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From the BI Scorecard: The Year Ahead in BI and a Look Back on 2011 Highlights

From in-memory to visual discovery, big data to mobile and cloud BI -- and more -- what's ahead for BI professionals in 2012.

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard


Happy New Year! I think I am allowed to still say that until the end of January, right?

When we set new year’s resolutions in our house, we tend to tweak the list for a few weeks (figuring out what’s more wishful thinking versus realistically achievable) and then up they go, taped to the kitchen cupboard, over last year’s lists. It’s always a chuckle, sometimes an inspiration, to compare last year’s list with this year’s. So with that philosophy in mind, here is a look at the top BI trends from 2011 and what’s in store for 2012.


In-memory continued to take center stage in 2011, with its ability to provide speed-of-thought analysis and analytic power on increasing amounts of data. SAP’s in-memory appliance, HANA, became generally available in June. Oracle later announced its own in-memory appliance, Exalytics, at its Oracle Open World conference in September. The appliance combines capabilities from in-memory database TimesTen with new visual discovery capabilities. It was expected to be generally available by year end, but it’s not, and Oracle has yet to provide an update on release plans. IBM Cognos released its dynamic query mode or in-memory for relational databases in fall 2011. SAS has also begun supporting in-memory as part of its industry solutions.

In the year ahead, large enterprises may gradually adopt these high-end appliances, but the majority of customers will continue to embrace more nimble in-memory solutions from vendors such as QlikTech, Microsoft (Power Pivot), and Tableau, or software-only solutions such as the approach MicroStrategy and IBM Cognos use. In 2012, look for Microsoft to release a new version of PowerPivot with better security and support for hierarchies, capabilities lacking in the current release.

Visual Discovery

Visual discovery and in-memory are not synonymous despite some industry confusion and that many visual discovery tools have an in-memory engine. In 2011, MicroStrategy entered this market with its Visual Insight product. Both QlikView and TIBCO Spotfire released new versions of their products toward the end of 2011 with slightly different areas of focus. QlikView touted collaboration and comparative analysis, while Spotfire’s latest release simplifies dashboard design and improved collaboration.

Visual discovery will be a busy segment in 2012. SAS (Visual Analytics Explorer), IBM Cognos, Oracle (Exalytics), and Microsoft (Crescent) have all been previewing visual discovery features to come in 2012. With BI platform vendors releasing capabilities and -- in some instances -- bundling those capabilities in existing licenses, customers will continue to wrestle with the distinct benefits this new breed of tool provides. Customers will have to more finely assess what their requirements are and which product is most suitable -- is it data mart, visual appeal, self-service with no IT involvement, or rapid time to value?

Big Data

Both in-memory and visual discovery have a role to play with big data. So, too, do data warehouse appliances, columnar databases, and, of course, broader support for noSQL databases such as Hadoop and MapReduce, and 2011 was another busy year for acquisitions with HP acquiring Vertica (Q2 2011) and Teradata acquiring Aster Data (Q2 2011). No doubt, some of the 2011 acquisitions were driven by the 2010 moves of IBM acquiring Netezza and EMC acquiring Greenplum. A number of BI tool vendors are adding support for Hadoop, including Pentaho 4, Jaspersoft 4.5, and Tableau 7 due out any day.

In addition, a new category of BI tools specifically for NoSQL seems to be emerging with start ups such as Datameer and Karmasphere. Splunk -- which helps companies collect and analyze machine-generated data -- has made a number of executive appointments, fueling speculation of an IPO in 2012. Along these lines, SAP BusinessObjects Event Insight was released in 2011, bringing real-time data feeds to the BI platform.

In the year ahead, expect the leading BI vendors to continue to add support for NoSQL databases. Don’t look for a silver bullet or a single approach in addressing your big data needs.

Mobile BI

All BI vendors are touting mobile BI as the next big wave, but they continue to argue about development approaches, which content on which device, and, of course, where to place bets on market share. Both Apple and Android devices have steadily eroded BlackBerry’s dominance in corporations. In 2011, the much-anticipated BlackBerry playbook was largely a failure, and service interruptions worsened BlackBerry’s decline. Meanwhile, some customers are still saying, “Who cares about mobile BI,” failing to see value beyond executive eye-candy.

