Q&A with the Experts
A business intelligence or data warehouse implementation can be a formidable undertaking. In these pages, leading business intelligence and data warehousing solution providers share their answers to the questions they hear often from industry professionals. Mark Hammond, an independent consultant, provides his analyst viewpoint for each Q&A.
Most of the big BI providers have been bought by either ERP/CRM vendors or platform vendors. What impact does this have on the BI landscape?
The most obvious impact is that anyone who has aligned strategically with these providers and is considering BI solutions should first look at the offering of that vendor. That does not mean the choice is a given, but now it must be seriously considered. The potential synergy is too compelling to overlook. However, even if the software is virtually free, there will still be a substantial adoption cost, and in most environments there will still be many applications outside of the platform to consider. Now, however, given the robust nature of the BI offerings, applications have strong viability beyond use with the platform solution.
BI market consolidation has triggered plenty of hand wringing among customers. On the positive side, mega-vendors are positioning comprehensive BI stacks that can reduce the difficulties of dealing with multiple vendors. Nevertheless, questions over licensing costs, product overlap, support quality, and continued product development are all issues that organizations are being forced to examine in plotting out the next five years of BI strategy—especially organizations that, for instance, may run Business Objects (acquired by SAP) in a non-SAP environment. In the overall landscape, look for consolidation to create a vacuum of sorts that startups and open source BI providers seek to fill.
What is the benefit of Microsoft’s acquisition of DATAllegro?
With this acquisition, the SQL Server product line will span data warehouses of all sizes. Microsoft has made significant investments into data warehouse scalability in SQL Server 2005 andSQL Server 2008. The acquisition of DATAllegro extends that and allows SQLServer data warehouses to scale out to petabytes. Customers will benefit through continued innovation, product integration, and low total cost of ownership.
In the market at large, Microsoft’s DATAllegro acquisition adds momentum to the trends towards shared-nothing, massively parallel architectures that can support 100s of terabytes and intense concurrent user activity. The acquisition gives Microsoft a card to play in the high-end DW market, which it has been effectively shut out of with SMP-based SQL Server systems not well suited for high-end scalability. And it’s fueling speculation that Oracle, SAP, and others may be on the prowl for DATAllegro competitors.Though it will take Microsoft time to transitionfrom DATAllegro’s open source Ingres/Linuxarchitecture to the SQL Server platform, organizations can expect to enjoy another option for high-end data warehousing.
What’s the biggest barrier to deploying BI to the extended enterprise?
From our experience, the single biggest issue for this audience is usability. Your challenge is that you will likely not have direct authority to enforce best practices or ongoing education. To make BI accessible to casual users inside and outside of your organization, you need a robust strategy to address two key obstacles: 1) Users won’t readily learn (or remember) how to use overly complex tools; and 2) users won’t understand the structure and nomenclature of the data. For truly pervasive BI, it just has to be easy.
Multiple challenges confront any organization looking to deploy BI to the extended enterprise. Ownership of BI systems and strategies needs to be addressed decisively if a BI solution is to transcend organizational or geographic boundaries. Collaboration among business and IT department heads is essential to achieve buy-in and eliminate confusion. For IT, sound architectural strategy, open systems, and finesse are required to effectively transition from siloed infrastructures towards an integrated enterprise solution. User engagement, training, and feedback are critical to meeting user requirements and broadening adoption.
What specific tools and applications connect users to the three levels of BI—strategic, analytical, and operational?
Strategic BI applications include strategy maps, scorecards, and dashboards that present and track critical metrics such as customer satisfaction scores, market share, profit margins, or overhead costs. By closely monitoring those factors, companies can immediately detect problems and take corrective action. Analytic BI applications such as OLAP tools, predictive analytics, and ad hoc queries help determine the cause of a major problem. For example, if profits are declining, is it because of low sales or increasing expenses? Operational BI applications monitor business activities as they are executed (such as entering orders, restocking inventory, fielding customer inquiries), enabling rank and file workers to manage these activities or respond to issues.
As BI implementations mature, organizations are looking to build on connecting users to strategic, analytic, and operational BI systems by connecting the systems themselves. The three levels, though distinct, should not be viewed as silos but as focus areas that can complement each other with mix-and-match functionality. For instance, substantial value can be derived by equipping an executive dashboard (the strategic level) with ad hoc query and predictive analytics (the analytic level) to enable executives to conduct root cause analysis and forecast trends. Use of open standards and a service-oriented architecture can supply a common platform for pervasive and richly functional BI.
How do you think consolidation in the BI industry will affect the market?
