One of the biggest problems facing the business intelligence (BI) market is the number of myths, or perceived "truths", that people have come to accept as gospel.
This was the word from Nigel Pendse, author of The BI Survey, now in its seventh iteration. He was in South Africa to present the findings of the survey to local BI users, vendors and consultancies. He was brought out to South Africa to run Vibe 2008 by Harvey Jones, one of South Africa's leading BI consultancies.
His findings were based on seven years' worth of surveys across thousands of users, vendors and consultancies worldwide.
Among the myths Pendse challenged were:
* Are BI data volumes exploding, as is so often suggested? "Nothing could be further from the truth," Pendse noted. "The average BI implementation hovers between four and six gigabytes, and has hardly changed since 2002. At a product level, MicroStrategy had the largest sites at 250GB, and Microsoft Analysis Services the smallest at 2,5GB, but in neither case are the volumes showing any growth trend at all." The reason BI implementations remain small and self-contained, Pendse noted, is that large BI applications are problematic and do not confer benefit concomitant with their cost and complexity of management.
* Is it safer to buy BI solutions from bigger vendors? "Our survey showed that the poorest support came from the larger vendors, and that vendors soon discontinued support for products from companies they had acquired." Business Objects had the worst reported support. By contrast, single-product companies provided the best support. A particularly important observation was that support levels were dropping across all vendors, and poor query performance was the most frequently reported problem, with 23% of users reporting this. Over the seven years of the survey, this has been consistent.
* Have companies really deployed BI at an enterprise level? "Nowhere is this apparent," says Pendse, "and even when companies have bought an enterprise licence, adoption is stuck at around 7% in organisations. The median for licences per site was 30 seats, and while some SAP sites were large, users were not happy with the product." Retail user adoption was highest at 12%.
* Do vendors and consultants understand users' problems? The survey produced contradictory findings. Vendors thought the biggest problems at client sites were finger trouble and dirty data; users were unhappy with products' performance; and consultants were divided.
* Which architecture is best for near-realtime BI? The survey finds that near-realtime BI is elusive. "Some companies are operating on relatively current data, but it is not possible to do realtime BI. The best that can be achieved is near-realtime BI. And the cost and effort required to get to data with low latency does not justify the expense," according to the survey's analysis. However, higher latency does translate to reduced business success, the survey indicated.
* Do BI buyers prefer the analytical tools supplied by their principal database or application vendor? For instance, do Oracle and SAP customers tend to acquire analytical technology from the same stables. However, the research shows this not to be the case: in particular, Oracle Express and its successor, Oracle OLAP Option, have declined in use to such an extent that they could not be measured. Microsoft's Analysis Services is the most popular tool in use against Oracle. Only with Microsoft was there a tendency towards users adopting analytical tools against production systems and databases, as Analysis Services and Reporting Services are bundled, and all users are already using Excel.
"All is not as it seems in the BI world," notes Pendse. "The same myths are repeated again and again – but it doesn't make them true.
"Vendors seem to have a more favourable impression of their own products than users do. Enterprise BI remains elusive. There have been many acquisitions, giving the illusion of dramatic change in the industry. But things change more slowly in the real world than most industry analysts, the press, vendors and consultants would have you believe."