The BI Boom Part 2: New Twists

Part 1 of this two-part series introduces a group of entrepreneurial business intelligence (BI) software providers that are emerging following a year of industry consolidation.

Combining in-memory data management, visual analytics, social networking and rich Internet applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) and open source software development, companies such as Advizor Solutions, Fractal Edge, Greenplum, LucidEra and others are filling what was an open niche in the BI marketplace, Gartner’s BI research team has found.

It couldn’t come at a more opportune time. With the U.S. economy perhaps already in a recession, the value of flexible, powerful and efficient decision support tools is even greater than ever. By 2012, BI’s penetration of end-users should increase 2.5 times, from 20 percent to 50 percent, according to Gartner research.

Filling a BI Gap

A gap exists between the reporting capabilities provided by new generation BI systems such as those offered by Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion and the advanced analytical reporting capabilities of SAS, SPSS, Filemaker and Excel, said Advizor Solutions’ CEO Doug Cogswell.

“The bottom line is there is pervasive misuse of operational reporting and advanced analysis tools to address business analysis needs. New tools such as Advizor are emerging that do this well, and complement these other tools,” Cogswell told CRM Buyer.

A video received recently from a business unit executive at one of Advizor’s larger customers illustrates the advantages of BI systems that leverage in-memory data management and visual analytics, he continued. The executive “personally uses Advizor against a 16-page dashboard that exposes approximately 70 attributes from a 21-table Oracle database. Since the page and chart layout in the dashboard maps against the key ‘issues’ that she needs to address, she finds it very easy to navigate across the entire dashboard.”

“At one point in the video, the EVP describes the ‘pain’ that used to occur with continually going back to IT for new queries and more ‘reports’ and the difficulty of doing this with Excel Pivot Tables.” What now takes her less than half an hour to do on her own used to require one of her staff spending 10 to 20 hours working with Excel, she stated.

Data Deluge

“Because BI explores huge amounts of data, it has traditionally relied on IT to build aggregate and summary tables to optimize performance on disc-based data storage. This requirement to build a performance layer impeded self-service BI. Falling memory prices and the prevalence of 64-bit computing is making in-memory analytics a more attractive alternative. With this approach, business users no longer require IT to build a performance layer,” Gartner software markets senior research analyst Dan Sommer explained.

Businesses are increasingly turning to BI and database specialists that made Gartner’s top 10 list of up-and-coming BI software provider, such as Greenplum, which counts AirTran, Comcast, Skype and Sun Microsystems among its recently signed up customers.

The company recently announced the general release of the latest, Greenplum 3 version of its high-performance database software. “Greenplum Database is the first open source-powered database software that can scale to support the demands of multi-terabyte and petabyte-scale data warehousing, allowing organizations to analyze vast amounts of business data 10 to 100 times faster than with traditional data warehouse solutions at a fraction of the cost,” claimed CEO Bill Cook.

“We’ve continued to see robust demand for our technology — the cost of Greenplum is significantly lower than traditional databases, so this contributes to our appeal during a time of tightened budgets. In fact, we think demand for BI in general continues to be as strong as ever — BI is critical to managing costs and improving profitability,” he commented.

Increasing Complexity

Just coping with, much less getting the greatest value out of, the volume of data stored in typical business organizations today is a big challenge. Add to that the increasing complexity of the IT and business tools and methods needed to do so and you’re left with a dangerously disorienting and chaotic situation.

Simplicity is the biggest and most valued advantage LucidEra’s on-demand BI software provides business users compared to competing offerings, said CEO Ken Rudin. “We focus on delivering answers to business people, instead of delivering complex tools to developers. Our interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use, making actionable information more readily available to more people in the company.”

The company has put together a suite of BI applications — including sales analytics and order management/enterprise resource planning modules — that its SaaS platform makes easy for businesses to set up and use, Greenplum’s Cook explained. “We take care of all of the heavy lifting associated with traditional business intelligence initiatives and our customers are able to get value even in the trial process thanks to the software as a service model.

The SaaS model “is absolutely disruptive to traditional on-premise approaches to business intelligence. A monthly fee of approximately (US)$2,000 including all set-up and training is unheard of in this industry,” Cook continued.

Visual Analytics

Just as businesses are finding that new tools and methods are needed to dig through all the data coming in, employees also require more powerful means of analyzing and interpreting it. The ability to provide business end users with clear and easy-to-use visual analytics is another distinguishing feature of BI providers that made Gartner’s top ten list.

The front offices of top-tier investment banks make up Fractal Edge’s core customer base but the company is seeing interest increase across departments and into other businesses such as aerospace, life sciences and retail. Execution Management, Trade Surveillance and Capital Reporting are three new additions to Fractal Edge’s BI application suite. The company is looking forward to a continuation of this trend with demand for new types of algorithmic trading and internal and regulatory oversight and reporting increasing, Gervase Clifton-Bligh, vice president, product strategy and development, told CRM Buyer.

Fractal Edge’s developers are working on adding and further refining the product’s visual analytics, as well as several other aspects of the software, all of which are to be included to the second generation, Version 2.5 release. Sizing is an additional visual cue aimed at helping users identify performance patterns through and across their data sets, Clifton-Bligh elaborated. “Previously each area in the Fractal Map could be colored, textured and have an associated icon based on related data values, and the ability to vary the size of each area completes the set.”

The company is also focusing on enhancing Fractal Intelligence’s Web publishing capabilities. End users “can easily select one or more Fractal Map Web clients (ActiveX/Mozilla plug-in, Flash or Ajax) to stack and enable seamless delivery of a project from Fractal:Server,” he noted. Web clients have likewise been upgraded with the addition of a locally run Flash client that enables end users to share Fractal Maps with peers who may not have the software installed.

To improve performance, Fractal Edge has transformed the software’s .Net software development kit from a “wrapped version of the C++ SDK to a fully native .Net interface, and the use of manifest files now means that the core C++ objects can be deployed without impairing easy application distribution within .Net environments,” he explained.

Offering end users to more easily and flexibly slice and examine large data sets in hundreds of ways on one screen has a dramatic effect on productivity and is most important to businesses, according to Clifton-Bligh. “However much information you aggregate and however you break it down, if you only let users see a single or a few slices of information at a time, as is the case with all other BI systems, it is extremely difficult — if not impossible — for them to reliably turn that sea of data into profitable, actionable information.”

The BI Boom, Part 1: New Players

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