This is an interesting time for business intelligence (BI) technology. Consolidation in the industry continues causing customers to wonder what new ownership of their BI technology will mean for
them. New business intelligence players continue to emerge even though consolidation is often an indicator that a market has matured. But what I see most inside of companies using business
intelligence is an interest in what I call “low-cost” BI, business intelligence that is cheaper, faster and less difficult than the traditional or market-leading BI technologies.
The idea of lowering BI costs is attractive, and every organization should look at ways of lowering these costs. However, too often the assessment of low cost is based on the acquisition cost of
the technology rather than considering the total cost of ownership – the costs associated with using and maintaining the technology – which can undermine the objective of reducing BI
costs. The strategic way to think about this is to consider the costs associated with the people and processes as well as the technology.
Examples of Low-Cost Business Intelligence
Let’s begin by looking at a few (this is not meant to be an inclusive list) of the low-cost BI technologies. Some examples are:
Microsoft Business Intelligence – The cost of SQL Server Integration Services, Reporting Services and Analysis services are negligible when compared to top ETL and OLAP
technologies. Coming from a major corporation, these products, and Microsoft’s recent acquisition of DATAllegro and its data warehouse appliance, demand attention.
Oracle Business Intelligence – Like Microsoft, Oracle has built upon its DBMS with Warehouse Builder and DBMS-based analytics for low-cost business intelligence. However,
recent acquisitions and partnerships indicate a different approach. The multiple BI offerings and partnership with HP to deliver a database machine to compete with Netezza and others show that
not all Oracle business intelligence will be low cost. Clearly, Oracle’s BI vision has expanded.
Open Source Business Intelligence – Open source is attractive because it reduces the cost of acquisition, offers ongoing development (although at a less certain pace
because of its development model) and allows modification of its source code (as governed by the particular open source license). It is important to note that there are some questions regarding
open source costs, including support costs and the effects of an acquisition of an open source company by a non-open source vendor.
Emerging Technologies – While not as low-cost as others, these technologies are priced at a lower level than mainstream BI market leaders. The trend seems to be toward
emphasizing ease of data analysis or discovery rather than the traditional BI model of ETL, quality control, data structuring and OLAP delivery of structured analytics.
Low-cost business intelligence is here to stay and hopefully will drive down the prices of the leading BI suites. In the meantime, are these technologies really low cost?
Assessing Low-Cost Business Intelligence
It is clear that the cost of these technologies is less than that of market leading BI technologies. However, there are three key aspects that are important to consider in evaluating any
What technology capabilities are important for you? A technology becomes a market leader by offering a long list of technical capabilities to meet the needs of a widely diverse
customer base. The low cost technologies may not have all the technical features of a market leading product; but if one of these has the features you need, then you’re buying just what you
need and not paying for features you won’t use.
What skills and competencies does the technology require? This is more than those needed to make use of the tool. It includes skills and competencies necessary to manage the
technology and the work product created with it. For example, many low-cost ETL tools provide graphic mapping capabilities for extracting, transforming and loading data, just like the leading ETL
tools. However, they tend to lack multi-developer management, version controls for iterative development or enhancements, impact or data lineage analysis, and other capabilities that are
important to consider. Similarly, reporting and OLAP capabilities for data security, user management and data delivery are important and must be assessed. These are not reasons to avoid low-cost
BI; rather, they require the people and processes needed to provide these capabilities to be evaluated. For the most part, the people and processes affected are in IT, so it is critical that the
necessary support for using the technology going forward from its initial implementation is thought through and made a part of the total cost of ownership. For some organizations, low-cost
business intelligence will be the answer. For others, it won’t.
Will the technology be where you need it to be in the future? One of the challenges with low-cost business intelligence is that its market drivers are different. Market leaders
compete on their technical capability, which causes them to consciously focus on expanding the robustness of their offerings. In my discussions with low cost BI vendors, I have found that
capabilities essential in significant BI installations “are being worked on” and will be a part of “an upcoming release.” Well, time has passed, and they have not been
included in upcoming releases. When cost is the selling point, development or additional features is not always a high priority, a point I have emphasized with Gartner Research in their Magic
Quadrant evaluations of BI vendors. With any technology, but especially with low cost vendors, it is safest to assume that the product you buy is the one you will live with. Consider any new
features as icing on the cake.
What is the bottom line? Low-cost business intelligence is attractive and an important element in the market. As I said earlier, an outcome I look forward to is lower prices across the board for
all BI technology. In the meantime, it is important to make sure that business needs are met, responsiveness to changing business needs is planned for, and BI is developed into a successful tool
for enhancing the business.
SOURCE: The Allure of Low-Cost Business Intelligence
Recent articles by Richard Skriletz