The need for business intelligence (BI) has never been greater. Data volumes continue to multiply and the requirement for real-time information is now an acute one.
The choices for the customer are also wider than they have been for many years, with the lines between enterprise, midmarket and small business blurring as vendors of all sizes look for market growth.
That is good news for resellers that find themselves able to offer a range of options for customers. But it is also a challenge, because the potential to find yourself on the fringes of market developments or promoting last year's hot technology is also greater. A market that was once dominated by just a few large brands has fragmented a lot at the same time as the pressure has increased on customers to make the right choices.
State of the market
An indication of the state of the market was revealed last month by analyst house Ovum, which reported that budgetary pressure and resource constraints meant that customers were not able to keep up with the flood of business intelligence change requests. Making the situation potentially much more dangerous was the increasing regulatory pressure being put on users.
"To keep delivering even the same level of insights as a decade ago, BI vendors and their solutions need to be more agile and adaptive than ever. Agility must go beyond simply making existing BI infrastructures run faster. It must also encompass elements of self-service, mobility and collaboration," says Surya Mukherjee, senior analyst at Ovum.
As a result, the analyst house is advising customers to take longer over making a buying decision to ensure they get something that really does fit their requirements.
What makes the right fit is where the channel has room for manoeuvre, but the experts have some suggestions about what resellers should be looking for.
"There's a definite appetite in today's market for BI tools that are quick, agile and that can help users to dive into data and use it to answer questions. Traditionally, IT departments have always been keen to undertake data analysis, but it's interesting to note that we've seen a huge change in the way people use this information," says Tom Brown, founder of reseller The Information Lab.
"I've noticed an increasing demand for data to be put in the hands of the business users - the people that see value from it and make the key decisions are now spending more time sorting through complex data with a view to finding the answers they need," he adds.
Resellers are not alone in identifying changing trends in the market place. Mike Cawthorn, practice lead, business performance management, at Trustmarque Solutions, points out that business intelligence and analytics tools were a top technology for this year in Gartner's worldwide CIO survey.
"At Trustmarque we have been helping many different types of organisations deploy and implement business intelligence tools across their organisations for a considerable time. There are traditional BI tools requiring the creation of data warehousing, and tools which are data discovery based which use associative models to generate intelligence. We recommend BI products and services which are on-site solutions, hosted within a private cloud, and have browser-based platforms which enable safe and secure mobile access," he says.
That word cloud is one that is repeated fairly often, because even if customers are not asking for it now, the expectation is that they will soon and the reseller will need to be ready to deal with that demand. The move to the hosted model has been primarily about cutting costs and the same element of trimming expenditure will need to be part of the BI pitch.
Lance Mercereau, head of global marketing at Rosslyn Analytics, argues that a reseller pitching BI needs to touch on topical words such as "cost control" and "savings" and any BI solution will need to provide visibility into spending.
He also believes systems that require little user training will be an advantage, but like many others, his advice is for the channel to sell BI in the context of other market trends.
"The hot topic in BI circles is cloud computing. Cloud-based BI delivered as a service [SaaS] is all the rage in the reseller market because these solutions are low risk/high reward for customers, enabling resellers to make greater margins than selling traditional on-premise BI solutions," he says.
As well as finding the right balance between on-site or cloud, the other consideration that resellers will have to deal with is what demands are going to be placed on the system they recommend.
Charting a course through large amounts of data is a given, but increasingly, the other challenge is to handle the demand for mobility. The rise in consumerisation is something most firms are dealing with and one that BI tools must also accommodate.
"The consumerisation of IT has seen the beginnings of mass adoption of tablet and mobile devices within the corporate environment, forcing CIOs to rethink their data management strategies. Today's mobile workforce are demanding access to more complex systems, such as BI and CRM, and this trend drives the demand for best-of-breed, secure and consumer-friendly mobile solutions that deliver tangible ROI. Resellers can tap into this opportunity by offering mobile BI solutions that satisfy the needs of IT managers and mobile workers," says Ali Shirnia, vice president and general manager EMEA at Roambi.
"These products need to be able to easily integrate with existing BI and back end systems, while delivering exceptional user experience. Therefore, resellers will need to focus on products and services that enable organisations to make the most of the mobile platform by offering intuitive, user-friendly and engaging mobile BI solutions that allow the remote workers to leverage data more effectively," he adds.
The growth in the use of tablets and smartphones has already led most of the major vendors to develop apps and dashboards that work on those platforms, and that trend should continue. Those on the front line are braced for even more growth on that side of the market.
