If you were a reporter kicking the tires of business intelligence a decade ago when it entered the nomenclature of business technology, you'd have quickly come across the name of Howard Dresner. Over the last 13-plus years at Gartner Inc., Dresner as much as anyone brought BI into the mainstream, and was even credited by some with coining the term. One of just 13 Gartner Fellows, he also founded Gartner's annual BI Symposium in Chicago, which has grown into a major event in recent years.
Now, imagine how Dresner felt when he attended another Gartner symposium last month - this time as a client - after leaving the analyst firm to become chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions. "It was an odd experience but it was great, my former colleagues and management gave me a nice going-away party and a roast." Having accomplished pretty much everything he'd set out to do with Gartner, the former analyst says it was simply time to move on. "It was a good run with some great people. As an analyst you have a degree of impact that's significant, but it tends to be very broad and limited in terms of depth," he says. "I wanted to have a different kind of impact on a company. At Hyperion I think I can really make a difference."
From Dresner's high industry perch, you could take his decision as an endorsement of Hyperion's products and services, which is certainly the way he sees it. "I think Hyperion has all the elements for success and products are just part of it. The Hyperion System 9 release probably has the most breadth and depth of anything on the market, and our focus on integration with financial applications is really unique." As an analyst, Dresner always thought highly of Hyperion, though he did sound off negatively in 2003 when Hyperion acquired Brio and its interactive query tool. "I'll be honest, I was not an advocate," Dresner says. "At the time they bought them, [Brio] management had stumbled badly, and though they had a nice tool, I thought they might go out of business." But Hyperion retained key developers and strongly supported the product, now a part of Hyperion's business intelligence platform. The deal also brought new and relieved customers who had been left in the lurch with Brio struggling. The fact that the companies' headquarters were practically on top of one another didn't hurt either. "Proximity plays into it, you could throw a stone from Hyperion and hit their headquarters," says Dresner. "But to sum it up, they proved me wrong on Brio."
The Brio deal was exemplary of the rapid consolidation of those years, as BI vendors moved from specialty categories to become broad platform providers. This was a predictable maturity curve for the market, Dresner maintains. "More than five years ago we realized we had this thing called an enterprise suite, with query and end-user reporting and OLAP, and it was Web deployed. That was convergence right there. From that simplistic platform people started looking for more, that quantitative content ought to share the same infrastructure, the same repository, the same look and feel. Can you imagine if you had to go out today and buy a separate graphics package?"
In fact, Dresner says he's still acclimating himself to the breadth of products in Hyperion's portfolio that address data mining, scorecards, strategy maps, consolidation, statutory reporting and more. This is only part of the picture though. Coming from a role where objectivity and integrity are paramount, Dresner was sensitive to issues that went beyond the company's products. "You also need the organization and the right philosophy. What I like about the philosophy of Hyperion is that it focuses on the customer and it's really about integrity and honesty and doing the right thing. As an analyst, those things were very important to me."
If integrity is a given, at some point it still has to be asked whether all these improving technologies and services are actually making working life better for end users - or whether they are just new products to be evaluated and sold to technologists. Dresner is passionate on this account and breaks down a business-centric argument.
"First, our relationships are by and large with business and finance managers," he says. "We also like to work with business-focused and forward-thinking IT organizations." To be successful today, Dresner says a vendor must target the key users that have to make sense of data, rather than the technologists that may or may not be working with end users. Organizational dynamics, internal and external, are a large part of the picture. "Our focus is on the business performance management system, which is about a professional user and how they create scenarios, model, plan, budget, forecast and measure. It's a lifecycle of information we channel over a period of time, tied to analytics and BI capabilities. Then, periodically, you need to go back in a fluid way and change the plan." Most of this work falls to finance managers; the good news being that finance pops up just about everywhere in the organization. Performance management, though, ought to and needs to creep into other areas as well. "If you think about it, everything an organization does is related to everything else it does. If I make a change on my side of the enterprise, it affects your side. The problem is, most organizations only find out about this incidentally or when it's too late." Thus, while CRM analytics are a good thing, Dresner feels they are not enough to meet enterprise goals by themselves. "You can think about a 360-degree view of the customer, but how many degrees of the business is that?" In this man's mind, there's no reason everyone in the organization shouldn't have his or her own dashboard and metrics. It's a philosophy already in place throughout Hyperion in an internal rollout called Project Champagne.
Next, Dresner insists that technology is absolutely ready to hold up its end of the deal. "We can deliver this right now; there's no question in my mind." Asked to grade the progress on a scale measuring from, say, Windows 3.1 to Windows XP, Dresner says BI technology is all of cutting edge and more. That said, technological readiness isn't the same thing as saying that it's easy to institutionalize BI. The obstacles include organizational structure, politics and entrenched behavior - the greater stumbling blocks for BI vendors generally. "When you've got 12 ways of talking about customers or revenue or profit, it's not a technology issue, it's a business issue," Dresner says. "There's no way a business can gain a common understanding and meet goals if those things cannot be reconciled." On the other hand, a company that has successfully implemented enterprise resource planning and doesn't have 35 instances scattered about has probably already "cracked the code," as Dresner likes to say. It's the kind of visibility and clarity that can overcome reticence among those who frankly don't want business performance management institutionalized. "If someone can see my performance before I do, that's bad. If I can't spin the numbers or I lose face time with an executive, that's bad." Performance management also rubs up uncomfortably against executive inertia. "If I know something now that was not clear before, I will have to do something about it and that means I will have to change. Human beings generally don't like to change."
Competitive dynamics do change however. Dresner points to financial services and consumer-packaged goods as the two industries where agility and a wider consumer focus are now requisite for success. "If CPG companies didn't have a handle on what was selling and where, they'd be out of business and we'd be back where we were 100 years ago with regional and local manufacturers." In an Internet age when customers, suppliers and even products often go unseen, only through data can we capture, understand and gain a visceral sense of what's going on. "This is where query and reporting tools fall flat because they can't provide performance visibility," Dresner says. "Harnessing, sifting and making sense of the data is what performance management is all about."
Admittedly, we're not nearly there yet. The former analyst cites Gartner research indicating that among organizations in established markets, BI penetration is still at only about 25 to 30 percent. For the nonestablished markets, it can be assumed that penetration is just about nil. The good news is that budgets are increasing dramatically and the gap between penetration and demand is a compelling market opportunity. What will move the market is top-down vision and leadership that does not consist of IT going out and buying an enterprise-reporting tool. "You know what separates the leaders from those who don't have it figured out? It's that the CEO or the CFO - not the CIO - owns it. I don't mean that they support or sponsor it; they own the whole damn thing." Dresner believes that this kind of ownership responsibility will begin to happen more widely as CEOs act on the realization that insight is critical to survival as well as success. Once taken, that high road will be the next frontier for analysts, reporters, Hyperion and the business intelligence community at large.
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