The boundaries of what is or isn't business intelligence software seems to be moving all the time. Visualization, integration, spreadsheet tools are all part of the mix; for many it's performance management as well. Throw in dedicated hardware. software or analytics as a service, cloud, Web crawlers and you see a lot of products on the market busy distilling and reporting on information -- and I haven't even mentioned a database.

My own opinion on what is or isn't business intelligence software and hardware (not BI itself) has shifted a bit over the years. I could draw it out for you on a sheet of paper, and it likely won't be the same as yours or someone else's view.

But that doesn't matter to Howard Dresner, the Gartner analyst turned software executive turned private analyst. Anyone who's taken a serious look at BI over the last 20 years has come across Howard, and since he's traced a lot of BI chronology along the way I was interested in his new project.

He's currently running an open survey called the Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study. What he's after is a simple way for anyone to describe encounters with vendors, and, while there's a pick list, there's an open space to name whomever and whatever a respondent deems a BI vendor to be.

The survey is easy and cuts across sales experience, product quality, scalability, functionality, integration, tech support, consulting services etc. "All those things matter and it doesn't matter who the vendor is, you want to know those things," Dresner told me. "If they want to name Informatica or a small company like GoodData or Birst or Pentaho, which they have, I'll report on it."

Put some light analytics on top and with enough responses you have a useful report.  

As I mentioned in our last cover story, I believe momentum (crowd wisdom) and fundamentals (analyst research) are both valid strategies in information, just as they are in stock investing. To be clear, Dresner's poll is not crowd wisdom in the anonymous sense I argued over with Wired editor Chris Anderson a while back; Dresner's survey requires a business address and phone number for validation.
 
Maybe that's not ironclad certification, but it is different than the ivory tower approach some analyst firms are known for as they seek to define the participants (and own) a space like BI. In that process they inevitably create relationships between analysts and vendors, for better or worse. Howard's study falls somewhere in between, more of a feedback channel to churn up some useful opinions. Here's a link you can use to take to Dresner's survey.

Dresner hasn't decided how he'll package the end results, but he's already trickling out a list of top peeves with vendors and products on his Web site. We'll deliver the whole Top 10 to you in this space by the end of the week.

Until then, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on what is or is not BI, or point us to some vendors and projects or alternatives you've found interesting or useful.