"One of biggest opportunities for BI resellers in the enterprise market is mobile. The companies that we're talking to are either well into trials of mobile BI and are moving to rolling it out or have very clearly defined plans to do so in the next 12 to 18 months," says David Monks, regional vice president, Exxova EMEA.
"For resellers there are a number of offerings in the market, with add-on solutions from major BI vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Microstrategy and Qliktech, through to pure-play mobile BI vendors such as ourselves," he adds.
But Monks sounds a note of caution about the gap that is opening up between what some vendors say they can do and what they can actually deliver.
"There are a number of critical areas that resellers should be considering when thinking about mobile BI. Most fundamental is whether the product is ready today; it sounds odd, but there are a number of vendors who have talked about mobile options, but many aren't quite ready for market. Other key elements are whether the solution works on all mobile devices and across multiple platforms, as well as how easy it is to deploy and whether the solution requires re-development of content - with consequent time and cost implications," he says.
"In terms of capabilities, resellers should be looking at whether the solution allows customers to mobilise their entire BI stack - for example allowing access to all reporting and dashboard tools - as well as whether the security is appropriate should a device be lost or stolen," Monks adds.
Open source options
Another consideration - which will be at the forefront of the mind of any customer that has ever spent a lot of money for a BI solution from a big name that then led to spiralling costs - will be the potential lock-in of a proprietary system.
Unlike a few years ago, there has been a growth in open source and resellers are advised to consider the alternatives available when they weigh up what is out in the market.
"Business intelligence has become commoditised now in the sense that customers looking for features like reporting and dashboards can choose from a pretty wide range of comparable tools. Resellers, VARs and systems integrators therefore should look beyond BI features to the vendors' commercial models. Commercial Open Source BI software offers many advantages over proprietary alternatives, not least because its favourable licensing model translates into higher margins," says Davy Nys, vice president EMEA & APAC at Pentaho.
"Their 'pluggable' architectures based on open standards don't lock channel players into offering specific functionality, so if one decides to extend an application for a customer by adding say, new custom dashboards, the margin doesn't get consumed by endless licence fees to the software vendor. Finally, many open source alternatives, including our own business intelligence software, is built on Java, which is the main language used by SaaS applications," he adds.
That view, of being aware of the need to offer flexibility, is echoed elsewhere in the industry by others keen to encourage the channel to provide choices for customers.
"Cloud-based platforms and freely available open source tools are making it easier than ever for businesses to embed rich business intelligence capabilities into customer applications to satisfy users' cravings for rich, on-tap business information," says David Abraham, channel manager EMEA at Actuate.
"Resellers and independent software vendors looking for the next significant and potentially lucrative way to add new value for customers and prospects would be well advised to look at the rapidly changing 'business intelligence' opportunity. Wait too long, however, and clients will start doing it for themselves," he adds.
Not all customers will have the skills to develop BI systems on their own and with consumerisation and the mobility demands, the growth in cloud and concerns about big data not going away, there is plenty for resellers to get their teeth into.
The BI market might have a wider range of vendors and a few juicy buzzwords associated with the sector, but the same considerations that resellers need to make across the industry apply here. Mind the hype, deliver something solid and make sure that the customer needs are met. Bad experiences of expensive and cumbersome ERP and CRM projects might be in the past, but they will not have faded from everybody's memories.
Most vendors claim to have a similar core BI functionality and they like to use the buzzwords that litter this market, including big data and mobile BI. To help makes things easier, Ovum has come up categories that help resellers work out their vendor selection.
• Leader: This category represents the leading solutions that we believe are worthy of a place on most technology selection shortlists. The vendor has established a commanding market position with a product that is widely accepted as best of breed.
• Challenger: The vendors in this category have good market positioning and are selling and marketing their products well. The products offer competitive functionality and good price-performance propositions, and should be considered as part of the technology selection.
• Follower: Solutions in this category have less broad applicability, and may have limitations in terms of the product's functionality or the vendor's execution capability. However, they will still be suitable to meet specific requirements, and may be worth exploring as part of the technology selection
To capitalise on opportunities to embed BI into existing and new applications, Actuate advises resellers and ISVs to look for the following capabilities in the tools they employ:
• Security integration;
• Speed to market - secure data, in any format;
• Blends seamlessly into the reseller's/ ISV's own branding;
• User experience - the ability to deliver advanced functionality and customisation facilities to business users without the need for special training;
• Scalability, to cater for expanding user bases;
• Mobile and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery compatibility - even if customers aren't asking for this now, they soon will be.
Image courtesy: Photodisc
This was first published in June 2012