RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Mid-Market Improvements Benefit All BI Users

When BI vendors target small-and-medium-sized enterprise customers, the mid-market isn't the only segment that benefits

When BI vendors target small-and-medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers, their efforts bring benefits for all BI users.

Usability, flexibility, and control are key concerns for mid-market buyers, and as BI players have moved into the SME segment, they've had to up the ante with respect to all three. The result has been more flexible licensing options, more targeted software offerings, and a growing emphasis on turnkey solutions, from pre-configured analytic appliances to software-as-a-service (SaaS) deliverables.

True, few if any of these delivery strategies were developed explicitly with the mid-market in mind. But some -- especially stripped-down offerings of full-on business intelligence (BI) and data integration (DI) suites -- were, suggesting an intriguing trend: BI and DI vendors giving to mid-market customers to the benefit of BI and DI consumers as a whole.

At TDWI's Winter World Conference (held in Las Vegas in February), Ken Hausman -- head of DI for SAS Institute Inc. -- seemed positively bullish on the mid-market, and Hausman wasn't just talking the small-to-medium-sized enterprise segment as you might expect from an enterprise ETL player like SAS. He was focused on the small-and-medium-sized business space, too.

"What we have are these new SMB packages which aren't just for BI but for data integration, too. It's sort of a repackaging [of the full-on SAS stack] for companies that are not interested in the whole shebang but who want to deploy [SAS BI or DI] in a more limited capacity."

If SAS wants to crack the mid-market, it's going to have to boost its usability quotient, Hausman conceded, citing the litany of usability improvements that SAS delivered in SAS 9.2 -- along with a number of other enhancements it still has percolating.

SAS' usability push isn't linked to its aspirations in the mid-market, Hausman concedes. However, a more usable SAS should almost certainly translate into better mid-market or SMB traction, he argues, especially in tandem with the stripped-down SMB BI and DI packages that SAS is prepping.

That's a key point, as Hausman and other industry experts see it: cracking the mid-market isn't just about usability -- it's about flexibility, too. If BI or DI vendors are going to establish SME perches, they're going to have to become much more responsive to the needs of mid-market customers -- particularly on the pricing front.

Scaling down large or bloated software packages and giving customers an ala carte selection is one way that vendors such as IBM Corp. (and its Cognos business unit), Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., SAP AG (and its Business Objects subsidiary), SAS, Teradata Inc., and others are responding to the needs of mid-market customers.

Take Informatica Corp., whose full-on DI suite was -- according to anecdotal feedback from several mid-market prospects -- simply too much or too expensive for their DI requirements. Over the last three years, Informatica has moved aggressively into the software-as-a-service (SaaS) DI space, launching an Informatica-on-Demand complement to its on-premises ETL and DI stack. Informatica's SaaS offering introduced a more flexible way to license its DI technology.

Ditto for Composite Software -- another vendor that's been dinged in the past for the less-than-flexible licensing terms of its monolithic data federation stack: Composite last week launched Discovery, an analytic search appliance. Yes, Discovery is earmarked as much for enterprise buyers as for the mid-market -- but the salient point is that its appliance form-factor (and its turnkey focus) -- makes it a competitive mid-market play.

Consider Teradata, which recently announced its first-ever DW appliance products -- one of which (the Teradata 550) sells for $67,000: Teradata's 550 and 2500 systems are lighter versions of its high-end offerings. Not that Teradata's high-end packages are at all bloated, mind you -- just that full-on Teradata is probably overkill for a lot of not-so-big-data SME shops.

"This absolutely makes us more competitive in that [mid-market] segment," said Randy Lea, vice-president of product and services marketing with Teradata, at last month's TDWI Spring World Conference. "That was frankly [a segment] where, because of a perception [concerning Teradata's cost], we just weren't all that competitive. I think that [the data warehouse packages] we used to have were a bit too much for a lot of [mid-market customers] to really justify that cost. At these new [price points], I think it becomes a lot more justifiable for customers who before might not have given it a second thought."

The same can be said for Sybase Inc., which (at the TDWI Spring World Conference in Chicago) launched its first-ever analytic appliance, a tripartite offering that draws on resources from MicroStrategy Inc. (for a BI front-end tool) and IBM (for RISC server power). Sybase officials also talk up a mid-market game plan, stressing that a targeted turnkey offering such as the Sybase Analytic Appliance lets them target the specific needs of mid-market customers: a user base that -- even before enterprise buyers got hip to the importance of business-first technology solutions -- invariably eschewed generalized technology prescriptions.

"In addition to the enterprise data warehousing folks who are having these kinds of [analytic] issues, there are also smaller companies that don't have a warehouse yet. In some cases, they're trying to do analytics off of OLTP systems. Frequently, they're not really even doing analysis," says Andrew Neugebauer, senior product manager with Sybase, "so this is another area where the appliance seems like it would be a good fit for us. It's already coming pre-configured. We've done all of the work for them."

Stripped-down or "lite" versions, appliances, SaaS, or (in the case of vendors such as Vertica Inc. and Kognitio) utility computing services are just a few of the flexible form-factors that BI and DI vendors now market. True, few if any of these were introduced specifically to address the needs of mid-market customers; all, however, offer the usability, flexibility, and control that SME buyers demand.

It's for this reason that SAS' Hausman has a philosophical take on his industry's latest and ostensibly most earnest flirtation with the mid-market.

He describes it as a kind of ongoing quid-pro-quo, with mid-market customers benefitting from the attentions of BI and DI vendors -- even as BI and DI players get something back in return.

"We should never assume that just because a company's smaller that they can't benefit [from BI or DI tooling]. The more that we make these capabilities available, the more they'll make the industry better," he concludes.

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