Enterprise standardization, low-cost Microsoft alternatives and increased user adoption are key issues for companies using business intelligence (BI) applications, according to one research firm.
An independent study from Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research Inc. identifies the emerging BI trends and ranks six suites on their ability to deliver ROI. Nucleus reached its findings after talking directly to real-world users, said Kathy Quirk, research director with Nucleus and author of the study. Quirk talked to approximately five customers of each BI vendor, in some cases more, and other users in the market. Then, she used their input to rank major BI suites on a scale of one through five.
Nucleus did a similar study of BI tools in 2004, Quirk said, but recent efforts were focused on analysis of "suites that combine reporting, querying and dashboards into one tool that can be used by several different constituencies."
Quirk estimates that most companies surveyed still have anywhere from two to four BI tools in use, despite deploying one of these multi-featured suites. The challenge of maintaining multiple BI applications is driving many companies to standardize, but that's easier said than done.
Quirk wanted to find out if users were truly standardizing on one BI product. Many companies are "moving in that direction," following different tactics and timelines, but standardization is not widespread, she said. At least one user plans to continue running multiple tools to compare their results.
Keeping costs down is a major reason users are interested in Microsoft's offerings, Quirk explained, because the software giant has lower upfront license fees. Microsoft BI is ranked fourth in the study, with a score of 4.2, and Quirk found that Excel is still the most widely used BI tool. Early adopters and beta testers expressed interest in the new reporting capabilities of SQL 2005 and other Microsoft BI applications , and companies are intrigued by the promise of easier deployment to novice BI end users.
"I don't think that Microsoft is going to start taking major chunks of business away from established players," Quirk said. "But they will be pretty aggressive in the lower end of the market by incorporating BI technology into Microsoft applications that people are already familiar with."
While user adoption and deployment are still big challenges for companies, Quirk said, the major vendors' dashboard features are helping BI "click" with new users by presenting information in a graphical format. The study found that dashboards can help drive adoption across the enterprise, as users see BI visually.
For the future, Quirk predicts greater convergence of BI and analytics. Most companies she surveyed are running separate historical BI and predictive analytics tools, and she thinks that BI vendors will extend their suites to include more analytics features.