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Mike Ferguson

Welcome to my blog on the UK Business Intelligence Network. I hope to help you stay in touch with hot topics and reality on the ground in the UK and European business intelligence markets and to provide content, opinion and expertise on business intelligence (BI) and its related technologies. I also would relish it if you too can share your own valuable experiences. Let's hear what's going on in BI in the UK.

About the author >

Mike Ferguson is Managing Director of Intelligent Business Strategies Limited, a leading information technology analyst and consulting company. As lead analyst and consultant, he specializes in enterprise business intelligence, enterprise business integration, and enterprise portals. He can be contacted at +44 1625 520700 or via e-mail at mferguson@intelligentbusiness.biz.

August 2007 Archives

Most of you by now have probably found it difficult to avoid the hype around Software as a Service (SaaS). For many of us today this is already a reality in our business. You only have to look at the huge uptake of Saleforce.com by small and medium size businesses (SMBs) to realize that there is certainly a place for this in many companies. With respect to the BI market there is no doubt that there is also considerable growth in BI as a Service (BIaaS)and it would appear that many BI vendors are eagerly setting out the stall on the net to jump into this market of hosted BI Servces. Given that many BI products are already service enabled and also that many BI vendors have BI portal products there is no doubt that they are technically ready. They are however missing one thing - data, your data. Either they point their tools at you databases and access them over the net or they will need a ready supply of data from any BIaaS subscriber. If you already use SalesForce.com you can bet that all BI vendors entering this market will do so with an ETL adapter for SalesForce to get at your data on your behalf.

Of course SalesForce.com itself is no doubt keen on the BIaaS market and is already active in offering added value in terms of BI to existing clients.

Nevertheless, while simplicity, 'point your browser and go' and cool pre-built reports and graphs are the obvious attraction, there are implications when adopting BI as a Service in any business. The most important of these is that companies may need to supply their data to BI SaaS providers for upload to BIaaS sites so that 'instant BI' can be made available back to them via hosted web enabled BI tools and pre-built reports. There are also privacy regulations that have to be adhered to in this kind of situation not least the UK Data Protection Act. Companies need assurances on data protection as well as data security and should consider the implications of this in terms of giving BIaaS providers their precius operational data to be managed off-site. This is after all, the crown jewels of any business and there is no doubt that BIaaS providers would jump at the chance to know much more about their clients and would be sitting on a potential old mine with all that data. Reliability of such a service is also paramount so that BI is available when you need it. Companies considering this option should also think about what happens if they need their data back in-house and how easy is it to get it back from a BI SaaS provider. It would be madness to subscribe to such as service and overlook this requirement.

I have wondered about the potential size of the BIaaS market but it was not until I was looking at iGoogle a while back that I realised the real potential of BIaaS. Google have been steadily adding more and more services to their portfolio and are now making these services available over the internet for you to personalise with your own portal via iGoogle. All you have to do is click "Add Stuff" on iGoogle to see the huge number of instant services you can add to your portal. So what am I driving at here?

My question is this. How long before Google enters the enterprise SaaS market with avengence? Both SaleForce itself and a BI vendor could easily be a target to this Internet search giant. If you could get at hosted enterprise services in a SaaS offering just by using iGoogle "Add Stuff" to add it to your portal then how many SMBs would do it? That is a huge question. My guess however is that if it is as easy as Google are making it to add stuff on iGoogle today then the uptake by SMBs could be enormous. All Google have to do is solve the data upload problem and deliver vertical data marts for the industry of your choosing and they would no doubt get the attention of SMBs. So for those watching the BI market for mergers and acquisitions, I would not exclude Google from the mix. We may well see a very big splash if Google decides to move on the BI market to open up its stall as a BIaaS provider to SMBs. An iGoogle for Business offering would certainly do it. Who knows - I'm certainly watching with interest.


Posted August 27, 2007 9:29 AM
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JasperSoft this week announced availability of its BI suite on the MySQL database. This is an interesting announcement in that it means an open source BI platform on an open source DBMS. There is no doubt that this announcement may well catch the eye of many a developer or BI savvy CIO. It could appeal in the mid-market where MySQL is widely used especially if companies have relatively low data volumes.


