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Gartner's Sallam: Top analytics platforms share common traits

In an interview, Gartner analyst Rita Sallam discusses what separates the top BI vendors from the rest as well as the trends that will shape the future of analytics.

Each February, Gartner stirs up a bit of excitement in the business intelligence community with the release of its ranking of the top analytics platforms.

While not the only report ranking the top analytics platforms -- among others, Forrester Research publishes the Forrester Wave and Dresner Advisory Services puts out a host of different rankings -- the Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms is among the best known.

Released on Feb. 11, this year's Magic Quadrant analyzes products from 22 vendors, giving each of them one of four designations. Four vendors were ranked Leaders, the top designation. Three were named Challengers; six, Visionaries; and nine, Niche Players.

Rita Sallam, an analyst at Gartner and one of the authors of the report, discussed Gartner's rankings of the top analytics platforms as well as ongoing trends influencing BI vendors and the trends that will drive the market over the next few years.

In Part I of a two-part Q&A, Sallam discusses in depth the report and Gartner's analysis of the top analytics platforms. In Part II, she talks about trends, both current and expected, and the vendors best positioned to take advantage of the trends over the next few years.

For the second year in a row, Gartner named Microsoft, Tableau, Qlik and ThoughtSpot as the only four Leaders in the Magic Quadrant. Are there any characteristics all four share that has separated them from other vendors over the past few years?

Rita SallamRita Sallam

Rita Sallam: The characteristics of being a Leader are that you have significant momentum in the market, that you are addressing the major product requirements that customers have -- particularly around ease of use in terms of both content creation as well as insight generation -- and from a consumer perspective they need to be able to easily derive insights from analytics content.

The Leaders tend to share market momentum, addressing the major requirements that customers have, and they also tend to be executing well on things that customers care about like support, product quality and user enablement. They also tend to have product vision. They're investing in areas of innovation that not only represent what customers care about today, but also in this market there's now a trend toward more augmented intelligence and machine learning, automated data preparation, insight generation, data science machine learning model development, and conversational interfaces like natural language processing and have insights explained alongside a visualization.

You see all of the Leaders having investments in areas of innovation. There are different degrees of success, but all of them have product and roadmaps that are very much focused on innovation.

The Leaders tend to share market momentum, addressing the major requirements that customers have, and they also tend to be executing well on things that customers care about like support, product quality and user enablement.
Rita SallamAnalyst, Gartner

Of the four, Microsoft and Tableau are far into the Leader quadrant while Qlik and ThoughtSpot are only just in. What makes Microsoft Power BI and Tableau the top analytics platforms, separated from even Qlik and ThoughtSpot?

Sallam: They are the ones that have most of the market momentum. Tableau and Microsoft Power BI are on most companies' shortlist when they're looking to purchase an analytics and BI platform. As a result of that, they have higher ability to execute at this point; they have higher momentum than the other two.

There are a group of vendors -- Domo, Looker, ThoughtSpot among them -- who all got started between 2010 and 2015, but of them ThoughtSpot has seemingly been able to gain traction more quickly. What is it about ThoughtSpot that has separated it from other vendors of similar age?

Sallam: ThoughtSpot has been truly an innovator and leader in NLP-based, search-based analytics as well as augmented analytics. They were able to carve out a pretty impressive niche and differentiator around those innovations that allow regular business people to ask very complex questions on their data at scale. Because of their early innovation around essentially the future user experience -- we're calling it augmented analytics, a user experience that enables the augmented consumer -- and because they were early in investing and in delivering those innovations and the market positively responded to those innovations, we saw the rest of the market, including the other Leaders, begin to imitate those innovations.

We see some differentiation from Looker. Looker is differentiated by its optimizations with cloud data sources, with its agile semantic model that allows companies to deliver enterprise reporting and analytics at scale on very large data. For companies that have gone all-in on the cloud for data management, Looker is absolutely differentiated. But ThoughtSpot delivered the combination of innovation as well as momentum.

Is that sustainable?

Sallam: The rest of the market now has begun to imitate them, and I would say that the innovation gap between them and the rest of the market may narrow over time as all of the Leaders and the rest of the market is also investing in augmented analytics, in natural language processing and conversational interfaces as a way to deliver more powerful insights to a broader range of users.

While the four Leaders are clearly offering top analytics platforms, who are a few vendors whose platforms showed the greatest improvement over the past year?

Sallam: Two vendors probably stand out for their delivery and the innovation in their platforms. Both Oracle and Yellowfin moved from the Niche Quadrant into the Visionaries Quadrant, largely because of their innovations around augmented analytics, being able to deliver next-generation, AI, machine learning, automated experiences.

Oracle has some differentiators not only within their web-based product but also in their mobile product, Day by Day. Yellowfin has delivered innovations around Signals, a business activity monitoring innovation where dynamic insights are automatically delivered to users rather than them first having to start in a predefined dashboard. Yellowfin is really delivering what will likely be a key part of all user experiences in the next three to five years, replacing in many ways the static, predefined dashboards.  

What about a couple of vendors whose platforms slipped over the past year relative to the rest of the market, and which maybe got passed by because they didn't react quickly to new trends and features?

Sallam: I would say most of the others remained pretty much the same. One other that had some improvement is Tibco, which moved from Visionary to Challenger largely on the strength of its product and some better execution measures on customer experience and operations that we look at.

Who probably dropped a bit would be Birst. Birst, at one point, was higher up on the Niche Quadrant prior to its acquisition by Infor. Acquisitions often come with some disruption in the customer base. There are changes in things like support and the way that product development is managed. Support is one of those areas where keeping people in the position longer results in better support because the more experienced people are, the better they are able to deliver high-quality support. When acquisitions happen those functions tend to be disrupted the most, so we do see Birst suffering some losses in terms of the customer experience, particularly around support.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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