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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.



September 2009 Archives

IBM's Cognos analyst event last week in lovely Ottawa, Canada showcased strong evidence of progress and continuing momentum for one of the  largest software acqusitions of recent years. An international group of analysts listened to a series of discussions that highlighted key developments:

  • The launch of Cognos Express, aimed at midmarket buyers
  • New Analytic Applications that continue to expand the portfolio and IBM's increasing commitment to this new form of applications
  • Internal integration of Cognos within IBM proceeding and gaining momentum
  • New Performance Blueprints continuing to roll out
  • Upcoming product plans, with numerous launches planned at the Information on Demand conference in October
  • The planned SPSS acquisition, pointing the way to new opportunities 

Cognos executives have reason to be pleased with internal developments on a number of fronts. Retention has been good since the acquisition, but to some observers, it was even more meaningful to see a number of key Cognos players moving into roles within the IBM Software Group, gaining seniority, influence and the opportunity to be an advocate for the product agenda. Strategy VP Andy Warzecha noted that Cognos is "front and center within IBM today," pointing out organizational alignment with the "Information-Led Transformation" message within IBM's overall Smarter Planet theme. He highlighted the enormous (over $10B) investment, the 4000-plus Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO) team consultants, and the launch of Smart Analytics Systems as indicators of commitment to the $105B market opportunity IBM sees. The message: business optimization spending will grow twice as fast as business automation spending, and IBM is ready.

Les Rechan, VP of Sales, Services and Solutions, followed with a look at go-to-market issues. His discussion of IBM's deployment of teams into emerging markets and substantial growth in programs, staff and infrastructure made a powerful case for IBM's prospects as it ramps and mobilizes its enormous footprint  to add to Cognos' existing assets. Rechan, who orchestrates 25 integrated market units, cited as an example IBM's acquisition of its former Cognos partner in China. His analysis makes clear the value of an organization with IBM's scope: "42% of our opportunity is outside of the 3 major provinces," he said, "and we have tripled our salesforce, added 11,000 business partners, and grown from 13 branches in 2004  to 28." The financial results are beginning to show: IBM's latest quarterly earnings call specifically noted overall Cognos revenue growth of 30% in constant currency in Q2 over last year. Rechan says this is far higher in the growth markets, and cited TM1 and Cognos Controller as showing strong growth. Wall Street, he pointed out, has taken notice even during a difficult year for the stock market: in Q1 2008, IBM's stock price was 105, it was recently 120. 

Rechan cited competitive wins against SAP and Oracle, and illustrated the degree to which big wins leverage the full software portfolio. Case after case he discussed combined IBM software assets such as Cognos 8 BI, TM1, InfoSphere and Websphere to deliver performance management and optimization projects. In addition to highlighting the succesful rollout of Cognos BI products, IBM speakers focused a great deal on the growing importance of Performance Blueprints, which allow rapid delivery of functionally-focused projects. Adding to business functions like Allocations Planning, Capital Project Planning and 15 others, the company announced another half-dozen ranging from Workforce Planning to Financial Analytics Product Profitability.

New announcements also detailed the expansion within Industries. Health Care, Higher Education and Retail were on display, with offerings including Provider Planning, State Government Executive Dashboard, and Store Development. IBM announced the availability of 4 new Analytic Applications, one of which was partner-developed, and teed up a day and half of presentations from the development and marketing teams that pointed the way to the year ahead. 

Overall, the event, ably organized by an excellent AR team, made a strong case; response among the analyst colleagues I chatted with was quite positive. IBM is a huge organization, and mobilizing all its resources to move in the same direction is no small task. But the Cognos team is clearly well-established, integrated into existing programs (such as support - consider the magnitude of training and integrating global product support on the scale IBM offers it, a task which is now complete), tied in to the sales and partnering teams, and ready with campaigns for the year ahead. Execution is not in question. In other posts, we'll look at product strategies and plans.

Posted September 21, 2009 9:15 AM
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There are riches in the data stored inside over 5000 installed Hyperion performance management applications, and Star Analytics is committed to helping its customers exploit them more broadly. Tom Tortolani, VP of Products, sees this as Star Analytics' great opportunity - he's watched as the installation, maintenance and exploitation of the data in such applications has become more complex and unwieldy, even as more non-specialists clamor for access to that data.

