The combination of product maturity, acquisitions and a slow sales market is yielding some interesting new options for buyers who might otherwise be stalled in the budget crunch for new investment in business intelligence infrastructure.

I was talking to Cindi Howson at BIScorecard about this in an interview for an upcoming issue of our magazine. Cindi is advising some of her customers with project requirements but no money to revisit their Microsoft relationship, since the vendor has begun bundling dashboards and some analytics with SharePoint products (Google analytics already supports Sharepoint). Maybe it’s not everything they wanted, but it’s something to work with.

We’d both noticed that SAP is on a mission to onramp customers to BI with some creative packaging for Business Objects software. I’m talking to IBM/Cognos customers this week and won’t be surprised to hear more of the same. Howson also mentioned the new “free” reporting suite from Microstrategy. She’s still wary but she is asking questions and has me looking into it myself.

Then last week I was talking to Oracle about a new BI release that spread the use of Siebel analytics across products including JD Edwards and PeopleSoft. John Hagerty at AMR Research is following this development and is also aware of the trend, in this case because there’s a high demand for analytic applications that can deliver some value.

“There’s no question that [vendors] are looking at how companies need to consume this stuff,” says Hagerty. “The model in the past is you need to consume something, you need to buy something. Now I think they are saying these things are much more logically grouped together.”

So if you buy into SharePoint you’re going to get some analytics and dashboards. The Oracle model is more around data, but the same logic applies. “It’s saying if you want to analyze information around certain types of content in your business, here’s a model to work with,” Hagerty told me. “They’re taking a different spin but they’re all saying these things are all part of a broader scheme to better analyze information and content.”

Even if we might be gravitating down a path toward separate horizontal layers for transaction systems, for applications and for analytics, the bundles make sense for the near term and longer. And as Hagerty points out, some customers will migrate toward their service model, others to their application provider or technology provider. There will be IBM and Microsoft shops, and companies that gravitate to disciplines in customer service or supply chain, and there will be answers for them.

This isn’t stopping service providers and other startup specialists from making their own moves into the market and many open source providers I talk to seem to be doing just fine. To me there’s a joyful creative noise blooming in the midst of all the truly bad stuff we’ve been focused on. Notwithstanding what Google may have in the works, it’s not a free lunch, but we are seeing more dining options. I wouldn't call it a panacea but it is progress under duress.