In the time it takes for you to read this sentence, millions of people around the globe will create slides in PowerPoint, while countless other millions will plug their laptops into video projectors to make live presentations with full-color, high-resolution slides. Because they do it every day, it is unlikely that these people have much appreciation of how empowering it is to create, manage and deliver your own multimedia presentations or how much productivity this process adds to the global economy.

It was not always this way. In the early eighties, the state of the art was 35mm slides, carefully crafted by highly paid, highly skilled teams of designers, artists and animators. Once the slide was designed and produced, a last minute change was both resource-intensive and horrendously expensive. It was not uncommon for a complex chart slide to cost $125, with a rush change to this slide often costing over $500.

The world of speaker support slides was irrevocably changed in the mid- eighties when systems that allowed real-time video projection of full-color, high-resolution graphics became available. There was no longer a need for typesetting, paste-up, stats, litho film and the animation cameras used to create the slides. Instead, artists worked directly on the computer systems to create, sequence and present the images. These video graphics systems quickly put the old, slow and expensive world of 35mm slide production and presentation out of business.

These professional graphics production and presentation systems, while a revolution in the ease and speed of image production, still relied on very expensive video projectors and a team of highly skilled, very highly paid projectionists in order to project an image for an audience. These early, large format video projectors cost over $125,000 for a model that would create an image of 1,000 lumens, a measure of brightness. (For comparison, the movie projector at your local cinema makes about 10,000 lumens with an open gate, i.e., no film passing in front of the lamp.) These video projectors weighed hundreds of pounds, and some were as big as a refrigerator. Today, video projectors used to project PowerPoint slides are capable of producing more than 1,000 lumens, are the size and weight of a medium dictionary, yet cost only hundreds to a few thousand dollars.

This same revolution in cost, capability and direct user implementation is happening in business intelligence (BI). Due to the rapidly accelerating pace of change, the transition between very expensive and complex technologies that require teams of highly skilled, very highly paid personnel to very inexpensive, directly implemented BI solutions will be much faster than the transition from 35mm slides to PowerPoint projection.

There are several areas where this trend is most obvious:

Core Technologies. It is possible to purchase very powerful, bundled core BI technologies at price points that a few years ago would have been considered ludicrously low. The RDBMS, OLAP, query and reporting, and data mining technologies that form the foundation of BI solutions are now available in very low total cost of ownership (TCO) forms. As these technologies become more and more "wizard" driven, self-monitoring, self-managing and self-optimizing, fewer and fewer highly skilled, highly trained professionals will be required. The end state will be solutions that a typical business person can install, immediately utilize and sustain with no technologist intervention or support required.

Packaged Solutions. The widely expanding set of packaged/turnkey BI solutions available at very reasonable price points is making it increasingly difficult for IT teams to rationalize why a relatively high-cost, custom solution should be built. In most cases, they never get the chance, as the business is buying these solutions directly at price points well below their signing authority. Built on the aforementioned very low TCO core technologies, these packaged solutions deliver specific business value at incredibly low price points, often with little or no IT support.

Application Service Providers (ASPs): Just as entire departments of 35mm slide production professionals were eliminated by the rise of electronic speaker support, businesses are increasingly turning to ASP solutions and eliminating large numbers of internal IT resources. There is a steadily rising chorus of CEOs and CFOs asking probing questions about core competencies and questioning the logic of having very expensive IT departments doing what is becoming essentially commodity work. As the major ERP systems and their accompanying packaged BI systems become more and more predominant, this trend will continue. Business leaders are discovering that competitive differentiation does not lie in having the same OLTP and BI system as your competitor. It comes in the questions that you ask of those systems and the unique analysis that derives from the answers.

In the mid-eighties, it took out-of-the-box thinking to take some circuit boards from a division of AT&T labs and transform them into the new market segment of electronic speaker support. Today's revolution in BI, the dispersion of the power of BI to the masses, will be led by those who can think outside of the box and see the opportunity of mass market application of BI insight, analysis, delivery and, ultimately, power. The potential is staggering and will make the global productivity gains of PowerPoint over 35mm slides seem trivial by comparison.

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