Thursday, October 28, 2004

BW Online | July 9, 2004 | Software Makers: Soon They'll Be Fewer

BW Online | July 9, 2004 | Software Makers: Soon They'll Be Fewer: "Business-intelligence specialists like Business Objects (BOBJ ) or Hyperion Solutions (HYSL ) would make sense paired with a broader application provider like Microsoft, SAP, or Oracle, investment bankers say.
Software companies will have to work hard to make sure deals don't create more problems than they solve. 'The track record for such deals in the IT sector is horrible,' warns Heap, the Bain merger consultant. These deals are difficult to execute because they often force the acquiring company to enter a new and unfamiliar market. Acquirers have one thing working in their favor this time around, however: The price of target companies has fallen since the '90s boom, reducing the risk of overpaying. And given the passage of time, it's easier to evaluate the strength of a company that's being acquired. Consolidation won't be a panacea for software's woes, but it's bound to help the industry adjust to the realities of a maturing market. "

Return of the "Big Four" (Did They Ever Really Leave?) - META Group

The 1990s were glory years for the "Big 8/6/5" consultancies, firms that rapidly expanded from their audit roots to build out business advisory and IT services capabilities and drove megatrends like BPR, ERP implementation, and e-business. The bust that followed the boom, and questions about conflicts of interest from selling non-audit services to audit accounts (and subsequent regulations to curtail that practice), led to the splitting out of many of the IT-intensive services (KPMG spun out KPMG Consulting, now BearingPoint; E&Y sold its practice to Capgemini, and PwC to IBM; and Andersen's staff scattered after its demise). Deloitte did not spin out its IT practice, though it tried, and now looks quite smart for having maintained those capabilities. Indeed, Deloitte's integrated service offering business (fusing IT with risk, tax, and financial domain expertise) is booming. PwC is building up its IT practice - one that never totally disappeared - E&Y has announced its intent to do the same, and KPMG's Risk Advisory Service that includes all non-tax/audit/financial services including IT is rapidly growing. What has changed is that, with the exception of Deloitte, these firms are not targeting enterprise packaged application deployment or development. Rather, the emphasis is on embedding IT advisory capabilities within other practice areas, particularly around risk and compliance, to create new hybrid offerings. While this may not prove as lucrative as work performed in the glory years, it does create compelling (anything to make compliance more viable and less costly is compelling) and differentiating service offerings that will likely prove less conflicting. (Stan Lepeak)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

My thoughts on Nicholas Carr's proposition of how "IT Doesn't Matter"

I want to write today about the information technology industry as a whole, and not just restrict myself to the BI/EA world. Nicholas Carr recently wrote a ground-breaking article about how "IT Doesn't Matter" ( in which he provokes the thought that IT has evolved into a kind of ubiquitous industry that does not provide competitive advantage anymore. One of the main things that made me to think about information systems in a different way as far as strategic implications are concerned is the concept proposed by Carr that IT systems have evolved to have a ubiquitous presence in today's businesses. This concept merits some thought, since I agree with him to the extent of saying that the IT systems are so readily available and easily implemented that IT by itself cannot be a source of competitive advantage. Up until the late 90's companies implementing IT systems automatically enjoyed a leadership position in the market. However, in today's rapidly evolving business world, the mere presence of IT systems have diminished in providing a source of competitive advantage. While I agree, though a bit more reservedly, with that facet of Carr's thought, I disagree with him on his statements that IT has evolved into an industry synonymous with the utility companies of the early 20th century. I think that though technology by itself will not provide competitive advantage in the future, the implementation methodology and strategy behind the technology will definitely have strong strategic influence for companies. This is in stark contrast to the utility companies that Carr describes. Systems, like business intelligence that provide insights inside the gut of a business to reveal fundamental aspects of the working of a business (kind of like an X-Ray of the business) will be a source of completive advantage as long as careful thought is given to the measures, dimensions, scope and breadth of definition of the project.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The CFO Project: Business Intelligence: Solving the ERP Overload

The CFO Project: "Organizations realize there is a wealth of information in ERP data, but the difficulty is finding and leveraging it. To truly maximize return on investment, a business intelligence solution on top of an ERP system is required. Business intelligence is a broad category of applications, including technologies for reporting, analysis, and sharing of information that helps users make better business decisions."

Business Intelligence Market Analysis: A Quick Take

The specialized players in the Business Intelligence market (Business Objects, Cognos etc.) are facing increased threat of forward integration from the major players in the database world. This is not surprising, given that a majority of analytical applications rely on RDBMS as the data source. The recent offerings by Oracle via their BI Beans, IBM with their boosting the DB2 functionality significantly with OLAP capabilities signal the turn that the industry is making. It will be interesting to see the strategies of the niche BI vendors to effectively compete with the database vendors. The other threat of new entrants into the BI market comes from vendors specializing in technologies that hereto supported the BI function. For example, Informatica was content with the ETL function supporting the underlying data warehouse, however they have made a move to transgress into the dashboard world via their Power Analyzer tool. Though not a direct threat to the entrenched players like Cognos, Business Objects and MicroStrategy, I consider this move to be a sort of a "test the waters before the plunge" tactic. There has been diversification from the core competency by the niche players themselves: observe Business Objects' Data Integrator and Cognos' Decision Stream which transgresses on Informatica's turf. What does all this mean to me as a worker bee in the analytics space? Well, the added competition on one hand dilutes my own "product offering" i.e. my skill set. To keep up with the evolving market, I need to evolve my own skills to at least understand the integration and differentiation of these products. On the other hand, the increased competition promotes product innovation and imposes a downward pressure on prices (something that is not happened yet, but will eventually come about). Keep an eye out for the evolution of this space, I am predicting there will be another round of a consolidation exercise very soon.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Data Visualization: Now you see!