With Oracle’s acquisition of Hyperion Solutions last year, customers no longer must choose between a vendor offering “best of breed” products or an enterprise application vendor offering more integrated solutions. Today, customers can have the best of both worlds. Our customers see tremendous value in having the ability to partner with a financially strong vendor who offers market-leading, hot pluggable BI solutions that can integrate with enterprise applications, middleware, and database technologies. Other major enterprise software vendors are now attempting to follow Oracle’s strategy. We can expect to see an increasing trend among buyers toward consolidating the BI technologies used within their companies and aligning BI investments with their choice of strategic vendors.
Despite customer questions and concerns over BI market consolidation, it’s unlikely to affect the continued brisk growth in the overall BI market. Gartner, for instance, forecasts an 8.1 percent compound annual growth rate in the BI platform market, reaching $7.7 billion in 2012, as BI remains a top priority across industries and organizations progress towards enterprise-level maturity. The question is with which vendors customers will be spending that money. Consolidation is forcing customers to diligently size up their BI options from a strategic perspective and ask hard questions (amid considerable hype and FUD) over how to best capitalize on the business value of data.
What are the benefits of an open systems BI solution vs. a closed systems solution?
In today’s BI marketplace, companies must choose between open systems solutions from independent BI providers and closed system, all-in-one-stack solutions from conglomerate vendors. With open systems BI, companies are not locked into a single vendor and can freely assemble technologies best suited for their organization. Freedom of choice gives the BI purchasers greater leverage for better pricing and the flexibility to change software components as needs change. Additionally, open systems vendors are solely focused on BI and meeting customers’ requirements through ongoing technical innovation.
Viewed another way, the issue facing organizations in the market for BI technology is whether to opt for solutions from independent pure-play BI vendors or mega-vendor BI providers. The spin from both camps is naturally quite different. Independent BI vendors tout a singular BI focus and greater interoperability in heterogeneous environments. Mega-vendors promote an end-to-end platform and the manageability benefits of dealing with a single vendor. In the wake of industry consolidation and the diminished population of pure-play BI vendors, customers are carefully weighing these and other factors in setting direction for vendor and product selection from both strategic and tactical perspectives.
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In CRM, there’s the traditional integration challenge and the new Web 2.0 challenge. The traditional challenge is to tightly integrate customer data across Web, email, store, and other channels. After substantial investment in CRM, organizations are turning attention to such granular technological challenges as creating a single view by reconciling different email addresses, names, orders and other dimension that a single customer may have logged across multiplechannels. The new Web 2.0 challenge is building Web-based communities that enable customer feedback and collaboration in forums, comment fields, wikis and other social networking tools. Web 2.0 is swiftly becoming de rigueur for marketers to build customer loyalty.
As data volumes continue to grow, uploading data to the data warehouse has become much too time-consuming. Is there a way to speed this process?
The process of uploading data can be simplified by using a data management solution with changed data capture(CDC). CDC, or delta processing, is a technique in which an older file and a new file are compared to identify changes that have occurred. Only the data that has changed is updated in the master file. This type of processing will help reduce the amount of data that will need to be uploaded to a data warehouse, improving performance.
Though it’s been around a while, changed data capture (CDC) has found its sweet spot with the advent of the real-time data warehouse. Available as a built-in or optional component in leading ETL tools, CDC can drastically reduce the volume of data to be moved into a warehouse (or to an operational application or other system, for that matter). Naturally, if data loads are reduced by, e.g., 85 percent, load times are reduced commensurately, making multiple intraday loads practical. The additional benefits of minimizing impact on operational applications, bandwidth, and I/O make CDC worth a close look by any organization that wants to freshen its warehouse data to enhance its value to the business.
Open source data integration is making the headlines, but is it ready for the enterprise?
Beyond the technical aspects (open source data integration offers today the same level of features and performance as proprietary vendors), the true answer lies in the ability of commercial open source vendors to meet the demands of enterprise customers. These vendors control the road map of their products, provide enterprise-grade technical support and IP indemnification, and reduce the dependency of their customers on a single mega-vendor that controls their entire IT stack and budget. Open sourceis today a true alternative to proprietary data integration and many companies of all sizes are proving it every day by making the switch.
Open source data integration has been on a fast track in 2008. For instance, Talend in June introduced change data capture technology into its flagship product, enabling acceleration of processing times by moving only data changed since the last load, an important feature for enterprises with large data sets and time sensitivity. While the steady maturation of enterprise features in open source data integration is prompting interest, change won’t happen overnight. History shows that open source initially tends to be adopted tactically and incrementally before moving into the mainstream, and signs point to continued growth in the open source data integration market in the next several years.