The Business Intelligence software marketis shaping up as a David vs. Goliath struggle. Behemoths like Microsoft, Oracle and IBM offer feature-rich BI suites along with their many other enterprise software products. Meanwhile, pure-play business intelligence software vendors -- such as MicroStrategy and Tableau -- have avid followers and are known for innovating around new features and quickly adjusting to the shifting marketplace.
Why is this important? Because Business Intelligence softwareis used to extract data from disparate sources -- spreadsheets, databases and other software programs -- inside companies and then analyze that business data to better understand a firm's internal and external strengths and weaknesses. A business relies heavily on this data. Bottom line: Business intelligence software enables managers to better see the relationship between different data for critical decision-making -- particularly opportunities for innovation, cost reduction and optimal resource deployment.
The list below includes ten industry-leading BI solutions, from vendors large and not-so-large. If you're looking for a bird's eye view of this rapidly evolving market, the following condensed portraits should help.
Business Intelligence Software: Ten Solutions
Note: This list is NOT ordered “best to worst.” The question of what business intelligence software solution is best for a given company depends on an entire matrix of factors. This list is simply an overview of BI solutions, with the debate about quality left to individual clients.
Crystal Reports is part of SAP's Business Objects portfolio of business intelligence software solutions. It allows users to graphically design interactive reports and connect them to virtually any data source, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Oracle databases, Business Objects Enterprise business views and local file system information. Reports can then be delivered via Web, e-mail, Microsoft Office, Adobe PDF or embedded in enterprise applications. Crystal Reports provides integration with Xcelsius, Adobe Flex and Adobe Flash. It includes built-in barcode support, multilingual reporting and an integrated Salesforce.com driver. Microsoft helped make Crystal Reports the de facto standard report writer when it bundled it with Microsoft Visual Studio.
SAS' flagship business intelligence software solution, SAS Enterprise BI Server, combines SAS Analytics with data integration, and provides role-based, self-service interfaces for all types of users within an IT governance framework and a centralized point of administration. Components include: portals and dashboards, Web-based report viewing, Web-based report building and editing, Web-based advanced data exploration with the ability to push results back to report building and viewing environments. It also offers integration with Microsoft Office, guided analysis and access to SAS Analytics, query and analysis as a pervasive part of all interfaces and centralized metadata, and a single point of management. SAS has committed itself to continuing to push the envelope. Of its $2.26 billion 2009 revenue, SAS reinvested a robust 23 percent into R&D.
Oracle's Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Plus is a suite of business intelligence software solutions that leverage Oracle BI Server as a common platform, providing a level of integration among the tools. The integration provides a common service-oriented architecture, data access services, analytic and calculation infrastructure, metadata management services, semantic business model, security model and user preferences and administration tools. The suite includes Oracle’s BI Server, BI Answers, BI Interactive Dashboards, BI Delivers, BI Disconnected Analytics, BI Publisher, and Oracle BI Briefing Books. Additionally, it offers Hyperion Interactive Reporting, Hyperion SQR Production Reporting, Hyperion Financial Reporting and Hyperion Web Analysis. Oracle's offering has the advantage of integrating with Oracle’s many other enterprise middleware, database and business application solutions.
IBM's Cognos 8 BI offering is an inclusive suite featuring a range of BI capabilities including reporting, analysis, dashboarding and scorecards on a single, service-oriented architecture (SOA). The suite includes Report Studio, Query Studio, Analysis Studio, Metric Studio, Metric Designer, Event Studio, Framework Manager and PowerPlay Studio. IBM has declared business analytics as one of the most critical parts of its overall strategy. It has spent heavily on business intelligence and business analytics R&D, investing more than $12 billion in the last five years. That includes the $1.2 billion acquisition of SPSS in 2009, which added a predictive analytics element to its portfolio. (See a video interview of IBM’s Jeff Jonas on BI concepts.)
Two applications, Microsoft's PowerPivot for Excel and PowerPivot for SharePoint, both leverage Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 in an offering that uses the ubiquity of Microsoft's applications to provide BI tools to the knowledge worker masses rather than BI experts. PowerPivot for Excel uses the Excel features users are already familiar with to provide interactive data analysis tools. PowerPivot for SharePoint provides the ability to share and collaborate on user-generated data analysis in Excel and in the browser. By leveraging technology already found in many companies and comfortable to most workers, Microsoft hopes to capture a much larger slice of the BI pie.
MicroStrategy Reporting Suite is a free, commercial reporting tool composed of server software for core analytical processing and job management, an end-user Web interface, Web-based reporting software, desktop reporting software and a data architecting product. It outputs reports in HTML, PDF, Microsoft Excel and text. It can present data in tabular grid reports, graphs and charts, and combination grid-and-graph displays. It is available for Windows, Unix, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, and any data source (including SAP BW and Microsoft Analysis Services). MicroStrategy Software is often layered over massive data warehouses, and it boasts the ability to support large-scale, demanding BI environments.
Salesforce.com is the world's first billion-dollar cloud computing company. Its Salesforce CRM is a hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering that consists of several modules: Sales, Service & Support, Partner Relationship Management, Marketing, Content, Ideas, Analytics and the Chatter collaboration platform. While Salesforce CRM offers a number of analytics tools, many business intelligence software vendors offer products that integrate with the platform, allowing it to serve as a primary data-gathering tool for a variety of BI applications.
TIBCO Spotfire Analytics combines business process management (BPM), complex event processing (CEP), predictive analytics (PA) and visual data mining (DM) software. It handles everything from real-time data capture and streaming to data analysis, forecasting and interactive reporting on a single platform.
Information Builders' flagship WebFOCUS BI platform uses a purely Web-based architecture with no plug-ins. The company describes its approach as focused on BI applications and embedded BI rather than tools, noting that BI applications"are much simpler to use than tools." WebFOCUS has been implemented at more than 12,000 customer sites and is used to build Web-based BI applications.
A pure-play BI software vendor, Tableau refers to its offering as "rapid fire BI." It boasts drag-and-drop features that allow users without IT expertise to visualize information from any structured format. It claims to be the "only provider of data visualization and business intelligence software that can be installed and used by anyone while also adhering to IT standards.” Its offering is comprised of Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server. Tableau Desktop is a tool for graphically analyzing virtually any structured data to produce charts, graphs, dashboards and reports. Tableau Server adds enterprise-class security and performance to support large deployments.