Business Intelligence Software: Key Applications

A look at the offerings from key vendors in the business intelligence software market.
The business intelligence software market is one of the hottest areas in technology today. Companies are clearly getting on board: so many corporations have so many different systems, all with data that, if sliced and diced correctly, could (hopefully) lead to real business insight.

Not surprisingly, many vendors serve this market, including the larger companies that you would expect, along with smaller players that have unique offerings and value additions.

Let’s take a survey of some key offerings in the business intelligence space, their claims to fame, and what they have to offer.

SAP BusinessObjects

SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.1 is the latest version of SAP’s flagship business intelligence suite. It boasts a suite of common services that helps an administrator deploy and manage BI tools on both the desktop and the server, including query tools and analysis programs for “self-service BI” (where a users can query and pull up reports themselves without relying on pre-programmed results).

Additionally, the Enterprise Information Management (EIM) module provides a foundation for querying and analysis using techniques like extract/transform/load (ETL). SAP BusinessObjects also integrates the venerable Crystal Reports product, used for years in businesses worldwide to create reports.

As you might expect, SAP has also stepped into the cloud with a software-as-a-service (Saas) offering, called Business Intelligence OnDemand, hosted entirely on the Web by SAP.

IBM Cognos

The Cognos family of products has been through several acquisitions and rebrandings, but the core suite remains intact now within IBM’s Business Analytics division. Cognos stretches into the midsize business arena with IBM Cognos Express, introduced in late 2009 to be a one-stop BI center with tight integration and targeted features for smaller enterprises.

The full enterprise suite of IBM Cognos 8 includes financial reporting, business intelligence, and extended mobile functions.

Within the BI arena, the Cognos offering is comprised of the following: Report Studio, a Web-centric report designer; Query Studio, a product designed to produce on-demand reporting with an instant preview function; Analysis Studio, a multidimensional cube analysis tool; Metric Studio and Metric Designer, which allows you to create, query, and report on key performance indicators (KPIs); Event Studio, which helps to design, and then send, alerts to business decision makers based on certain scenarios becoming true


Based on products it acquired from Siebel and Hyperion, Oracle’s Business Intelligence suite is a prebuilt, packaged solution designed to integrate with a wide variety of other enterprise resource planning (ERP) software—including its own Oracle E Business Suite, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel, and other popular non-Oracle solutions like SAP.

The top-of-the-line offering from the company, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 11g, includes most of the standard BI toolset facilities, including dashboards, scorecards, notifications and alerts, queries on both a regular and ad-hoc basis, and mobile access. The product is built on a Web-based foundation that can consume and be consumed by Web services active in other parts of an organization.

Oracle also boasts a suite of financial performance management applications, mainly based in the former Hyperion product. These tools assist with decision making around strategic finance, capital asset planning, data quality management, and performance scorecarding.


Microsoft is a recent player in the business intelligence space, but with the release of SharePoint Server 2010, it’s moving to regain some lost ground. SharePoint 2010 includes PerformancePoint Services, a scorecard and KPI analysis system that integrates well with portal features of SharePoint.

And of course its very popular SQL Server product includes SQL Server Reporting Services, and new integration between SQL, SharePoint, and Excel 2010 allows users to create reports and analyze large sets of data using the desktop tools with which they’re already comfortable. The Microsoft suite of tools is not as full-featured and mature as some of the other players in this space, but the company is heavily investing in its offering. One distinct advantage is that if you’re already a Windows shop, you probably have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle already.

See a recent video interview with Michael Tejedor, Senior Product Manager, Business Platform Division at Microsoft.

Information Builders

A close competitor with SAS, Information Builders developed the FOCUS data manipulation language back in the mid-1970s and built it over the years into their current flagship BI product WebFOCUS. WebFOCUS is a Web-based suite of tools that encompasses standard business intelligence tools, dashboards, business activity monitoring (BAM), complex event processing (CEP), and on-demand reporting. WebFOCUS also includes a -- well, focus -- on data integrity and ensuring that records are uniform and cleansed before analyses are run. WebFOCUS also includes predictive analytics capabilities and an ability to integrate those functions into line-of-business applications to enable easier decision making for everyone, not just BI analysts.


SAS’s claim to BI fame is predictive analytics. SAS of course got its start in the early 1980s as a maker of statistics software, used in all sorts of scientific and mathematical contexts. SAS claims that by integrating that knowledge within its BI intelligence, it provides a way to anticipate trends and make better business decisions based on those forward-looking analytics.

The SAS BI offering is comprised of its Enterprise Business Intelligence portfolio, which pulls in data from a variety of business systems and uses analytics tools on that data to perform common BI tasks. Also included is its Business Visualization product, which provides graphical and chart-based displays of BI data.


The Pentaho BI Suite includes all the standard BI capabilities, including query and reporting, dashboards, interactive analysis, ETL support, and data mining, with the unique property that the whole enchilada is open source.

What does this mean for you? A commercial open source company, Pentaho directly influences the open source products that make up its suite through financial support from the revenues it generates from support and management services for larger businesses. The developer community working in those core projects numbers close to 8,000. Pentaho operates on a subscription model, so all updates and functionality are included as long as an agreement is maintained.

Tags: enterprise software, business intelligence, business intelligence software, business analytics, business analytics software

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