Expect the confusion and skepticism to continue in 2012. Mobile BI capabilities will continue to improve, with more BI vendors adapting their apps so that tablets support offline or airline mode, better security, and better performance. Vendors that take a Web-app-only approach today will revisit this to provide customers with a better mobile experience. The waning of unlimited data plans will raise the issue of better device-based caching.

BlackBerry faces an even tougher 2012. Who can rescue them? Which BI vendor will be the first to stop developing on that platform? I can’t help but wonder if 2012 will be the year for BlackBerry to get acquired or die a slow death. I will miss my keyboard. Will Microsoft finally make an appearance in this market?

Cloud BI

So many headlines are touting cloud as a way of reducing hardware costs and providing elasticity during peak computing times. For SMBs, cloud BI in particular provides the promise of an easier implementation without the worry of having to first establish a BI infrastructure. To be sure, cloud computing in general has gained acceptance with certain functional areas. Think payroll or HR or CRM with However, in BI it’s a different story.

Customers are still anxious about letting go of their data. Historically, there have been trade-offs, too, in functionality of cloud-based BI solutions. Vendors that allow customers to leave data on premise while surfacing dashboards and reports in the cloud might be striking the right balance. Such has been the approach of Birst.

In 2011, we also saw MicroStrategy enter the cloud arena. MicroSoft Azure gained momentum as a full-service cloud platform, that includes BI capabilities as well as a marketplace of third-party data. SAP announced stepped-up initiatives in this area, partnering with Google and now embedding HANA in the SAP BusinessObjects onDemand solution. YellowFin, a start up in Australia, touts a mutli-tenant architecture ideal for SaaS OEM vendors. Domo (previously known as Corda) is retrenching to be more SaaS focused. Other SaaS vendors (such as PivotLink and Indicee) continued to gain customers.

In 2012, the discussion will shift from “cloud versus on-premise” to “what to put in the cloud.” BI products that are mutli-tenant will have a leg up for enterprise customers who want a combination of approaches and for SMB customers who want to go fully to a cloud solution.

Social, Collaborative BI

Social media continues to be the new software and marketing battleground. Google launched Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, hitting 50 million users within three months. Facebook has exceeded 800 million users, and even the Republican Presidential debates are now intertwined with Facebook.

What does this have to do with BI? As a way of working, user-driven content without IT as the gatekeeper is increasingly assumed. Collaboration capabilities continue to cross into BI but ahead of customer demand. Lyzasoft, one of the specialty vendors in the space, had a major new product release but is still trying to find its footing. Meanwhile, QlikTech, TIBCO Spotfire, and Panorama released new versions with collaborative capabilities. Information Builders added support for SalesForce Chatter and SAP StreamWork.

Vendors are innovating, but are customers adopting? There is no doubt that Microsoft SharePoint 2010 has been a successful portal product, but try to find customers who are using the collaborative capabilities around BI and decision making (if you are out there, please contact me). Ditto for Cognos 10 and the Lotus Connect integration as well as OBI EE Web Center.

In 2012, a few early adopters will reap the benefits of collaborative BI both within corporate boundaries and beyond. Already there have been some compelling case studies (particularly in health care) about how collaboration has saved companies millions of dollars while improving care. In terms of product highlights, look for SAP Streamwork and SAP BusinessObjects to be better integrated in their feature pack 3 release, due in the first half of 2012.

BI Beyond the Technology

Vendors can innovate, but. of course, it takes more than software for BI to be successful. Already with the economy limping to recovery, BI talent is tight. As pent-up demand for BI spending is released, expect this problem to exacerbate. Companies would be wise to invest in developing BI expertise internally because it will be hard to recruit talent. Universities need to continue to expand their programs in creating data analysts.

Although the BI market is poised for a banner year in 2012, it’s the European economy and the instability in the Middle East that might disrupt more than just BI.

How did we do in predicting last year’s BI themes? Dashboards did, indeed, become mainstream, but not so visual discovery tools (at least not yet). The rest of my predictions seem to have been on the money, although big data and cloud were more high profile than I predicted.

If only my New Year’s resolutions were equally good.! Yoga once a month was more like once a quarter, ad after three years of the same resolution with little success, I have now abandoned even trying to curse less, which my children -- now full-fledged teenagers -- think is so funny.

Happy New Year!
Cindi Howson

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Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.

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