LESSON - The Business Intelligence Tipping Point

By Bill Baker, Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft

I believe business intelligence (BI) is at the tipping point right now. Quantitative evidence abounds. A recent report from AMR forecasts software sales of $6.6 billion in the general BI tools segment in North America (NA) this year. They further forecast $5.5 billion in NA software sales for dashboards and scorecards and $4.1 billion in NA sales for planning, budgeting, and forecasting solutions. Add in forecasts for hardware and services, and we’re looking at a very substantial market for BI.

Other industry and financial analysts are providing robust forecasts for the BI market. Enthusiasm for the BI market has driven vendor actions including acquisitions, consolidation, new entrants, and new products. Competition is heating up, and that’s good for customers.

That nine percent growth can come from a number of mechanisms. Net-new customers may be buying their first BI platforms and solutions. Vendors may be increasing prices. Companies with existing BI implementations may be deploying additional solutions or pushing existing solutions to new users. Freeform Dynamics and The Register recently published survey results from more than 1,100 users in 250 companies on the subject of making business performance and management information more broadly available within their organizations. Twenty percent of respondents reported that they already provide information to a broad population of users.

Despite all the numeric evidence, my strongest sense about the tipping point is the changing conversation with customers. Recently I spent a few hours reviewing all of the BI slide decks I’ve delivered over the 10-plus years Microsoft has been working in BI. In 1997, every presentation began with the basics. I also found plenty of slides that simply described BI as the tools and techniques for making better decisions.

One major takeaway was that our audience was very technical and at least somewhat skeptical. BI was new enough that many IT departments were having their initial BI conversations. Frankly, there were so many vendors and no end-to-end vendors that the entire segment seemed very noisy, and the technology was often very different from the day-to-day technology of the time. Ten years ago, BI was a specialty industry.

I meet hundreds of customers every year. I have not defined BI for a customer or prospect in several years. The whole tenor of the conversation has changed. I have more discussions that are exclusively about business. But more significantly, the tenor of the technical conversations is different too. First, customers come prepared to discuss BI, not to learn about BI. The questions I get are deeper, more thoughtful, and sometimes more challenging. The question I get most is: How do I get BI into vastly more employees’ hands?

Recently I have had deep conversations about tying scorecards to strategy maps. Scorecards are a prime mechanism to drive BI deeper into companies as they provide both motivation and context for further analysis. By showing interest in SharePoint, BI customers further indicate interest in providing data and tools to broader populations. SharePoint is a key element, in the Microsoft stack at least, for evolving individual insights into team insights. In conversation after conversation, customers are asking how to take BI to their “masses.” Microsoft’s vision has always been that pushing BI deeper and wider into companies, the so-called “BI for the masses,” results in better companies. Quantitative market research and customers are telling me this dream is coming true. I believe that BI is well along its evolution from specialty tools to mainstream adoption. In other words, we are at the tipping point in BI adoption.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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