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The business intelligence (BI) technology market is undergoing a revolution. I’ve been working in this segment for 20 years, and it is and has been an exciting market in which to work, but its dynamic nature can be daunting to organizations trying to evaluate, purchase and deploy BI to improve their business processes. And despite the advances our benchmark research shows high levels of dissatisfaction with and immaturity in BI capabilities within organizations.

Challenges remain to spread adoption of BI among a wider audience and improve its use in organizations. We have recently seen progress in integrating information management and analytics into a single framework, but more work remains. The use of collaboration will help improve dialogue and delivery of information to business users. Organizations can also adopt and support mobile BI technologies to enhance productivity and broaden the reach of BI.

Technology exists today to apply analytics to all information regardless of volume, data type and origin. However, organizations still struggle to evaluate alternatives for supporting large data sets including location data, event data and machine-generated data, all of which can contribute to more accurate analyses of their business processes. Also as the proportion and volume of unstructured data grow, users will need to incorporate text analytics to complement structured data analysis. On top of these challenges businesses now operate at Internet speeds and must analyze data and events as they are created or miss fleeting market opportunities.

Organizations must develop their analytical capabilities further not just to provide data but to optimize business decisions. To enhance decision-making and improve business outcomes, they must move beyond historical analysis to look forward through planning, forecasting and predictive analysis. And the dramatic rise in popularity of social media creates another source of information to incorporate in the decision-making process and another channel for involving larger groups in feedback processes.

We see five underlying technology innovations impacting BI and creating the aforementioned revolution: cloud computing, mobile technologies, social media, analytics of more types over more data, and collaboration. My colleague has identified these five areas as the business technology revolution in 2011, and all are directly relevant to BI. As I’ve previously pointed out in “Clouds are Raining Corporate Data”, cloud-based BI systems are rising in popularity. So are other types of cloud applications, which means that more and more of the data organizations need to analyze will reside in the cloud. I’ll be examining the issues of business data in the cloud in a benchmark research program that is just about to get under way.

Mobile technologies are invading the enterprise through employees. As mobile devices have developed more capabilities and larger form factors appear in tablets, business users on the go are demanding access to BI wherever they may be. Some software vendors and innovative enterprises have recognized these devices as vehicles to enable front-line BI and decision-making capabilities. More organizations are supporting their business users and realizing benefits of both broader BI adoption and enhanced productivity of their workforce.

Social media has created several new challenges for businesses and their use of BI. First, this rich source of information can help companies understand customers and prospects, their characteristics, their opinions and their experiences in interacting with the organization. But analyzing unstructured social media content is new to most organizations. Second, social media can also play a role in collaborating on BI-aided decision-making processes (discussed below). Third, social media is a source of information and opinions about the BI products and services organizations may be evaluating. Finally, the combination of social media and mobile technologies is increasing demand for real-time data and instant analysis of it.

Collaboration technologies, as applied to BI, are not the same as social media. Social media such as Twitter, Chatter or Tibbr may be used as part of a social process, but collaboration is more than just a conversation. It includes workflow and approval processes as well as tracking communication associated with BI decision-making. Social media can be the delivery vehicle for some of the information and conversation tracking, but it is not sufficient on its own. Innovative organizations recognize the processes involved in BI are as important as the technology and take steps to provide collaborative support to their BI activities. The rise of social media has helped raise awareness of collaboration in general, but many organizations are still confused about how to apply collaboration to the BI process.

At the core of BI, analytics have evolved beyond simple historical analysis. More advanced analytic techniques have been available for decades but are still not widely embraced. For example, our recent analytics research shows that only 25% of organizations are using planning and forecasting in their BI applications. However, in business areas such as finance, planning with what-if and scenario modeling has been common for years, in part because the volumes of data were smaller and more easily managed. In other specific business functions such as fraud detection, predictive analytics have played a significant role for years despite their cost and complexity because of the magnitude of the savings that could be achieved. With these business areas paving the way and with the advent of information management technologies that can marry larger volumes of data with more powerful analytics, organizations can now deploy these capabilities across a much wider range of business problems. I’ll be examining the role of advanced analytics and the obstacles still facing organizations as they try to deploy these capabilities.

