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Business intelligence software adoption lags BI vendors' perception

Business intelligence vendors have a significantly brighter perception of BI deployment rates and support services than their customers, according to a new survey.

At organizations that have deployed business intelligence (BI) tools and software, only a small fraction of workers actually use them and just a quarter of BI customers are fully satisfied with their vendors' support services, according to a recent survey of BI customers, consultants and vendors by the Business Application Research Center.

BI vendors, however, have a significantly rosier take on customer use and support satisfaction rates, said Nigel Pendse, an independent analyst who administered the survey and analyzed its results for the U.K.-based research firm.

According to the survey, 8% of workers at organizations that have deployed BI tools make use of them, on average, but vendors put that figure among their customers at 14%. Likewise, 27% of users rate their vendors' BI support services as "excellent," while the vendors themselves believe they are doing an excellent job in 51% of cases.

Pendse said he thinks most vendors simply count the number of licenses sold to determine the level of employee use at their customers, but in reality not all BI licenses sold are actually used.

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Some BI customers have yet to deploy licenses because projects are still in the early phases or because they bought excess licenses to qualify for volume discounts, Pendse explained. Others may be sitting idle because of unsuccessful BI deployments that have been either temporarily or permanently halted. In some cases, poor support from the vendor contributes to problem, but cost issues are the number one culprit for abandoned BI projects, he said.

Vendors and customers also disagree about the biggest obstacles to successful BI projects. While customers rank slow query performance their number one complaint, vendors cite their customers' poor data quality as the biggest hindrance. Pendse, for one, sides with the customers.

"I think the vendors are deluding themselves," Pendse said in an interview. "They genuinely think their products are better than they are." He added that many vendors don't actually interact with their customers enough to truly understand their deployment and use issues.

Pendse described as common the following scenario: A vendor sells BI software to a customer, a consultant helps test the software among a small group of users, then both leave the customer to tackle performance issues that emerge when the software is deployed on a larger scale.

The survey found that customers of smaller, independent BI vendors were more satisfied with support and performance levels than customers of the mega-vendors, including Oracle and SAP. "Consistently the smaller vendors seem to do a better job at almost everything than the mega-vendors," Pendse said.

Even with improved features and better support services, however, Pendse said he did not expect the percentage of employees using BI tools and software to grow significantly in subsequent surveys, discounting the "BI for the masses" message being pushed by vendors and industry watchers.

BI tools and software "are just too hard to maintain on a large scale. You can't mass train thousands of employees and keep the thing running," Pendse said.

The survey, which was conducted last year, polled 2,622 BI users, consultants and vendors in the U.S., Europe, South America and Asia.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • 29.5% of users said their BI projects had met or exceeded business goals, while 73.2% said they had at least met business goals. 7.3% said their BI projects hadn't met any of its goals.
  • Certain BI vendors are more heavily favored by certain industries. MicroStrategy, for example, boasts more retail and telecommunications customers than average, while Information Builders is predominantly deployed by insurance and healthcare organizations. Oracle BIEE is the favored BI suite for IT services, the survey found, and QlikView is popular with manufacturing companies.
  • The most common BI applications among users were ad hoc query and analysis, general data warehouse reporting, sales and marketing analysis, budgeting and planning management, and dashboards and executive information systems. Each is in use by 40% or more of respondents.

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