Gartner Group calls it a "hot new segment." What is this trend that promises to take the market by storm? Business intelligence suites. A suite is an integration of tools or functions that were previously separate. "Suite-ening" is a process that many vendors are implementing to alleviate some of the pain of being a systems integrator. Integration and the alleviation of pain are definitely good things. Let's look at a familiar example of the process of "suite-ening." Consider the office suites that have bundled word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics. I remember the days of using Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and Harvard Graphics separately. (Actually, it was not that long ago!) It was difficult, if not impossible, to transfer information from one to the other and difficult to remember commands to invoke common functions in the different products. Vendors remedied the situation by either integrating pre-existing distinct point solution products or by creating an integrated suite of functions that was inclusive of those provided in previously separate products. There are many suite providers in this market now; but, of course, the "suite master" is Microsoft, with its hugely successful Office product.

Similarly, the business intelligence market now is heating up over suites. BI vendors are undergoing a "suite-ening" process which will integrate BI functionality or tools that were previously "point solutions." A BI suite typically includes query and reporting functionality or query, reporting and OLAP, but may go the route of including OLAP and data visualization or query, reporting, OLAP and data visualization. You get the idea. An early example of BI "suite-ening" by a vendor was the integration of two separate products from Brio Technology ­ DataPrism and DataPivot. Brio included pivoting with query capabilities in their BrioQuery product. And Seagate is now positioning its Crystal Info product as a suite that integrates query, reporting and OLAP functionality. Microsoft has entered the business intelligence suite arena by bundling OLAP functionality into their SQL Server 7.0 database management system product, although the suite does not as yet include front-end tools. Without a doubt, BI vendors will do one of two things. They will either obtain, through merger or acquisition, architecturally consistent functionality to round out their offerings and then proceed to integrate them, or they are already in development of integrated capabilities. Either way, there will be a flurry of market activity as vendors rush to be among the first to "suite-en" their products.

As an aside, the move by Microsoft, while incomplete in terms of providing a full BI suite, has underscored an interesting market pressure surrounding "suite-ening" ­ the pressure on pricing. Microsoft is giving away OLAP functionality essentially for free. It will be interesting to see what other BI suite vendors do in integrating tools that were separately priced before. It should exert downward pressure on pricing and be good news for users.

Business intelligence tools, while they have been around for years, individually do not have a widespread audience within a given organization since they address a single function and require a certain level of proficiency to utilize. As a result, organizations typically have implemented several types of tools to serve different business purposes. Business people needing multiple functions have to install and learn multiple tools and are back in the "Lotus 1-2-3, Word- Perfect, Harvard Graphics" mode of performing any integration functions manually. However, there have been steady increases in numbers of people utilizing business intelligence tools and having to perform integration functions, which is causing the demand for suites.

The suite segment will be an interesting one to watch. Not all BI functionality can be "suite- ened," or integrated, effectively. We need to watch to see if vendors actually implement true feature integration versus putting a product "umbrella" over the top of still-separate functions. BI functions will need to run seamlessly. Users will need to be able to easily take data from one function to the other, comparable to the Windows "cut-and-paste" mechanism. And common functions will need to be invoked similarly. But, with the widening of the BI tool audience, BI suite implementation within an organization promises to have a profound impact. BI users, just as office product users before them, will undoubtedly wonder what they did before suites. And with that, we will have suite success.

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