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Data management's top eight stories of 2008

In 2008, open source and on-demand business intelligence gained ground, risk surpassed compliance as the top GRC concern, and Microsoft made a move on SAP and IBM for the top spot among business intelligence vendors.

As expected, there was no shortage of data management news and developments in 2008. Though we didn't have the excitement of 2007's business intelligence (BI) mergers and acquisitions mayhem, this year we did see open source and on-demand BI gain ground, a new emphasis on risk, and the mega-vendors begin to lay out their plans for newly acquired BI technology. And that's not all. Here we round up the top eight data management stories of 2008.

8. Data quality and integration converge. In 2008, the data quality and data integration tools markets continued to converge, as organizations increasingly realized that the accuracy of data is just as important as its delivery, according to Gartner. "The market has moved away from seeking point solutions as companies have begun thinking of the data quality problem as very far-reaching and pervasive," said Gartner analyst Ted Friedman. And organizations like the U.S. Naval Institute took important steps to improve the quality and integration of their data.

7. "Alternative" systems gain ground. Last year was a good one for both open source and on-demand BI, as companies looked for cheaper and innovative ways to analyze their data. Cisco, for one, continues to use open source BI tools to enhance its network authentication server, while midmarket firms like Welch's embraced SaaS-based BI. On-demand data warehousing attracted some attention too.

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6. Competency centers take center stage. A competency center isn't exactly a new concept, but 2008 saw a number of companies formally launch BI and integration competency centers of their own. Italian firm CSI-Piemonte established its BI competency center to help it upgrade to new SAS software, and one electronics retailer cut costs dramatically thanks to an integration competency center. "A big part of the competency center should be best practices and leveraging technology investments," said Forrester Research's Rob Karel.

5. The mega-vendors unveil BI product roadmaps. Well, sort of. In March, SAP unveiled some of its plans to integrate Business Objects BI tools and technology with its own BI stack, while Oracle presented its Hyperion integration plans in July. Meanwhile, IBM continued to tout its "Information on Demand" strategy, which relies heavily on Cognos technology for BI and analytics. There are still plenty of unknowns at all three vendors, so expect more BI integration announcements in the year ahead.

4. MDM can't pull itself out of the 'chasm.' At this year's Gartner MDM Summit in November, Philip Lay, keynote speaker and managing director of TCG Advisors, noted that master data management (MDM) adoption was stuck in a "chasm," having not yet broken through to the mainstream. Could that change in 2009? Lay thinks it's possible, telling the Gartner audience that a recession is the perfect time to launch an MDM initiative. Vendors aren't helping matters, however, as their MDM marketing bluster continues to confuse customers. Besides, companies first must tackle data governance, the first step in any MDM initiative, according to Rick Sherman of Athena IT Solutions.

3. BI for the masses picks up steam. In 2008, vendors including Business Objects and Microsoft pushed "BI for the masses" about as hard as any other marketing message. The idea is to create BI tools simple enough that they can be safely spread to non-power users throughout the enterprise. But not all companies are ready for the democratization of BI, as some -- including Forbes Media -- call it. "At the end of the day, [BI software] is still just a tool," said Mykolas Rambus, head of IT at Forbes. "It's not clairvoyant. You've got to figure out what direction it should be looking in or what issues you should be looking at." And those decisions are made by people, not by technology.

2. Risk surpasses compliance in GRC hierarchy. With the economy in shambles and vendors scrambling to react, it's no wonder risk management surpassed compliance as the No. 1 GRC issue for most companies in 2008. "The shift in GRC emphasis from compliance to risk has changed the spending dynamic considerably," a report from AMR Research stated. "Firms report moving beyond specific initiative spending to more broad-based support for risk, especially in the IT arena." With a worldwide recession likely to last months if not years longer, count on risk management retaining its top spot in 2009.

1. Microsoft pulls to the front of the BI pack. It came as a surprise to just about everyone, probably even Microsoft, when the software giant was named the top BI vendor by Gartner in February, beating out BI heavyweights SAP-Business Objects and IBM-Cognos. Not content to sit on its lead, Microsoft made a number of BI and data warehousing moves in 2008, including acquiring data warehouse appliance vendor DATAllegro in July and announcing plans for new self-service BI tools in October. In a column from the floor of Microsoft's October BI conference in Seattle, BI expert and author Dr. Mark Whitehorn even declared that Microsoft's BI tools may have the "potential to fundamentally change the way we do BI." That's quite an expectation to live up to, but by this time next year, we should have a good idea whether Microsoft can pull it off.

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