The more the merrier

For the advocates of BI standardisation, the benefits are obvious: in a consolidating market, best-of-breed vendors with narrow product lines are most at risk; buyers also benefit by having just one BI contract to manage; and buying several products from a single vendor can increase the discount. And yet the prevailing consensus emerging from the first panel debate at Business Intelligence 07 suggests that users are not yet ready to consolidate BI purchasing.

For some it is a matter of familiarity and influence: “Whoever is in power in a certain part of the enterprise will buy the BI tools they are familiar with,” says Colin Clark, head of corporate business control for supermarket chain Somerfield.

Many BI users are already in the position where they have identified which tools meet their needs, says Gerry Brown, analyst at Bloor Research. In such cases, users are likely to resist attempts to force a single BI tool on them, he adds: “Users are pushing against standardisation.”

However, the idea of adopting BI tools from a single vendor has support in the upper echelons of the enterprise, says Noel Gorvett, group business systems manager at Pearson, where he has overseen BI standardisation at the publishing group . “The higher up the organisation you go, the push-back against standardisation is eliminated,” he says.

And that user-resistance may be perfectly understandable, says Royce Bell, CEO of Accenture’s information management practice. “The attitude of ‘one-tool-fits-all’ is wrong. The vendors’ tools might be brilliant at some things, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them for everything.”

The benefits of choosing best-of-breed products were outlined by Clark:“Small implementations of vertically targeted BI tools are preferable. I use a tool that only does fraud detection for fraud detection, and use [a desktop BI tool] for desktop BI. I wouldn’t want to give everything to people who don’t need it.”

However, Clark warned that users’ control over BI tools should be limited. He recounted an occasion when a business user managed to apply so many multi-layered analytical reporting tools to a stock item that he ended up valuing it at £12 million; in fact it was worth £30. “You can give users the tools they want, but there is no sense-checking when they come to analyse the information.”

Search for intelligence

With such entrenched support for the use of point solutions, the debate was noticeably cool on the convergence of BI with search and content management technology. The prevailing attitude was that vendors should stick to what they do best: “Do we really want [BI vendors], who are great at what they do, to get into text analytics?” pondered Bell.

In the case of search, users must be trained to use enterprise search tools, says Somerfield’s Clark. Unlike web search, enterprise search requires a degree of skill. Put garbage search terms in and you get garbage out, he insists.

However, consolidation with the BI industry appears to be a given, warns Bell. “Microsoft is going to come at the BI market this year,” he says. “Like with every market it enters, that will be great for the user and terrible for the vendors.”

So while users may hold out against BI standardisation today, Microsoft’s further penetration of the market will test their commitment to best-of-breed point solutions, says Bell.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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