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Breaking down a bevy of BI vendors

A new Forrester report dissects the business intelligence market and evaluates vendors in three categories of reporting.

Not all business intelligence (BI) is the same. In fact, words like "reporting" and "end user" can mean very different things to different vendors.

A new report from Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., offers insight into the differences by breaking down reporting into three areas -- analytic reporting tools, enterprise reporting applications and business reporting -- and measuring 13 BI vendors in those categories.

Analytic reporting tools like France's Business Objects SA, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Hyper ion and SAS Institute Inc., in Carry, B.C., are functionally powerful and geared at the power users, said Keith Gi le, senior industry analyst with Forrester. This is where OLAP (online analytical processing)- and SQL-based queries come into play for people who build applications.

Additionally, there are enterprise reporting applications, like Crystal Reports and South San Francisco's Actuate Corps' e-reporting that disseminate information to many casual users and high-level decision makers, Gi le said.

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Over the years, these two types of reporting have converged and created business reporting, targeted between the power and casual user and focused on manipulating data and working collaboratively, Gi le said. These users tend to spend most of their time working on Excel spreadsheets.

The multiple types of reporting tools make for a schizophrenic marketplace.

"All you have to do is look at the acquisition of Crystal Decisions by Business Objects," Gi le said. "For years they were competing for the same customers, yet they were serving two different reporting types. The fact that Business Objects bought the market leader in business reporting demonstrates that it was hearing from its customers that salability was an issue."

Companies need to adopt a standard that can support at least two of these reporting types and fill in the gaps with emerging XML and Web services capabilities where possible, the report suggests.

"For each reporting style, we weighted the value of each differently," Gi le said. "For example, salability isn't important for an analytic tool. For enterprise reporting, it's one of the most important things. You do have to distribute these reports to tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people, whereas metal data is not as big of an issue."

Yet, the vendors all want to provide as complete a suite as possible in order to own the biggest chunk of the overall reporting market. That complete solution is something the market is demanding. Most Global 2000 companies and large governmental organizations have between five and 15 different BI reporting and analysis applications in production, according to the report. At best, many of those applications are redundant and at worst obsolete.

While shopping for a unified system, organizations need to remember the needs of their specific users with functionality targeted at those users, Gi le said. For example, power users require data information exporting and cube and data modeling, whereas business users require local manipulation of data at the granular level. Casual users rely on dashboards and canned reports.

Forrester evaluated 13 vendors based on their current offering, strategy and market presence using questionnaire responses, supplemental information and Forrester's knowledge of the market.

No one vendor is able to provide everything. Though Business Objects has made its push in that direction with the acquisition of Crystal Reports, it has not yet fully integrated their products, Gi le said. Cog nos, with the release of Report Net, is hoping to make itself the full provider. Cog nos and Business Objects are currently the leaders in overall market, but smaller companies like Actuate, Micro Strategy Inc. of Mc Lean, Va. and Information Builders Inc. of New York, are closer to the integrated suite, Gi le added.

"They have had a different approach than say Business Objects; they have a smaller technology they had to make work together," Gi le said.

Companies buying into these Tier 2 companies, vendors with revenue between $100 million and $400 million annually, according to Forrester, should be wary of consolidation. While Actuate is strong in enterprise reporting, it's weaker in analytic s, Gi le said. Should it be acquired, analytic s is more likely to be discontinued.

Meanwhile, SAS has done a good job extending its analytic s reach with its Enterprise Guide and Web Reports Studio, but still needs to prove it's been adapted by a larger audience, Gi le said. Hyper ion is still struggling with whether it is a business performance management, financial services or BI vendor, and platform vendors like Microsoft, Oracle Corps. in Redwood Shores, Calif., SAP AG in Germany and Sieve Systems Inc. in San Mate o, Calif., still have a way to go to catch up with best-of-breed vendors, Gi le said.

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