February 17, 2011

A few slightly pessimistic comments on Gartner's BI Platforms report 2010

Gartner's annual BI reports always create a lot of buzz, when issued. The most discussed (and perhaps, the most contradictory) part of these reports surely is the "quadrants" with vendors positioned inside.

Ironically, these quadrants definitely are not the most interesting and valuable part of the report. Really, I don't know what valuable knowledge can be obtained from them. The latest-greatest BI? Come on. In BI rollouts every organization has it's own set of goals, criteria, preferences and restrictions that need proper analysis and specific solution. How would you apply that quadrants there? In my opinion, the quadrants are just too abstract to be practically useful.

Gartner fulfills tremendous task of identifying market trends, surveying numerous users and analyzing complex product portfolios, and they do it very professionally. I find the sections Market Overview and Vendors Strength and Cautions very compelling and worth in-depth reading. Can't say I agree with everything there, but no doubt, it's a good job done by smart people.

A few comments on Gartner's Market Overview this year:
  • "Data discovery platform momentum accentuates the need for a portfolio approach". Last year Gartner mentioned that idea of "BI-standardization" has actually failed -- more and more customers intentionally use 2-3 BI-platforms to cover needs of business users better. This year the trend continues. As of today, there is no single BI-platform that can effectively cover needs of a large enterprise, solely.
  • "Data discovery" is a new hot thing this year -- did you notice this? Do you remember the hype about "pervasive BI" a few years ago? Did it make any revolution? Well, no. Will data discovery do it? Who knows. However, it's obvious that BI industry still can't overcome it's biggest problem -- low adoption rates among non-technical users. What concerns me is that this year there is absolutely nobody in the Visionary quadrant -- it means that there will be no any significant innovations in the next 3-5 years. No really fresh ideas on BI market. Well OK, QlikView has shown very interesting and innovative approach to BI. But their recent new versions (10, 9, etc.) look more like boring updates rather than new breakthrough.
  • "Shift from measurement to analysis, forecasting and optimization". This is what BI is for -- to drive businesses in the right direction. However, I don't believe in hype about predictive analytics. This is just another wrong attempt to overcome the above-mentioned biggest problem of BI. Building predictive models is not a simple task and it requires from user to have skills in statistics at least to understand what's under the hood. Tools will not magically compensate lack of these skills. No magic.
  • "Mobile BI" -- another one hot thing in BI. Will BI revolution come from this side? Who knows. What's good about it -- is that this trend is inline with global, fundamental shift in lifestyle which is happening now. What's not good about it is that common hype about tablets (iPads, etc.) inflates hype about mobile BI. Hype about tablets will fade as more and more people make distinction between toys and tools. But today this hype prevents us from clear understanding the value mobile BI can give. Really, is it a toy or a tool?
  • Unfortunately, the second current fundamental shift in lifestyle -- socialization -- didn't get proper reflection in BI industry. And this is disappointing, because this is clearly the way to better productivity caused by better knowledge exchange. And knowledge is what business intelligence used to be proud of. I believe, social BI, if designed properly, can have much higher chances to bring valuable innovation to what is called "management information systems". Who's going to do this?
[1] - Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms (27-Jan-2011)
[2] - Paul Graham's essay about tablets