Power BI becoming a top product
AI may be currently dominating the discourse, but BI (Business Intelligence) is proving to be a term with staying power through 2019, both for BI tool vendors and end-users. Nevertheless, BI vendors dating back to the early days of the field are having a hard time staying out of the danger zone. Microsoft, on the other hand, is rising above the pack with Microsoft Power BI. This product has the potential to become the de facto BI standard. These are the results of the updated Business Intelligence Tools Survey 2019, which Passionned Group has been publishing as the Passionned Parabola™ since its early beginnings.
Despite market consolidation, plenty of choice
“Despite the wave of consolidations of the last twelve years, there is still plenty of choice in the BI software solutions market”, says Survey founder Daan van Beek, managing director of Passionned Group. The BI Tools Survey, which he once started out of curiosity (“is what the vendors are screaming from the rooftops actually true?”), is finding its way to organizations both domestic and abroad. “Companies that purchase our survey can save months of valuable time, because we’ve put together and validated all the relevant information”, Van Beek claims. The conclusions are sometimes shocking.
BI is not a project, but a process
There are still BI implementations that fail due to lacking feature sets and functionality. But organizations shouldn’t see BI as a project, but as a process. A valid BI solution can be implemented badly without a good BI implementation strategy, for example by not investing in a solid underlying infrastructure. Everything is about Agile working these days: the ability to react quickly. That also means building in options to switch vendors mid-stream if necessary. A “new kid on the block” who plays into current issues and trends, such as data literacy, zero programming, social BI, collaborative BI, or chat bots, can quickly pull ahead. “Innovative parties which take tap into the zeitgeist and play into current trends can profit immediately from the positive market sentiment”, van Beek says about the newest research results.
Organizations shouldn’t see BI as an isolated project, but as a process.
BI is still called BI
BI is still proving to be a popular search term with users. Vendors themselves also consistently talk about BI in their offerings, with the exception of IBM Cognos. Microsoft BI goes the extra step with the slogan “Business Intelligence like never before”. In other words: BI is still called BI, which Van Beek thinks is a reassuring thought. “Especially for users who have an easier time getting budget approval for a commonly-accepted phenomenon like BI than for a relatively unknown, exotic-sounding concept like data discovery, data mining processes, or algorithmic trading”.
Source: Google Adwords, Google Keyword Planner, February 2019
“Because we’ve been regularly updating the Survey for over ten years, we don’t just see future trends pop up, but we also see trends fall off. At the same time, we’re seeing that some trends don’t take off, for example collaborative BI and social BI. These seemed like promising trends a few years ago, but by now we can say with some certainty they’re not really taking off yet. On the one hand you can’t expect a new, innovative supplier to compete with an established player who’s been at it for twenty years. On the other hand, it’s a harsh truth that even these traditional vendors, who dominate over 50 percent of the market, sometimes achieve very lackluster functionality scores.”
If we take a closer look at the survey results and combine them with observations from everyday practice, Van Beek notices a few things:
“I’m not a hacker”
“Vendors sometimes play the innocent. When they score poorly on a certain criterion they’ll say that you can definitely achieve the promised result, for example a marketed functionality or integration with a different application. What they won’t tell you is that you have to jump through hoops and dive into the code and change all kinds of settings. But you can’t expect the average user to basically become a hacker, that’s far too much to ask.”
Vendors sometimes play the innocent.
Perception is everything
“The solutions we researched sometimes differ in crucial ways when it comes to key points. The decisive factor is how you look at Business Intelligence (strategy). Do you see BI as just a tool, a piece of software, or as infrastructure? Or do you approach the issue from the technology or the human angle? Do you see BI as a tool to reduce lead times, satisfy customers, and work ‘datacratically’? Perception is everything. Creating awareness is the starting point.”
Keep all your options open
“A new generation of BI vendors, including Tableau BI, Qlikview BI, and Yellowfin BI, is garnering a lot of attention. The traditional BI vendors are in a difficult situation. I always ask the trainees in my workshops about their installed base and requirements. People are very willing to switch vendors at the moment. From my perspective, that has everything to do with a lack of innovation. Modern software vendors put out new releases four or six times a year. Traditional vendors tend to do so just once or twice a year. That makes you think.”
People are very willing to switch vendors at the moment.
Don’t jump to conclusions
“As an end-user or interim analytics consultant working with BI and data, you have to know what pitfalls to avoid. Jumping to conclusions, for example. You should also realize that certain matters can suddenly become transparent and lead to pressing questions. How come a pharmacy can’t deliver certain medications anymore? Why does an academic hospital have a higher mortality rate than a general hospital? This might be due to the quality of the healthcare, but it can also have to do with the fact that academic hospitals have to deal with more complex cases. You always have to look for the root cause.”
