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Welcome to my BeyeNETWORK blog! Please join me often to share your thoughts and observations on new analytic platforms, BI and data management. I maintain a vendor-focused practice that uses primary research, briefings, case studies, events and other activities that stimulate ideas as a source for commentary on strategy and execution in the marketplace. I believe the emergence of a new class of analytic platforms, and emerging data management and advanced tools herald a next step in the maturity of information technology, and I'm excited to be present for its emergence. I hope my blog entries will stimulate ideas that will serve both the vendors creating these new solutions and the companies that will improve their business prospects as a result of applying them. Please share your thoughts and input on the topics.



Few events offer as much promise as The Data Warehouse Institute World Conferences. With a deep educational focus, TDWI provides important opportunities for users. For vendors, the event offers one of the most focused, serious prospect audiences possible. My expectations, tempered though they were by economic realities, were still fairly high for this year's San Diego event. Unfortunately, the drop in volume was greater than all of us expected, the number of announcements from the vendor community was low, and the content focus seemed a bit out of date.

Some of the observers I spoke to were particularly down about the attendance, calling it "devastating." Some sessions (even all day ones, typically a mainstay) were very thinly attended - single digits - and one wonders how the presenters felt about the size of their audiences. That said, my conversations with the attendees elicited very favorable comparisons to the Gartner BI event, which several people said doesn't offer enough actionable, hands-on content.

A real high point for me was Cindi Howson's "Developing Your BI Tool Strategy and BI Bake Off" session. Cindi's BI Scorecard site is a great resource for deep product evaluations, and the session didn't disappoint. Those who subscribe get a deep, hands-on look at feature and function, and in the TDWI session Cindi talked about a framework for assessing several aspects of BI offerings, as well as a way to weight the importance of various facets of what has become a bewildering rich array of details to consider. As someone with a good deal of experience using a similar method - the Forrester Wave - I was impressed by the richness and depth of the work.  A few quibbles I had with the content - such as the assertion that SAP "has no database" - paled by comparison to the overall richness and quality.

The second part of the session was the well-known "bakeoff." Three vendors are put through their paces responding to a specific set of scenarios and tasks, and the audience votes. IBM Cognos, Oracle and SAS were the participants for this go-round, and Cognos repeatedly came out on top as we looked at query, reporting, OLAP, architecture, dashboarding, administration and predictive analytics. Most features were not well suited to show SAS off, so it was no surprise that they did not do well until the PA part of the  exercise- which they dominated with100% of the votes. The presenter counts for a lot, and Oracle might have done better with 2 participants like its competitors, allowing a split between the technical and the marketing pitch that lets both focus on their job. Oracle's patter was a bit too glib and the demos a bit too thin, and their results thus a bit lower than I expected based on tha actual products, which did not show as well here as they could.

The exhibit hall floor looked sparsely populated to me. But my overall impression was somewhat more sanguine on the floor, buoyed in part by comments from executives in several of the vendor booths. "We were pleased," said Vertica's Dave Menninger. "The people we spoke to had real projects they expected to do soon. Lower quantity, but good quality." I heard similar sentiments from Kickfire, Netezza, and others. For these smaller players, TDWI is a very valuable opportunity for exposure and they make the most of it. And deals are done between vendors as well; several discussed partner conversations they started - or completed - here.

TDWI is a great opportunity for analysts to meet with vendors and get multiple briefings in a short time. I had excellent conversations with SAS, ParAccel, Lyzasoft, Kognito, and friends and colleagues like Claudia Imhoff, Mark Madsen, Neil Raden, John Myers, Ron Powell, Shawn Rogers and others. I'll blog further about some of the vendor conversations. I might have already done so, but I was slowed a bit by a disappointing press room, which had no phones, no connectivy, no power strips, few press releases, no beverages or snacks for the hard working scribes, and was even closed down on Thursday without notice, surprising at least one vendor/analyst pair when the occupants gruffly advised them to "shut the door and stop interrupting our meeting." If this is typical, it's no surprise there was so little participation by the large analyst firms in a week where there was little significant "competition."

On the 4th day, Dave Wells, formerly head of education for TDWI, delivered a morning "closing keynote" (although the event continued for another 2 days, the exhibit hall closes on the 3rd day.) Wells pointed out the the economic cycle lags market indicators like the stock market, and that the "uncertainty curve" is an inverse function. The questions now are "what if" questions, he pointed out, but organizations are using old metrics because they don't know what to change. Today, in this climate, he said,

"Even good decisions aren't  good enough. Yesterday's scorecards are  insufficient; we need nearer term data, influencers and scenarios. Move from goals-measures-monitor to model-simulate-feedback. I need more than insight; I need predictive analytics."

Wells was correct in all this, but two problems were apparent. First, he himself offered no suggestions about how to get there - vendors, first steps, priorities - all were missing. Second the content of the event, while it had some significant offerings pointing in this direction, did not raise this issue to the top. TDWI has a great opportunity to wave the flag here for the next steps in BI, but it is still focusing a great deal on the last set of issues. PA, semantic technologies (as Neil Raden pointed out in conversation) and truly active technologies are needed. Will TDWI step up and be the advocate? Time will tell; it's a mainstay and it can, and should, do better.

Posted August 10, 2009 5:39 PM
Permalink | 2 Comments |


Over a decade later it's interesting to see who's still on the circuit: Claudia, Mark, Neil, Ron and Dave.

Curious as to the numbers and the demographics. I was always amazed (and thus would ask every year) that the attendance was typically 60% new and of those many of them had 'no' background in DW and were suddenly thrust into full responsibility for same and had come to the conference for indoctrination. [that was always so frustrating to think that everyone believed it was just that simple -- like it was just another tool you went and got trained on]

I couldn't agree more. I started my own relationship to the DW space in the early days as well - I spoke at one of Bill's first Cystal City Marriott DW conferences in the early 90s.

The perpetual renewal of the audience is testament to the continuing power of the DW model - the need to separate reporting and analytics from transactional systems continues. And even as the architectures of the hardware and networks have evolved to the point where the platforms - and even the persistence strategies - are being re-assessed, the fundamental design principles for information usage must be taught, and re-taught, as new opportunities, problems and populations emerge.

TDWI continues to serve a very important mission. Its difficulties this year reflect the economics of the events landscape. I hope its continuing focus on both fundamentals and leading-edge thinking will help it weather this blip and restore its attendance numbers to pre-recession levels. We need it more than ever.

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