"More IT involvement for business performance applications is required all the time," Tortolani says, "even though it's business users driving demand. The industry needs to make it easier for them."

Tom's was one of the first few employees at Arbor, the vendor responsible for Essbase. Arbor was a founding member of the OLAP Council and was involved in early efforts to benchmark OLAP servers, including the APB-1 sales and marketing benchmark application database. Arbor merged with Hyperion in 1998 to add its OLAP capabilities to Hyperion's leading financial applications, and Tom spent some time at Hyperion as well. He learned there are many multidimensional problems that customers need to solve which are handled by moving Hyperion data out to data marts using star schemas, integrating it with other data in the process. The Star Integration Server was created to tackle that problem, and Star Analyttics was recently granted a patent on a core piece of the export technology. Interacting with services-based componentry, other data sources, and otherwise extending the utility of Hyperion has been a steady growth business as the  company has grown and stabilized.

This is another example of the value of purpose-built, context-aware software. Hyperion applications are great at getting the data in, but not designed for getting it out except within its own surrounding apps.  Customers thus build complex environments using secondary storage vehicles, PERL scripts, etc. and find they have a tangled, ungoverned mess on their hands. Hundreds of these firms have already tried the free Express Edition download Star Analytics offers, and dozens of those have converted to paid customers - strong momentum for a relatively small firm that has not really launched an aggressive visibility campaign yet. 

Star Analytics' other key product, more recently introduced, is the Finance Command Center, which was briefly reviewed in a recent Information Management Magazine piece by Symantec, a customer who claimed a 95% reduction in complex manual processes used for financial integration. We expect to see a great deal of interest in this product in the quarters ahead.  

The good news for Tom and his colleagues is that venture capital money, from no less than Hummer Windblad among others, has provided the funding for Star Analytics to ramp it up, and IT Market Strategy expects to see new developments coming soon, at an opportune time for a market that will be rebounding and focusing on financial issues as 2010 approaches. Oracle is relatively supportive, and Star Analytics will appear in the Hyperion pavilion at Oracle Open World in October. Star's partnership with IBM (we understand that its connector to Essbase is used by IBM's DataStage) is another important element of the strategy. With a strong distributor to drive the product globally, Star Analytics will see its reach multiplied enormously. Expect to see more from Star Analytics in the months ahead.

Posted September 15, 2009 7:56 AM
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I'm not normally a fan of blog posts that do little more than talk about information available elsewhere. But I'm going to make an exception, because what TDWI has been able to do of late on LinkedIn has generated a good deal of conversation, information sharing and intriguing conclusions. Kudos to Wayne Eckerson for his efforts at getting this going as well as evangelizing it.

The LinkedIn Groups idea is a powerful one - provide a connection between professional networks and the information their participants care about. If you're on LinkedIn (and I recommend it - if you don't know what it is, I consider it the premier site for professional contact management) you can find the TDWI group here. You'll find quite a collection of data and BI professionals there - and here's a key point: TDWI membership is not necessary.

Why does this matter? Because in many situations where there is an organization with a vested interest (and a commercial motive) in serving its members, information doesn't flow. Consider the big technology research firms - they're like expensive country clubs: big membership fees and then a hefty charge to play every time you want a game. (Some research firms are adopting a more open model with their IP, but so far, they are in the minority, and quite small compared to the big country club types.

Anyone can suggest a discussion topic on LinkedIn Groups, and anyone can play free - LinkedIn membership itself is free, although there are premium versions available. As a result, lively discussions occur, which while not scientifically sampled or statstically validated, allow points of view and experiences to be shared and debated.

And then there's Wayne. His role includes publishing summaries, such as one he published recently which included this discussion:

"Open source BI" - has anyone used them yet? What do you think of these tools? Submitted by Marco Ribeiro, senior data architect, 67 comments.

