As markets go, business intelligence (BI) is fairly mature. Most enterprise BI vendors now offer similar sets of tools and functionality. It's getting increasingly hard to differentiate among them. Sales increasingly revolve around intangibles rather than product functionality.
Information Builders, Inc. (IBI), a 30+-year-old enterprise BI vendor that shuns the limelight, but has established a deep loyalty among its customers. How does IBI succeed in a crowded and increasingly commoditized marketplace? The answer was on display this week at IBI's annual user conference in Orlando, Florida. The company treats its customers with respect and provides great service and value. It has a down-home, family feel that is refreshing in today's go-go, sales-driven, high tech culture. And this is ironic, since this $300 million company is located in the heart of mid-town Manhattan--the mecca of hard-charging capitalism--not a Midwestern prairie.
It helps that IBI is one of the few privately-held, enterprise BI players today. As a private company, IBI has been free to pursue its own style of doing business. And that style emanates from Gerald Cohen, a quirky yet amiable CEO who has been running the company since its inception 37 years ago. Cohen, an engineer by training who still dives into the technical details of all the company's products, has shunned the typical high-growth trajectory of most software firms, preferring instead to build a large extended family of customers and employees.
Honesty and candor are a watchword at IBI. Watching Gerry Cohen's annual conference keynote is always one of the highlights of my year. This is not a slick, highly orchestrated, marketing spectacle. Rather, what you see is what you get, which is Gerry being Gerry. He introduces new product features with an avuncular charm, sprinkling historical musings with rhetorical phrases, like "You see what I mean?" He loves to challenge the audience and onstage demo presenters, and he is not afraid to point out product limitations, past or present.
Not surprisingly, IBI always tracks at the top of BI vendor satisfaction surveys from Gartner Group and other research firms. "Customers like working with us and know we're not going to gouge them," says IBI's chief marketing officer, Michael Corcoran. "This is often why we win head-to-head deals against our competition." IBI increasingly squares off against MicroStrategy, the other remaining enterprise BI pureplay, according to Corcoran.
Most attendees at IBI's user conference are hard-core report developers. Not surprisingly, the 1,000+ attendees reserved their biggest applause for new graphical enhancements to the WebFocus developer environment, now called Application Studio. Most of these report developers maintain large, complex operational reports, many of which are external facing, serving tens of thousands customers. These developers often customize their reports using the WebFocus scripting language, giving them a high degree of control over the look, feel, functionality, and workflow of these production applications.
In recent years, IBI has moved beyond its reporting heritage and offered a bevy of analytical tools for power users. These include self-service dashboards, predictive analytics, enterprise search, text analytics, sentiment analysis, OLAP, performance management, and visual discovery. And through its iWay division, IBI has created a rich data management portfolio that customers have quickly embraced. The portfolio includes tools for data quality, data governance, master data management, data virtualization, columnar data storage, and adapters for almost every data source, including new social media feeds, such as Facebook and Twitter. IBI is truly is a one-stop shop for everything related to BI.
Both IBI and MicroStrategy have benefited from consolidation in the BI market, in which former competitors got acquired by software giants. Today, many customers prefer to work with BI specialists rather than all-in-one software behemoths in which BI is one small item in a sprawling product line. However, as the pace of large BI deals slows, enterprise BI vendors are increasingly focused on new market segments, primarily small and medium-sized businesses and departments in larger organizations where fast-growing companies, such as QlikTech and Tableau, have made a killing. IBI is no exception. It has built a mid-market toolset, which it currently sells internationally, and it's planning to unveil a second generation visual discovery tool later this year.
IBI has established a comfortable niche in the BI market. Its trustworthiness gives it a strong base of customers and a steadily growing revenue stream. IBI is never going to win any beauty contests. It's more of an Energizer bunny than a Playboy bunny. It just keeps on ticking, like its indefatigable and lovable CEO.
Posted June 5, 2012 10:51 AM
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