Business Intelligence: No vendor can do it all

Companies should try and consolidate their BI applications but are constrained by the lack of one player offering a complete range of tools, says Gartner
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Companies looking to upgrade their business intelligence applications should be suspicious of vendors who say they offer a complete package of services, warn analysts.

Speaking on Monday at Gartner's Business Intelligence Summit in London, Howard Dresner, vice-president at the analyst firm, said that despite claims to the contrary, no one vendor can provide all the sophisticated BI applications that a large company will ultimately require.

"There is a lot happening around convergence of application sets with vendors claiming 'We do everything.' The reality is that they don't do it all and if they claim to do everything then they probably do one thing very poorly," he said.

Business Intelligence software is primarily designed to allow non-technical management to mine and produce complex reports from company data and includes applications such as reporting tools, scorecards and dashboards.

Business Objects claims to be the leading BI player and makes exactly the claims that Gartner disputes. In a recent interview with ZDNet UK, Bernard Liautaud, the company's chief executive and founder, was adamant that his firm offers the full range of BI functions.

"Today we are able to access anything. We have multiple customers who are accessing Oracle, Siebel, PeopleSoft using our software in the same company. That is a big part of our value proposition to large enterprises," he said.

But Gartner's Dresner said that any company looking at increasing its business intelligence capacity owes it to themselves to investigate the vendor's claims for its software thoroughly before committing. "You owe yourself the due diligence to evaluate these things," he said.

BI continues to be one of the more profitable areas in a largely flat enterprise software market with vendors such as Business Objects claiming returns on implementations of its applications of up to 400 percent.

But despite the potential benefits of BI, it is still a relatively immature and fragmented market with up to a hundred vendors competing for market share and offering overlapping applications. Buying services from too many BT vendors can cause as many problems as standardising on just one.

Gartner recently warned that the sheer number of BI vendors in the market could spell trouble long term as this would lead companies to adopt "disparate and unrelated" BI systems well through 2005. By that point, the analyst firm warned, lack of integrated information could spell disaster.

"The record number of BI tools is 23 in one organisation. You cannot deploy BI widely with 23 overlapping tools. You need to standardise on a narrow range of tools and gradually eliminate the other tools," said Dresner.

Things have been further complicated by the entry of database vendors, such as Oracle, which are attempting to offer lower-specification BI tools to companies with little investment in the technology so far.

"This is still a pure-play market but with growing competition from enterprise application and database vendors. If you have no BI at the moment then the apps from the database vendors might be enough because your users won't be that sophisticated," said Dresner.

Microsoft recently entered the BI market with applications aimed mainly at small to medium-size companies. IBM is also planning several initiatives this year to grab a bigger slice of the BI action including a new version of its main BI product, Data Warehouse Edition.

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