By definition Business Intelligence (BI) has been about making decisions based on information obtained from meaningful data. At one point of time we had terms like decision support systems (DSS) to define technology which has finally evolved into BI as we know it now. Or has it? Somewhere along the line, we became entangled in the technology aspect of it and with all the buzzwords of data warehousing, data mining, dimensional modeling, data marts, CRM and SCM it is not difficult to see why. It is only of late that the focus has moved back to the “decision making” aspect of BI rather than focusing on the technology per se.
In the Gartner BI Summit which was held in the first quarter of the 2007 calendar year, we got to see the focus shifting from traditional data warehousing and OLAP applications to the technology which ties together all the OLAP, reporting and query tools along with performance management applications and dashboard-ing tools. The net effect is the coming together of information, analysis and performance management to assist decision making, the ultimate goal of BI.
There has been a lot of M&A activity going on in the data warehousing-BI-performance management space throughout this year. However this wave of consolidation (the last time we saw such a thing was in 2003) hasn’t yet pointed to a specific direction in which technology will move and decide the future of BI. Rather what can be made of this M&A boom is the rush to acquire “hot” technologies which can be bet on to power the future. Three distinct categories of applications can be found in this trend:
- Traditional reporting and OLAP applications. These include all flavors of OLAP including the Business Objects popularized relational OLAP as well as the various multi-dimensional models,notably Microsoft Analysis Services. This set of applications has become the “hygiene factor” in the BI industry
- Strategy or Performance driven BI applications. These have variously been called strategy management applications or performance management applications and over the last few years this has been a major growth driver for BI as the traditional analyst-reporting-tools market has matured and scope of growth has decreased. Performance management is the new USP to get that cutting edge over competition.
- Workflow BI applications. An offshoot of dashboard tools as well as the recent Web 2.0 buzz of using AJAX, web services, Flash and similar technologies, this set of applications appears to position themselves midway between traditional enterprise applications and BI reporting. Embedded within workflows or processes, these applications add the ability to “take action” based on a decision made on the basis of the information provided by BI.
With the latest acquisitions of Business Objects by SAP and Cognos by IBM, it remains to be seen how these technology trends shape the industry. The next couple of years promise to be interesting on a scale we haven’t witnessed before in this space.