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Gartner Magic Quadrant for business intelligence software platforms predicts upset of status quo

The usual suspects continued to dominate the '07 Gartner Magic Quadrant for business intelligence software platforms, but technological changes may soon diminish their advantage.

The latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for business intelligence (BI) software platforms contains familiar names, but given the trends it describes, none should rest on their laurels.

The industry continues to move beyond basic reports and metrics toward "process and strategy-driven" BI, according to the study by the Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm. Process-driven BI is the concept of embedding pertinent reports and analyses in daily workflow, while strategy-driven BI ties data to planning and corporate performance management (CPM) initiatives. With the convergence of BI and CPM well under way, Gartner now expects BI vendors to mingle more with business-process management companies. But other technological trends could change the landscape even more.

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 The study identified trends that paradoxically point to more BI market participation from vendors large and small. It found that immense infrastructure vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP have increased their focus on BI, which could trigger other big players to follow suit. Large system vendors including IBM, which has traditionally embraced a partnership strategy for BI, and HP, which recently acquired BI consulting firm Knightsbridge, may increase their presence even more. At the same time, the study said that new "flattening technologies" are leveling the playing field.

"Ajax front ends, the MDX query language, in-memory analysis for improved performance, and Excel Services for Office integration have made it easier for software vendors in general to provide BI functionality," the study said. "This flattening effect will diminish the technical advantage held by the traditional, pure-play BI vendors."

Business intelligence software platform leaders according to Gartner's Magic Quadrant

That said, the traditional BI pure plays remained the leaders in the Magic Quadrant, which places vendors in one of four segments, based on vision and proven ability to execute. The study also emphasized that Gartner evaluated only BI "platforms," which require functions for integration, information delivery and analysis. And the firm noted that inclusion criteria can change from year to year, based on market dynamics.

The leaders -- those with the best vision and ability to execute -- included SAS Institute, Business Objects and Cognos, in similar positions to where they were on last year's Magic Quadrant. Others were Oracle and Hyperion Solutions, both of which landed in the leaders box this time, rather than the challengers and visionaries quadrants where, respectively, they appeared last year. And Information Builders continued to straddle the boundary line between the leaders and the challengers.

Microsoft and SAP were the only occupants in the challengers section, representing vendors with good ability to execute, but less vision. Compared to last year's study, Microsoft is closer to the boundary line between the challengers and leaders, but SAP's position has remained relatively unchanged. In the visionaries quadrant, which highlights vendors with good vision but not-so-great execution, were Microstrategy and QlikTech. The smaller vendor, QlikTech, grew significantly last year, the study noted, thanks to its in-memory processing architecture and risk-lowering money-back guarantee. But the study said it needs more enterprise-wide deployments to play in the leaders section.

Finally, the niche quadrant of vendors with less execution experience and vision -- but still meeting the analyst's criteria -- featured five companies, including one name new to the study. Familiar names in this section included Actuate, Applix, Arcplan and Panorama Software, which all appeared in the niche quadrant last year. Spotfire, the only new name to appear on the quadrant since last year, found success in some vertical markets with its interactive visualization, in-memory-based analysis, and wizard-based development tools designed for analysts, not programmers. The study suggests, however, that Spotfire will be challenged to sustain its technological differentiation as competition heats up.

BI spending will increase, the study found, as deployments become more strategic and reach more users in an organization. But as spending increases, so will vendor competition, especially among the big players, and that may bring more flexible vendor pricing policies. But -- as always in the Magic Quadrant studies -- Gartner warns against limiting evaluations to the named leaders. Buyers must evaluate platforms based on individual requirements and strategies.

"Buyers should evaluate vendors in all four quadrants," the study said, "including those from the niche players and visionaries quadrants because these vendors are driving innovation in many areas, such as interactive visualization, in-memory data analysis, real-time dashboards, wizard-based application development, and spreadsheet-based reporting."

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