Wayne's Summary: The discussion revolves around whether open source has more intrinsic value than its low cost. The consensus is that open source offers many additional benefits: chief among them 1) an engaged user community that is willing to share ideas 2) the ability to customize the software to meet your specific needs 3) automatic (and free) product upgrades 4) the ability to vote on enhancement requests 5) a community of developers contributing to a code base, which accelerates delivery of new functionality 6) good documentation that you can read before purchasing (premium versions). I like this quote by one person: "I believe that open source is about open people."

I find this particular discussion to be of great interest because of the conclusions. It's hardly surprising that participants in a collaborative community tend to value collaboration and community in their product providers. Nor that open source tends to offer just those attributes. What I found particularly engaging was that clearly many customers are speaking from experience when they say they have found vendors who provide those very things, and that they are "intrinsic values" beyond the low cost that OSS gets in the door with.

Wayne's work has convinced me to raise this community in my hierarchy of things to pay attention to. I'd urge anyone interested in these topics to do the same.

Posted September 8, 2009 9:30 AM
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The open source community is remarkable in many ways. For me, one of the most significant aspects of it is exactly that: it IS a community. It's composed of people who communicate and share in deep and productive ways. One of the most interesting manifestations of that spirit I've run across is the Eigenbase project, an extensible platform being used by some very creative folks for the creation and continuing development of databases for data warehousing (the LucidDB DBMS) and stream processing (the SQLstream continuous query engine). I haven't posted about either of those yet but will, and I'm watching their continuing evolution with great interest.

Organizationally, Eigenbase is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity. It has had contributions of various kinds - servers, IP, etc. from numerous companies and individuals since its founding in 2004. John Sichi, president and chairman, worked for Quadbase Systems and Broadbase Software, and was the original developer of Fennel and Farrago, two Eigenbase framework subprojects. John contributes to a number of other open source projects inside and outside of Eigenbase, including JGraphT and LucidDB.  Julian Hyde, treasurer, also sports a database pedigree from Oracle, Broadbase and Pentaho; he founded Mondrian and other projects. Julian is Chief Architect for SQLstream and Chief Architect, OLAP for Pentaho. He and John were together at Broadbase when John came up with some of the key Eigenbase constructs. Other key players include director Damian Black, whose career includes stints at Hewlett-Packard Research Laboratories in Europe where he worked on combining logic programming, object-oriented and relational database systems. Damian also took on business roles, which helped prep him for his role today as CEO of SQLstream.

The notion that "one size fits all" DBMSs are an artifact of an old model, and that it's time to move on, is one that has gained a great deal of academic momentum, and the ADBMS vendors are aggressively pitching the idea that they have identified at least one use case that proves it. Mike Stonebraker has a few other ones in his thinking, and is commercially involved with two in addition to Vertica. But Eigenbase takes a rather different tack: it's factored the data management tasks in such a way that different use cases can be supported by grafting different "features" onto it, as illustrated in this figure.

The premise is that as ideas for specialized use cases emerge, the developer can construct the extensions desired. In the case of LucidDB, it's the column store bits (pun intended) that support the ADBMS case; in SQLstream, it's SQL-based support for event processing. The platform includes a methodology for the assembly of these innovations, and a community of programmers work together to advance the model.

Platform capabilities include a source code repository, a release management process that uses Sourceforge, a wiki for documentation, a defect tracking system, mailing lists, standards enforcement and a great deal more. These things are not without precedent, but they form a coherent whole that attracts some very talented people. "The factoring is why Eigenbase is a vibrant community," John told me recently over a breakfast in Half Moon Bay. "Lucid DB is beginning to get to a wider audience: people are kicking the tires," Julian added. Lucid continues despite the closure of Lucidera, and development is now moving from core stuff to the integration side.

Quite a crew. There are others, whose brief bios on the Eigenbase site read like a who's who, but these are the folks I've had the pleasure of meeting in several settings. Their commitment - to quality, and to the open source model - is extraordinary. If you're interested in these technology categories, open source and/or collaborative processes you should get to know them. Follow the links and say hello. As they continue their work, don't be surprised if we see some commercialization, evangelism as the dozens of implementations gain their own footholds, and the emergence of yet another contender.

Posted September 3, 2009 9:43 AM
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