The question you should be asking yourself is how reporting can help improve the operational and overall business performance of your organization. Building and deploying reports in the past didn't guarantee usage or always have the impact desired. Do not repeat past mistakes. Take a position that will bring your business the value it demands and align IT investments to improve management of the business. As you assess your requirements, look for the business differentiators that will accelerate performance improvements. If you don't, your company will be playing catch-up with its competitors.

Mark Smith [[email protected]] is the CEO and senior vice president of research at Ventana Research, an advisory services and research firm providing insight and education on best practices and technology in performance management.



Business Objects:


Crystal Decisions:


Information Builders:



Siebel Systems:


Additional columns at

"Ventana Research Product Assessment Guide for Performance Management," Oct. 1, 2003

"The BI Consolidation Conundrum," Oct. 30, 2003

"Spanning Duality," October 10, 2003

"The Bigger Picture," July 18, 2003

"Back to Basics," June 17, 2003

"Microsoft Reports Future Reporting Services," March 9, 2003

"Actuate Moves Beyond Information Delivery to Application Platform," April 3, 2003

"Siebel Adds to Robust Customer Analytics Applications"

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