Don’t get bogged down in definitions
According to Van Beek, BI from the cloud is saddled with lots of misconceptions because of countless definition problems. Aside from the public, private, and hybrid cloud, vendors are throwing around vague terms like “true cloud” or “false cloud”. Some BI vendors claim to offer cloud solutions, but in fact they just offer hosted BI solutions. For the execution, they just point to Amazon Web Services. “A real cloud solution means you could scale back from 1,000 users on one day to 100 on the next, and immediately see that reflected in your invoice. Another observation is that many organizations have purchased BI software licenses, but they leave the solutions unused, sitting on the shelf. Or the software hasn’t been wholly implemented yet. Whatever the cause, it’s a shame and a waste.”
Many organizations leave purchased BI software licenses on the shelf.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations
Conversational analytics was supposed to be the new magic word. It makes use of a machine learning model and natural language. Speech-driven analyses will eventually become available in popular co-operation tools like Slack, Skype, SalesForce Chat, and Microsoft Teams. But the question, according to Van Beek, is to what extent this functionality is actually being used. “We shouldn’t set unrealistic expectations. Turning speech into text is very doable these days. But as soon as the formulation becomes more complicated you can run into problems. Let’s say you want to isolate all the customers who are over 6,000 euros behind in their payments and who have called the contact center for help three times. Complex analyses like this can easily overwhelm a chat bot, unless you’re willing to take the time to train the bot for months on end.”
Which problem are we solving?
The confidentiality of business information could put a big damper on completely speech-driven BI tooling. A personal BI assistent that follows you 24/7 to your nightstand and beyond seems like a long way away, and is probably unwanted. It seems like a solution in search of a problem: “which problem is this actually solving?”
Innovators aren’t bogged down by legacy
“The real market leaders distinguish themselves with impactful innovations. As a young, fresh company, they can focus on a specific niche, open source, or a currently relevant topic like social BI. They don’t have to carry around legacy software, because they started with a blank slate.”
BI is not an end unto itself
“Ideally, Business Intelligence & Analytics are embedded in an intelligent organization, and they ask themselves the question of how software can optimally support their processes. This implies the seamless integration of reporting, KPI dashboards, analytics, data discovery, and advanced analytics. At the same time, the core functionality on the lower levels has to be of sound quality, or the vendor can still fall short.”
Don’t let marketing jargon fool you
“Marketeers tend to think that giving something a new name solves the problem and sales will automatically improve, because it’s ‘new’. Citizen data scientists are currently a hot topic. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting such a person. I think it’s an artificial term, a hollow slogan. (Agile) Data Science is a serious side of the business, which comes with its own serious competency profile. You have to know about mathematics, econometrics, visualization techniques, and data. Data wrangling and data preparation can’t be left to laymen anymore. The bold statements made by vendors also come with a bit of a warning. They’ll say they’re the ‘king of analytics’, the ‘Nikon of BI’, or ‘the Batman of the superheroes’, or what have you. That may make for a nice soundbite, but it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Take the bold statements made by vendors with a grain of salt.
Who is your target audience?
“When starting the vendor selection process, you should always ask yourself who’s actually going to use the software product. Criteria such as ease of use, infographics and data visualization, search functionality, and alerts are more relevant for the business user than IT professionals who are probably more interested in pure functionality. You should also take existing infrastructure into consideration. A one-stop shop has its advantages. If, for example, you’re already an Oracle, SAP, or Microsoft customer, it could be wise to use their BI solutions. Price can be a factor here as well, and the danger of a vendor lock-in is always present. Certain vendors are also better at supporting large groups of end-users. This is something the survey covers.”
Beware a false start
“As a user, the most important question when starting the selection process is always: to what extent does a specific vendor meet your requirements? Answering this question keeps the selection process objective, controllable, and lean. If, for example, you need your solution to work with the currently popular programming language R, then the vendor simply has to comply with that requirement. Especially in the early stages, you don’t want to make too many concessions. Another point to note is the innovative capacity of a vendor. Usually you’re purchasing a BI suite for a period of five to seven years, or maybe longer. You should expect modern software vendors to keep investing in their products and services. User-friendliness, for example, is still an important issue. Smart vendors ensure that they regularly, multiple times per year, roll out new features and functionality for the end-user. They ask themselves the question: ‘what’s in it for me?'”
You should expect modern software vendors to keep investing in their products and services.
