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BI Leadership Shake-Up

The usual Powers That Be -- i.e., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., SAP AG, and SAS Institute Inc. -- continue to lead the BI market, but they're no longer alone.

In business, predictability is often an asset. The latest business intelligence (BI) vendor assessment from Forrester Inc. paints a picture of a mostly predictable BI vendorscape.

There are, however, a few interesting surprises.

The usual Powers That Be -- namely, IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., SAP AG, and SAS Institute Inc. -- continue to lead the BI market -- but they're no longer alone.

In the most recent (Q4, 2010) installment of its Wave vendor assessment, Forrester promoted Information Builders Inc. (IBI), Microsoft Corp., and MicroStrategy Inc., to the ranks of BI leadership.

Previously, the enterprise computing Gang of Three (with the addition of SAS) had dominated Forrester's "Leaders" category. Over the last 12 months, IBI, Microsoft, and MicroStrategy successfully transitioned from "Strong Performers" to BI "Leaders," according to Forrester analyst Boris Evelson, the report's author.

Evelson's analysis makes it official: IBI, Microsoft, and MicroStrategy enjoy substantial market penetration and field-mature BI platforms.

IBI, for example, can credibly position its WebFOCUS reporting platform (which boasts predictive analytic, data quality, master data management, and light data visualization capabilities, in addition to bread-and-butter reporting) and iWay data integration (DI) connectors as a "nearly full" stack offering.

"Information Builders continues to provide a very respectable alternative to the software behemoths, as the only mid-size vendor to offer a nearly full BI stack functionality," he writes.

With the introduction this month of SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft likewise improves its BI standing: the revamped SQL Server includes an improved ReportBuilder tool (version 3.0), support for Excel 2010's PowerPivot feature, and a new built-in facility for complex event processing, or CEP. In both the revamped SQL Server and in its Office productivity tools, Redmond continues to boost integration and interoperability with the SharePoint portal.

"Microsoft closed some of the previous gaps with acquisitions of data quality and MDM technologies, and now leverages SharePoint success and ubiquity as a critical component of a BI platform," Evelson writes.

MicroStrategy, for its part, has long had the goods, capability-wise, Evelson notes; its new MultiSource option -- which permits users to report, analyze, and monitor data across multiple sources -- helped push it over the top.

Elsewhere, he reports, there's not much daylight between established BI leaders, at least as far as Forrester's metrics are concerned. That being said, Evelson thinks there's suitable differentiation between and among the IBM Cognos, Oracle, SAP BusinessObjects, and SAS offerings.

"All scores hit within a few decimal points of each other, but under the covers they are quite different. IBM Cognos rolled out Cognos 8 on System z and is busy integrating with the recently acquired SPSS, bringing traditional and advanced analytics closer together -- all in a direct challenge to [the] traditional strengths [of SAS]," he notes.

"SAP BusinessObjects continues to steamroll with innovative products like Explorer and [an] in-memory analytical appliance -- Business Warehouse Accelerator," he continues. "Oracle has built new metadata-level OBIEE 11g integration with Fusion Middleware and Fusion Apps and continues to differentiate with its versatile ROLAP engine."

Oracle can differentiate just so much with its ROLAP capability: after all, ROLAP has been MicroStrategy's long-time stock in trade.

Elsewhere, Evelson singles out SAS' mostly homegrown platform, which he says amounts to a very different kind of differentiator.

Even though SAS generates close to $2 billion in annual sales, it tends to make very few acquisitions, which constrains its ability to rapidly flesh out its product stack. It likewise confers certain advantages upon SAS -- not least of which is a more straightforward platform development roadmap. Straightforward, that is, in comparison with the IBMs, Oracles, and SAPs of the world. "SAS … leverages its advantage of organically grown -- with very few acquisitions -- functionality with a seamlessly integrated BI platform," he notes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at

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