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Business Intelligence Rises to Top of CIOs' Lists
By John Hazard


Vendors and VARs building and selling business intelligence solutions say their businesses are booming.

BI solution providers have found themselves thriving, building solutions that make data easier to access, navigate and analyze for companies looking to capitalize on the vast amounts of data they collect to gain an edge in the market.

"In the past three to five years you have seen BI go from not even on the agenda of most CIOs, to the top 10, even the top three items they're looking at," said Michael Corcoran, chief strategy officer at Information Builders, maker of WebFocus, a Web-based analytic software.

"You can no longer have a happy executive with a handful of analysts who have a piece of the picture. You have to go ahead and make that data you have been collecting available to those guys driving the trucks, the guys loading the docks, the guys pulling boxes out in accounting, so they can make decisions on their level."

Delivering that ability is now a $22 billion-a-year business for vendors, VARs and service providers, and it is growing at about 15 percent annually, according to a June study by AMR Research, a financial analyst.

"A lot of it has to do with maturity," said John Hagerty, vice president of research at AMR. "These companies have spent lots of money implementing their systems to gather this data. Now they're looking to leverage what they've captured to make better decisions, predict the market and guide them toward fact-based decisions."

Vendors are releasing new features and products at a rapid pace. Cognos Inc. announced Tuesday the release of Cognos 8 Business Intelligence, to improve reporting, queries and analysis. Also on Tuesday, Business Objects released six BI solution bundles aimed at the midmarket, a segment the company said has been ignored.

eWEEK.com Special Report: Business Intelligence SoftwareThe AMR study, based on 2004 data, found spending was spread across industry verticals (financial institutions take a small lead) and business sizes, with the biggest growth in the midsize and SMB markets.

Also driving the upsurge in BI business is the compliance movement, which requires that companies not only collect data, but use it to develop a clear picture of business to executives and investors, Hagerty and vendors said.

Frank Marsella, of Niteo Partners—an NEC Company, a BI solution builder in Edison, N.J., has seen business grow 30 percent and expects it to continue for the immediate future. Niteo's growth has been spread across business segments and company sizes, he said.

A key to Niteo's success, Marsella said, has been the company's approach. The company deploys business consultants and conducts interviews with executives to determine "what numbers they need to see and how they need to see it. They know their business better than anyone; they just don't know how to use the technology to get what they need."

As the trend to greater adoption of BI solutions continues, VARs and solution builders will be increasingly important for customizing solutions for clients in all industries and business sizes.

"None of these are out-of-the-box tools," said Ranjan Sinha, a principal at the Axis Group LLC, a BI service provider in Short Hills, N.J. "Some have jumping starts for certain verticals [or operations], but most need intensive customization to give the client the view of their business that they want to see. … There is a tremendous opportunity for anyone who can develop solutions driven by business trends."

Currently, many solution builders are organized around content areas—supply chain, inventory, and human resources—but the future is likely to yield vertical industry-based VARs, Hagerty said. "The need is there for an end-to-end solution," he said.

Vendors too recognize the importance of a complete solution. The latest products released—Cognos 8, a Business Objects line, with others expected to be released this fall—trend toward an integrated solution, Corcoran said.

The midmarket and SMB markets are also likely to play a greater role, as more businesses in those sectors adopt the technology, said Juliette Sultan, vice president of American Marketing at Business Objects.

"They are dealing with the same complexity of IT environment as the enterprise and with way less," she said. "Their volume of data is exploding at a pace close to that of enterprise companies, and they have just as much a need to automate the process as the bigger players."

Other trends likely to face the market include:

  • BI applications delivered through Web technology, which allows the information to travel across the same server, Corcoran said.
  • A shrinking vendor market as manufacturers continue to consume each other, Hagerty said.

  • Potential for outsourcing to assume some of the market as businesses ship their BI functions to foreign shores, Sinha said.

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