Posted August 9, 2007 6:48 PM
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Looking at the some of the latest enhancements coming out of BI vendors it would seem that the vendors are certainly getting to grips with Web 2.0. In particular the power of Javascript and AJAX is opening up new ways to distribute intelligence and to keep tabs on key performance indicators and metrics. A few examples here are (in alphabetical order) Business Objects and Information Builders. Business Objects Labs have been pushing out tools like BI Desktop and BI Masher. BI Desktop starts the ball rolling on "BI Widgets" which can leverage Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) to access BI services that in turn give access to metrics data. Those familiar with Microsoft Vista will understand the Vista Gadgets that are on the desktop. This concept is the same with components on the desktop that users can configure to fit their needs. In addition web reports are also now exploiting Javascript to asynchronously request additional information from non-BI services to allow enrichement of information on the reports. This means that BI Mashups that combine BI and non-BI content on a report are on the way.

Not to be upstaged, Information Builders are spicing up reports with their Active Reports capability whereby the use of Javascript once again allows a much richer report to be made available to the user whereby much more report functionality and processing can be done client side in the browser . In addition Information Builders have also made it possible for data to be included in Active Reports so that users can conveniently take reports on the road with them in disconnected mode and carry on analysing. This they refer to as Active Reports with Quick Data.

Both of these are examples of how vendors are exploiting the power of Javascript and AJAX in BI technologies. I expect a lot more of this in the next 12 months. We may even see BI frameworks appearing whereby users can rapidly "compose" BI applications by leveraging pre-built visual components available in BI frameworks. The only hint of caution here is that if you are looking at this please don't assume all browsers are the same. There are differences across IE, Firefox, Opera and Safari when it comes to processing scripting languages. So what works on one may not on another. Also don't assume interoperability between the visual components if the components are all built using different tools.

Just like on the web today where there are hundreds of AJAX frameworks are available in abundance for rapid development there is a strong likelihood that several BI frameworks may well appear inviting end users to leverage BI "composition" tools to rapidly assemble visual BI and non-BI components into custom built rich interactive analytic applications (mashups). If multiple BI frameworks do appear we may well get caught up in the buzz of new technology and trailblaze building BI visual components galore without concern for the bigger picture of how these components all fit together on a page, how they are uniquely identified, how you deal with security when it comes to access them. or how they are managed. If you are building a personal dashboard then it may be OK because you are dealing with one technology but what about building sharable dashboards for the enterprise . In my opinion it depends where the visual compnents are aggregated into the page and what does this. A portal does this on the server by aggregating portlets to construct a page before serving up the page to the browser. Portlet interoperability is either proprietary to the portal product or standard via JSR 286 (successor to JSR 168 which does not support portlet interoperability) standard portlet interoperability.

However if BI vendors select Javascript as the mechanism to assemble (aggregate) BI visual components on to a page by using Javascript on the client (i.e. in the browser) to do this then I see no standard for visual component interoperability on the web page or between desktop widgets - it would have to be proprietary.

If you're company has multiple BI tools (which is often the norm especially in large enterprises) you may well find business analysts composing BI dashboards without IT even knowing about it. The problem is how to bring it all under the wing of the enterprise when a business user wants to mix and match BI and non-BI visual components that are assembled client side when there are no standards. The portal is certainly not dead as it can handle this. Also AJAX is not an alternative to portals - AJAX components can in fact be integrated into portals as AJAX portlets. For this reason, portal vendors are bundling industry standard (JSR 168/286) portlet containers for free with application servers and not just as part of their portal server products so that you turn AJAX BI compoenents into portlets without the need for a portlet development and still allow rich user interface interactions with portlet interoperability. As far as stand-alone AJAX interoperability is concerned, my suggestion is to watch what happens at the openAJAX consortium. Interesting that apart from the four software giants (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) not a single independent BI vendor is a member! Seems to me its about time they joined.


Posted August 7, 2007 3:41 PM
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