Take advantage of the benefits of a stack
“Without wanting to give purchasing advice (Passionned gives 100% independent advice), our survey shows that Microsoft is taking BI and data analytics very seriously at the moment. Every month they roll out an update for their flagship, Power BI. Microsoft’s position as market leader is emphasized by the fact that you can take advantage of the benefits of a stack, in which you can execute ETL tasks, big data analyses, and work with Power BI, Powerpoint, and Sharepoint. If Power BI ends up becoming just as popular as Excel, ‘pervasive BI’, or better yet, democratization of data, gets a lot closer to becoming reality. But that makes data literacy into an even more important issue. You can reasonably expect certain attitudes and competencies with regards to data from employees that work with data.”
Focus on the implementation costs
“Of course, the available budget also plays a role in selecting a vendor. Although software prices are still going down, and some large IT vendors are more or less giving away BI software, there are certainly price differences, especially in the 2,000 user segment. The fact is that the price of the software is usually nothing compared to the costs of actually implementing a BI solution. The implementation costs could be ten times what the software costs. That implies that your choice of implementation partner is at least as important as the BI tool you choose. This is an eye-opener for many organizations.”
The implementation could cost ten times what the software costs.
What’s going on under the radar?
The million-dollar question is whether it’s better to go for a pure BI vendor, a division of a major concern, or maybe the new kid on the block that’s trying to use innovative functionality or cool features to take some of the big boys’ market share for themselves. “As we said, there’s still plenty of choice. We should note something here. The Passionned Parabola integrates the most important BI vendors. However, there are still vendors who fly under the radar, but we’re following them, albeit from a small distance. One of these vendors could potentially break the market wide open and claim a spot in the Parabola. I see propositions that sound promising on paper almost daily, from businesses out of India and China, among other places. In other words: the BI market is still attractive enough for entrepreneurs with a passion or mission.
The moral of the story: watch your step
“Although the big consolidation wave is well behind us (SAP bought BusinessObjects in 2007, IBM bought Cognos in the same year), a possible acquisition or merger is always something to take into account. Just like phenomena like end of sale, end of life, end of service, etc. A well-performing market leader could be acquired overnight. When choosing a suitable BI vendor, you’ll have to make a judgement call about their independence and reliability. To what extent are they approachable, is the source code available through an escrow service? Can you trust the vendor when you really need them in the future? These are all difficult questions that are very relevant when making an adequate risk assessment before choosing a vendor. Passionned Group can advise on these delicate issues and has in-house expertise on every separate BI solution.”
When choosing a suitable BI vendor, you’ll have to carefully assess the risks: are they independent, innovative, and reliable?
Where are the best practices?
“The BI field is looking pretty good. There’s no lack of innovation, but it’s concerning that after dozens of years of experience with BI applications, there are still very few best practices. We present the few success stories every two years in the Dutch BI & Data Science Award, which will be handed out again this year. We always cherish the winners, such as the case of the Dutch healthcare sector which used BI to significantly cut down on the time it takes for heart patients to reach the ER from the moment an emergency call comes in. This case illustrates that BI is alive and well and that the field, in combination with big data, is becoming more socially relevant and impactful. I sincerely hope that BI vendors will start to see that and play into it. Those that don’t will lose relevance and end up in the danger zone. Then they’ll be in the shadow instead of in the spotlight.”
- In recent years, the Passionned Parabola has really taken off. Hundreds of organizations use the survey report and use it as a tool to create a shortlist of potential BI vendors. The most important products are critically examined based on 197 criteria.
- Although the data is supplied by the vendors, all responses are validated by Passionned Group. Vendors can earn a maximum of 169 points, not including bonus points.
- The criteria cover (among other factors) core functionality, the underlying infrastructure and architecture, user-friendliness and visualization options, cloud delivery, and security options. But more advanced features are also covered, such as: self-service BI; predictive analytics & machine learning; big data analytics and augmented reality; and mobile BI.
- All the criteria are added up to form a total score, unweighted. The partial scores are visualized in a clear spider web diagram. Those who purchase the survey can easily import the research data into their own favorite spreadsheet. They can apply their desired weighting factors, which we definitely recommend. What’s important for one organization may not be as important for another.
- Concretely, the Passionned Parabola measures the maturity of the product portfolio (suite) and the product integration and user experience from the perspective of the BI users. In the parabola, users can see at a glance which BI vendor is currently in the spotlight, and which ones are in danger of ending up in the shadow. That doesn’t mean that the latter are marked for death. “A price change can sometimes win them back some market share, but that’s not enough to result in a real seismic shift,” in Van Beek’s experience. He’s followed the BI market closely for over 20 years.
The Business Intelligence Tools Survey (report) is available in three different versions and can be ordered online. The compact edition contains basic information that will allow you to make a selection based on main issues. The professional edition also contains the list of 197 selection criteria, including explanations. The enterprise edition also contains all the research data. That will allow you to make a shortlist with great precision, and make a final choice that perfectly suits your requirements.