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Overheard: Survival BI


Cindi Howson, founder, BIScorecard  

How does the current economic pinch match up with the need for better decision-making among your clients? 

Things haven't ground to a halt, but it's clear companies have to be smarter because their survival depends on it. For some, it's not just a three-year plan; it's getting through this year. For sure, companies are looking at using BI to reduce cost and identifying cost-saving opportunities, but the better companies are still looking at improving revenues through customer service or shifting their product portfolio. 

What is the squeeze doing to upgrades or license renewals among your clients? 

As you'd expect, companies are being charged with doing as much as they can while cutting or holding expenses. One of my customers is a large homebuilder. They're not facing bankruptcy like some others, but it's obviously a very tough business at the moment. Their managers want dashboards, the IT staff wants to build them, but they don't have software in house to do that. I knew they used Microsoft internally, so I told them they ought to look at the way Microsoft has changed its packaging and pricing to make dashboards a part of the SharePoint license. It's not as fully featured as what they wanted, but given that they can't spend out of pocket, that might fit their needs for now. 

We're also seeing examples of product rebundling among vendors. As of today (4/24/2009) what else are you seeing in that vein? 

I'm seeing across the board that customers may go through a requirements process but then have to look at what they can get away with based on what they have in house. The biggest stories so far are Microsoft with their change in policy for SharePoint; SAP changing their packaging to make it easier for their customers to get into the Business Objects products; and MicroStrategy, who has released a new free reporting suite. But any time there's a major change I am cautious.

What about the uptake of open source BI software and software as a service providers?  

It's funny you should ask since two coverage areas I'm looking to add are open source and SaaS. I personally get more excited about software as a service than about open source, but that doesn't seem to be what most folks seem to be responding to.

Why is that? 

I'm not completely sure. I wonder if it's because SaaS cuts into a little bit of IT's control and role as gatekeepers.

Do you think business executives want the risk of owning more BI platforms or standardizing on something less familiar to them? 

It's a culture war on that front. On the other hand, IT loves open source because it does require customization and goes straight to that whole programmer mentality. I had a call with a customer that deployed a new SaaS BI product. It was a large banking customer that had Oracle BI as an internal standard. They wanted something for their frontline workers and portfolio managers in an extranet environment. This SaaS company helped them where IT would have been installing a bunch of hardware, figuring out firewall settings and a bunch of other stuff. They have 800 users, and it took about 10 weeks to get up and running. I don't know that IT was thrilled at what happened.

You need a real owner and some clout to get a project like that done. 

It's not easy and you have to manage risk first. I think where BI is led by a strong CIO with more of a business focus than a data center focus where the chance is greater that BI will be pervasive in the ways companies want it to be. They'll approach it with a different mindset.

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