In short, while the challenges are great, so are the opportunities. It’s an exciting time in the BI market. As you assess how the business technology revolution affects your BI efforts, please check back here for updated research that can help your organization mature in its use of BI.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

I recently attended SAS Institute’s annual analyst conference. My colleague covered the multibillion-dollar company’s strategy and the event. Now I want to look into some of the details of SAS’s products for business analytics and how they are supported with business intelligence (BI), and information management. Although SAS is not a publicly traded company and therefore is not required to make the financial disclosures that others are, the company revealed numerous financial statistics. Business intelligence represents over $200 million in license revenue to SAS. That’s a significant figure, larger than publicly traded BI vendors QlikTech (NASDAQ: QLIK) and Actuate (NASDAQ: BIRT) have and smaller than but still in the same order of magnitude as MicroStrategy (NASDAQ: MSTR) and Information Builders. These figures are consistent with results in our benchmark research on business intelligence and performance management: 18% of our research respondents reported using SAS products, which places it in the middle of the pack.

SAS has a broad portfolio of BI products including query, reporting, OLAP, visualization and dashboarding. The existing product line lags behind competitive offerings’ collaboration and mobile capabilities, but SAS has plans to address these areas. An upcoming release, planned for later in 2011, will focus on visualization, some in-memory capabilities, expanded collaboration and mobile deployments. SAS has a history in the visualization space with its JMP product. The new release will bring more visualization along with in-memory technology to the core BI product. The visualization capabilities will be delivered in both iPad and Flash versions.

My colleague highlighted collaboration as one of five technologies creating a revolution in business in 2011. On the collaboration front, SAS provided integration with Microsoft Outlook last summer and will be expanding those capabilities. I am a fan of Outlook integration. The product may not be as sexy as Salesforce Chatter or other social media channels, but a collaboration channel must have critical mass to be successful. That is, if the people you need to interact with aren’t present on that channel, your communications won’t reach the intended recipients. Integration with Outlook solves that problem because everyone in the enterprise uses e-mail and it is the dominant client software. Sure, I’d like to see a roadmap that includes other collaboration channels, but Outlook is the logical starting point and can be a bridge until those other channels are more widely adopted.

Users should be aware that many SAS applications were built before its BI stack was available and are still based on separate components. Newer applications such as Customer Intelligence are based on the BI stack, but older applications are migrating to the BI stack only over time. This obviously impacts integration among parts of the product line. But since many applications are not based on the BI stack, there is less pull-through from sales of those applications, and this suggests that the BI products are succeeding on their own.

When it comes to information management, SAS let’s its wholly owned software business handle the development of its products and to the marketing and sales activities. DataFlux, acquired by SAS more than 10 years ago, maintains a separate identity and a separate product line from SAS Data Integration, although the underlying components and metadata, rules and transformations can be shared and process flows can be orchestrated between the two lines. DataFlux, with over 2,300 customers, provides data integration, data quality and master data management capabilities. In 2011 it will be moving into complex event processing for operational intelligence. See our benchmark research on the subject here.

While the SAS and DataFlux information management products can deal with cloud-based data, they do not yet offer a software-as-a-service versions of their products, which some other vendors do. SAS also needs to provide more integration between its BI products and the information management products. For instance, data lineage and glossary information cannot be surfaced through the BI products today, although SAS can provide impact analysis of where information is used in the BI products.

Business analytics at SAS is a separate category from BI. In it SAS includes statistics, forecasting, predictive analytics and text analytics. Our recent BI and performance management benchmark research shows that less than one-quarter of respondents use predictive analytics. However, in our newly completed benchmark research on business analytics 80% of organizations said that it is important or very important to apply predictive analytics to predict future outcomes, so we expect usage to grow. SAS has a long history in the analytics space and a well-developed product line, but it is still extending its algorithms. In 2011 SAS will be focusing on new algorithms for high-frequency data and more powerful optimization techniques. Part of the development centers around high-performance computing techniques that distribute processing across multiple servers to handle large volumes of data quickly. These high-performance techniques will be delivered as an analytic appliance. SAS also plans to provide operational analytics through workflow and business rules.

In all the talk of high-performance computing, SAS said little about Hadoop. I expect to hear more from SAS on this topic, but the plans are still in the formative stages. (For discussion of what other organizations are doing with Hadoop, see my previous post “Living in the Era of Hadoop and Large-Scale Data”. SAS is also working on enterprise search capabilities, which we believe are important as discussed here

So while most of SAS’s business derives from applications, there is a robust tools business for BI, analytics and information management. Whether you are an SAS customer or not, I hope this recap of what’s going on at SAS helps you understand some of the ways in which analytics and BI are becoming more intertwined. 

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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