Suites (BI, data integration or data modeling): Boom or Bust?

Public DW/BI Courses in March
February 29, 2008
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March 10, 2008
Public DW/BI Courses in March
February 29, 2008
How to Tap IT’s Hidden Potential
March 10, 2008
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Suites (BI, data integration or data modeling): Boom or Bust?

Istock_000004884065xsmall_3 Microsoft (MSFT) vaulted into dominating PC applications when it developed its Office Suite concept a long time ago. Before this suite people bought best-of-breed applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and personal databases. Microsoft arguably did not have the best of any of these applications but had a set of “good enough” applications that (kind of) worked together and were simpler, as well as, cheaper than buying the best-of-breed products. Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and Aldus where the best products once but they have long since faded from most people’s memories. Since becoming the dominant player, Microsoft has increased its Office Suite’s functionality and complexity over the years.

In data warehousing and business intelligence, software companies have introduced suites for various categories of software including BI, data integration and data modeling. Each category of suites were created after software companies initially developed best-of-breed products that targeted specific or niche BI, DI or data modeling tasks. The vendors expanded each of these niches until they overlapped other niches. Over time, either through internally developed product extensions or very commonly via acquisitions, companies developed software suites that provided the functionality of many niches. BI pure-play vendors such as Hyperion Solutions, Business Objects and Cognos developed their BI suites and extended their footprint by acquiring dozens of smaller companies and absorbing their niche products. These companies were themselves bought by the software titans: Oracle (ORCL), SAP (SAP) and IBM (IBM). Besides BI suites, these same software titans have also put together data integration and data modeling suites.

The conventional wisdom is that the suites sold by the software titans will dominate their markets. Based on industry analyst market evaluations and the amount of press released on these products you would think history was repeating itself, i.e. these products are dominating their software category just as Microsoft has done with Office in the desktop application market. There are similarities. The most obvious is that these suites do eliminate the need to buy multiple best-of-breed products and then integrate them together. But the flip side is that these suites have, as they have expanded functionality, gotten more complex and costly.  Microsoft Office has also gotten more complex and costly but there is one significant difference between Office and these new suites: Office because pervasive first and then got more complex and costly. Microsoft captured the market and became the only viable option for companies. It did that by saving companies time, money and resources. BI, data integration and data modeling suites have not become pervasive and there are plenty on options for companies to deploy. History may not repeat itself.

Companies are looking for BI and data integration software that provides the functionality they need but at a reasonable cost in terms of people, skills (both IT and business user), time and budget. The suites may be the most features packed offerings available in the market but that does not mean they are the best fit for everyone. These suites have not become pervasive for a key reason: too high a TCO (total cost of ownership). This provides a market opportunity for software vendors such as MicroStrategy (MSTR), Actuate (ACTU), SAS, Dimensional Insight, QlikTech, Information Builders, SAS and others. In addition, TCO is a prime driver for the interest being shown in open source and On-Demand (or SaaS software-as-a-Service) software offerings for BI and data integration.

Will the software titans win as conventional wisdom implies? Will it become Microsoft’s market based on its dominance of the Office applications, in particular, Microsoft Excel? Will some company breakthrough and become pervasive by offering BI and data integration at a reasonable TCO (of course they will likely be acquired before they become pervasive!)?  Or will the market continue to be fractured?

The journey will take time. There will be hype and surprises.

Features alone will not win the battle.


  1. Ed Freeman says:

    Microsoft Office had MS-DOS to boost it along; I don’t see anything like that happening again :-).
    BI applications desperately need something that office suites don’t: a committed base of expert users. No matter how easy the tool is to use you need to know what you’re doing to get decent results. That’s what I think will determine BI winners and losers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comments. I agree with them and would like to offer a few more:
    1)It’s the data underneath that determines whether the BI or performance mgt application provides business value. It does not matter how simple or feature-packed a BI tool is if the business information displayed is not current, consistent or comprehensive. The charts and data visualization are worthless, and maybe even dangerous, without the right data.
    2)Whatever BI or PM application has to include Microsoft Excel in its portfolio. The problems with using Excel as your sole tool for BI and data integration are well documented but it is the pervasive business application that many business people use daily. If you can separate limit Excel to the final report and analysis processes rather than as a poor person’s ETL (extract, transform and load) tool then Excel works fine in a planned architecture. See TDWI’s recent report on Spreadmarts or Data Shadow Systems that I co-authored for more details.
    3)It is time for IT to understand that many business people understand business data and business rules (transformations) much better than IT does. It is their job. It’s the mechanics of the BI tool where business people are not the experts. The most successful BI/PM applications have resulted when both sides understand and respect each other’s expertise and incorporates that expertise in those applications.
    Rick Sherman

  3. Ray Martin says:

    I agree with your sentiments. Especially now as the economy weakens, TCO becomes an even greater issue. The times now have also allowed new SaaS companies to evolve and offer extremely compelling options that are affordable and easy to use. Lucid Era ( and the newly announced Good Data ( come to mind.
    The SaaS model is very disruptive, and change the dynamics of even solidly entrenched technologies like MS Office. Google Docs, for example, while nowhere near as feature-packed as MS Office, has been useful for me or 90% of the time I have used traditional office apps in the last few months. Time will tell…

  4. I think Microsoft office has some BI too. Experts needs to explore more on it.

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