The business intelligence (BI) landscape is changing. Within the last year, the market has seen a number of consolidations, new market entrants, the emergence of embedded analytics, the increase of on-demand applications, and the inclusion of open source BI as a mainstream offering. With these changes and the perceived saturation of the enterprise market, solutions targeted to small and mid-sized organizations are becoming commonplace. BI mega vendors and smaller solution providers offer solutions geared toward mid-sized companies with benefits of lower price points and implementations that require less technical expertise.
Whether these solutions actually meet the unique business requirements of mid-market companies remains a mystery. In many cases, BI vendors offer a stripped down version of their enterprise solutions. Alternatively, smaller vendors exist that may lack the perceived viability of their larger counterparts. Consequently, for organizations looking for solutions, the number of choices may seem overwhelming. Alternatively, mid-sized companies may feel that not enough exists to satisfy their business requirements. Although the solutions available offer value, the ability to sift through what is available and choose the most valuable option for a specific organization becomes more difficult as the market continues to diversify. This article provides the first step for organizations looking at what is available within the mid-market by demystifying the market and sorting through the wealth of solutions available to mid-sized organizations.
General awareness of options available to small and mid-sized companies is lacking. Although many solutions exist that encompass various deployment options, few organizations are aware of what exists beyond leading targeted mid-market vendor solutions such as those offered by Microsoft, Business Objects/SAP, or Cognos/IBM. Whether this is because these organizations already boast the largest number of mid-market deployments or are just better at marketing their messages, the fact remains that many smaller vendors and newer entrants also offer solutions specifically targeted toward small and mid-sized companies. These solutions may provide an added freedom and autonomy as organizations can pick and choose what they want to use as opposed to implementing a prepackaged solution. For example, data visualization or reporting tools can be downloaded from the Internet, and organizations can use a piecemeal approach by implementing front-end applications such as dashboards and scorecards as opposed to the whole BI stack.
Whether in the guise of on-demand or hosted solutions, embedded analytics, or niche solutions such as dashboarding or data warehousing, the fact remains that mid-market BI and the solutions that support it extend far beyond traditional vendor solutions. The trick for organizations becomes how to sift through the various solutions, tie them to the features and functionality that best meets the organization’s requirements, and identify what added services create the added value for the organization itself. And more importantly, the trick becomes how to find what is actually available. Selecting the most deployed or popular solution within a certain market segment may not be the right approach for every company. Each organization should identify how vendors differentiate themselves from their competition and tie those to benefits or potential implications for the organization itself.
Solution providers target small and mid-sized companies with the promise of lower prices, lower TCO, and overall services and support. In addition to pricing, easier implementations and less IT involvement or the need to integrate fully with a current IT infrastructure that may not be as robust as their enterprise counterparts becomes a large selling point for many organizations on the hunt for their first BI solutions. Depending on the type of deployment, these two selling points may be more or less valid. Some general points to consider that move beyond price points and the reliance of IT are supported data sources, licensing models, and overall viability.
Organizations may overlook current architecture and not realize that it becomes important to identify whether a BI vendor’s solution can integrate the company’s required data sets easily. If not, implementation time increases, lessening the perception of ease of use. In many cases, organizations use traditional data source applications such as spreadsheets, SQL Server, DB2, etc.; but for organizations that use additional sources, these can become important considerations when evaluating potential solutions. Some vendor solutions build their platforms around other vendor data sets. This may mean building analytics for SAP, Oracle, or Salesforce.com data with the ability to access other data stores, but not intuitively.
On-demand or hosted solutions are considered almost ideal solutions for organizations with small IT departments or that do not want to share data across the organization. Although these solutions have many inherent benefits, including having access to data and analytics as a service with minimum internal involvement, organizations should identify whether the pricing models actually decrease TCO over time. With yearly usage fees being incurred, the amount spent on BI over time might exceed other forms of low cost implementations. For instance, there are BI applications that can be downloaded from the Web (such as LogiXML, SiSense, and Lyza just to name a few) that may require initial training, but may be more economical when considered over time.
With the plethora of solutions available and new entrants to the market, it becomes difficult to identify whether going with a new BI vendor presents too much of a risk. How does an organization evaluate whether a new software offering will still be supported in years to come or identify if a solution provider’s goal is to be acquired putting future development in jeopardy? Many vendors use beta testing with key referenceable customers that can be used as a sales tool for future marketing and to use as examples of product success. Although it is important to move beyond an organization’s marketing campaigns to evaluate the actual benefits of implementing specific solutions, it becomes important to use reference customers as a springboard to identify whether the newer vendor will suit the requirements of the company.
An increase in awareness of what is available and viable for small and mid-sized companies looking to implement BI is essential as the market continues to diversify. For organizations to implement the best solution for their organization that meets their unique needs, it may become important to look beyond mega vendor solutions toward smaller or niche vendors while also evaluating deployment alternatives such as on-demand or open source solutions.
Editor's Note: Be sure to read Lyndsay Wise's executive summary of her recent research on business intelligence for the mid-market. The summary also contains a link to the full research report.