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SAP, Pentaho release SME BI tools, but are smaller businesses ready?

Pentaho and SAP recently launched new versions of business intelligence tools aimed at small and midsize enterprises, but research suggests SMEs may be slow to invest.

In less than two months, at least two BI and analytics vendors have released products with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in mind.

Pentaho BI 4.0 Enterprise Edition, made widely available just a few weeks ago, puts business intelligence (BI) tools into the hands of the line of business, according to Pentaho CEO Richard Daley.

Technical users were the first to adopt the software, Daley said, but as Pentaho continued to develop the product, it also incorporated a more intuitive approach. Daley describes the 4.0 release as “user-driven,” self-service BI, which he believes will appeal to small and medium-sized enterprises.

“We’re building out the user capability,” Daley said. “We’re extending BI outside of the [IT] wall.”

According to Daley, the newest release includes three notable improvements or enhancements: Interactive reporting allows business users to develop and design their own reports without help from IT; enhanced data discovery options aid nontechnical users in finding and accessing what they need; and an overhauled user interface gives the system a new look and feel.

Pentaho isn’t the first analytics vendor to make SMEs a priority. Last month, SAP announced new releases of its Crystal Server and BusinessObjects Edge Business Intelligence software, focused on small and medium-sized enterprises that provide a “user-friendly,” entry-level analytics application similar to (and easy to integrate with) its BusinessOjects 4.0.

“We realize that midmarket customers have a lot of the same needs that their large enterprise brethren have,” said Mindy Fiorentino, vice president of business analytics for small and medium-sized enterprises at SAP. “We didn’t dummy it down.”

But are SMEs ready?
In the past, SMEs juggled small budgets with minimal IT staff, making it hard, if not impossible, to justify the cost of expensive analytics tools. But with the advent of these latest products, as well as cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) BI options, data analysis is becoming less expensive and more accessible.

“Increasingly, all kinds of tools and now even applications are being built where the objective is the average line-of-business individual,” said Robert Kugel, senior vice president and research director at San Ramon, Calif.-based Ventana Research Inc.

While the trend intimates an evolution of BI tools for small and midsize enterprises, Kugel’s most recent benchmark research indicates SMEs have been slow to invest, with 62% of those surveyed revealing that desktop spreadsheets are the only tool used to generate analytics.

The hurdle to investing in more advanced options, Kugel said, isn’t just financial or technological; it can also come down to process and culture as well.

But as companies add employees and data becomes increasingly voluminous and complex, the need for more structured communication is necessary, Kugel said, especially for medium-sized companies.

“One reason for looking at small and midsize businesses was to emphasize the need for midsize companies in particular to ask questions," he said, "‘Can we do more with analytics?’ ‘Do we have the tools?’ ‘Have we taken our data situation seriously enough to be sure that everyone has the right information at the right time?’ ”

Questions like these can help businesses build a basic assessment to pinpoint where the gaps in the dimensions of people, process, information and technology may exist against an organization’s goals.

Compuware ready to embrace now 
As a larger company, Compuware may not be the target audience for Pentaho’s newest release, but John Gleeson, collaboration program director, stands behind what he sees in the latest version -- more sophistication and better integration.

Two years ago, Compuware, a maker of software to help maximize technology and application performance, embarked on a project to put data visualization tools in the hands of its employees through its intranet. The venture was a success, according to Gleeson, and the organization elected to expand the project.

“We really wanted to introduce additional data sources to accelerate how we use and collaborate around information,” he said.

To do so, Compuware knew it needed outside help to assist with data management. After evaluating six vendors, the software company selected Pentaho’s enterprise BI option.

In the time since the primary deployment, Compuware has upgraded its Pentaho offerings just once -- about six months after the initial installation. That will change later this summer, Gleeson said, as his organization looks to the 4.0 edition.

“Version 4.0 is taking it to the next level by making data sources more readily available through the Web browser to create reports, leverage templates to let end users do ad hoc analysis all based on standardized views of the data,” Gleeson said.

In sales operations alone, Compuware runs through a tremendous amount of data from various sources, some of which cannot be accessed from straight reports or data feeds, Gleeson said. By investing in Pentaho, the software company spends less time pulling data together and more time analyzing data and providing needed information more quickly, accurately and with greater agility.

While Kugel’s recommendation of a basic business assessment may be a first step on the road to advanced analytics, Gleeson also advised before businesses make a major technology purchase, that it sits down and outlines exactly what’s needed from the data.

“It’s much more about business processes involved and really understanding the data you have, the information you need to get from that data, and the value that it will bring to the business than the technology,” he said.  

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