One way to comprehend and analyze the exponential volume of data is through the techniques like Data Mining. Until recently, one could only view the same data in varying formats that were static and non-visual. With the evolution of Data Visualization (DV) technology, data analysts can extend their intuitive abilities to visually interpret and actively interact with data by utilizing a user interface that exploits natural abilities in visual perception. DV tools enable non-technical users to understand data trends at both a high level, without getting their hands dirty with the actual numbers, and a detailed level through the capability of drilling down to specific information. While most business analytic tools offer only static tabular/pivot reports or at most some types of charts with very little scope of human interaction, Data Visualization offers interactive graphical capabilities that range from simple scatter plots to complex multi-dimensional representations that can be sliced and diced in multiple ways in real-time. Data visualization is essentially business intelligence taken a step further by making that information more logical and easier to understand through visualization techniques. Current data visualization leaders like Advanced Visual Systems Inc. (AVS), Antarctica Systems Visual Net and Spotfire DecisionSite offer further insight into data by demonstrating relationships that occur through multi-dimensional attributes and statistical patterns. This is an evolving field that shows much promise in the coming years in the enterprise analytics arena.

2004 Research Paper on Strategic Information Systems; R.H.Smith School of Business; Flanagan, Gera, Graves, Hersi, Patil, Yarnot

Demand for Business Intelligence Expertise

The number of consulting firms offering BI and analytics solutions seems to be growing exponentially. Front runners are the major systems integrators like IBM BCS, CGI-AMS and Deloitte. One glance at their hiring postings in the recent months shows an explosion in the requirement of talent specializing in the analytics space. Professionals need to be careful about their choice of the technology to follow as their core competency. BI is the hot "thing" in today's world of exploding data content, however it is a constantly evolving industry in stages of inevitable consolidation. Business Objects' acquisition of Crystal, Cognos acquiring Frango are the recent examples of the consolidation underway in the industry. From my past experience, I think it would not be too far before the major players like Microsoft extend their offering in the analytics space through acquisitions. Oracle also might make a move soon, a move that is probably delayed with the PeopleSoft focus. The demand for talent in analytics is high, and hopefully will continue riding the wave of technology spending. To be on the safe side though, professional will find it advantageous to supplement their tool expertise with solid programming (XML, Java) to make sure that a sudden glut in the tools market does not leave them with knowledge that is no longer wanted in the market.

Data Warehousing Architecture Alternatives

Forrester Research: Technology research and advice.: "Data warehousing architecture is needed to accommodate dynamic business requirements that cannot be anticipated. Without data warehousing architecture, organizational form and IT function operate at cross purposes. Meanwhile, lack of fit between organizational form and architecture has resulted in the religious wars for which data warehousing has become famous. These are avoidable by aligning form and structure. Firms that are highly centralized in geography and governance should pursue centralized data warehouse architecture to reap the greatest operational efficiencies and business benefits. Firms that are highly decentralized will prefer a distributed architecture; those with a mixed organizational pattern should implement a federated one."

Grading BI Reporting And Analysis Solutions

Forrester Research: Technology research and advice.: "Reporting is fundamental to all companies. Most companies strive to standardize on a single reporting and analysis platform to deliver analytic, business, and enterprise reporting, but it is a reality for very few. There is no one single reporting and analysis platform that can deliver every feature and function needed. The direction that companies should take is to adopt a standard that can support at least two of the three different reporting types and fill in gaps with emerging XML and Web services capabilities, advanced visualization, and process definition whenever possible."

Friday, October 08, 2004

Don't forget your model, stupid!

Companies spend hours and hours (and of course, tons of money) on developing their dream enterprise portal with slick dashboards and interfaces for data analysis. What probably gets ignored often is the supporting data model itself.

I have seen companies that build phenomenal transactional systems that crunch a million transactions on a regular basis. Translating this transactional data to support reporting is another matter. The same transactional structures are often carried over into the reporting world (with a bit of denormalization here, and a bit of pivots there), but essentially the same transactional structure to support the reporting applications.

And therein lies the problem. You cannot expect Business Objects or Cognos or any other tool out there to scale unless you have a sound reporting data model to support them. It does not make good business and project management sense to embed the code and transformational logic into the reporting tool, when the ETL should be the source and focus of all major transformations.

I am not sure how much this lethargy to convert a transactional model to a denormalized reporting model exists out there; I will not be surprised if it is very prevalent.