April 5th, 2012 by Judith Aquino

We already know vendors are a competitive bunch, but what happens when you throw them together in a panel debate? Gartner asked that question when it hosted the Great BI Vendor Debate yesterday at its annual Business Intelligence Summit.

The panelists were Birst CEO Brad Peters; Information Builders’ senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Michael Corcoran; Doug Leland, general manager of Microsoft’s product management, business platform marketing group; Mark Lorion, vice president of marketing at TIBCO software; and Jason Rose, vice president of business intelligence marketing for SAP.

Moderating the debate was Gartner vice president & distinguished analyst Bill Hostmann.

(L-R) M. Corcoran, D.Leland, J.Rose, M. Lorion, B. Hostmann (not shown: B. Peters)

Hostmann asked the panelists whether they agreed, disagreed, or were unsure about statements surrounding business intelligence. The audience was able to chime in via Twitter and pose their own statements as well.

As far as debates go, this wasn’t the mud slinging type, although Hostmann had to occasionally remind the panelists to repress their natural instinct to promote their brands.

It also shed an interesting light on the vendors’ perspectives on the direction of big data, the cloud, analytics, IT’s role in business developments, and more.

Here are highlights of the panelists’ responses:

Bill Hostmann: We’re going to see a heightened acceleration of data outside the control of IT. More of the information that we’re going to be analyzing within business is going to be coming from outside the organization. Do you agree or disagree?

SAP’s Jason Rose: I disagree for a few reasons. The business actually generates the information and IT is the steward of that information. So even if a lot of the information sources will start coming from outside the organization, like Twitter, blogs, videos….I still think it falls back on IT to make sense of it, to put a governance structure around it and to organize it.

Birst’s Brad Peters:  It used to be 15 years ago that that IT was the steward of enterprise data and most of the information that people consumed inside of an organization came from IT.

Then they started using this thing called the Internet and the vast majority of information people consume is actually not given to them from their IT provider.

I think the pendulum is swinging. It’s swung very hard in one direction many years from we must centralize everything to have master data management control and now we’re seeing a whole host of unsatisfied people distributed throughout the organization and these folks want to take some control back for themselves.

Hostmann: Organizations should wait until their traditional BI platform vendor has data discovery capabilities. They shouldn’t go out and buy a special data discovery visualization tool.

Information Builders’ Mike Corcoran: I think there are two valid points. You’ve got to get things done, you’ve got to move forward and you should bring in any technology that can help you and you have to manage all of that.

I’m also not a big fan of islands of information. I think it’s important to standardize things when you can. But you shouldn’t have to wait years or until that vendor gets around to it.

Microsoft’s Doug Leland: The reality is you don’t have to wait because we’ve already delivered that.

TIBCO Spotfire’s Mark Lorion: I disagree with the fundamental question. Our point of view is the only thing the legacy vendors integrate is the price list. The fact is these things were cobbled together typically from different acquisitions and different  products. Yes you buy it from the same sales rep but is it really the same product?

Rose: Representing the stack I think I need to chime in on this one. At SAP we’ve always been about business processes for making companies run better. So unlike some companies where I agree they take a very portfolio driven approach, growing their maintenance and customer base through acquisitions, other big vendors like SAP, actually take a strategic view of what the customer needs.

Hostmann: No advertising. You’re thought leaders today.

Corcoran: It’s not just about the tools and does this tool go with this tool kit. It starts with the data and someone’s got to make sure that people using different tools still have the ability to come into the boardroom with the same answers to the same questions. That’s a bigger problem for people right now.

Peters: When you’re considering data discovery analytics software, look at how the software actually works. Even though the screens look the same, some of the plots may look the same. It’s about how you arrive at those points. It’s totally different. You should not wait for the traditional BI vendor to have this stuff because it’s not going to end up in the same place.

Hostmann: Is Big Data a market? Are there a set of buyers and sellers out there that are going to get together and transact around this thing that we’re calling big data?

Rose: The volume of information has gotten to the point where we need new and different ways of crunching and computing that information and that’s where we’re seeing vendors show up—the Hadoop, the open source vendors.

At the end of the day you’ve got to analyze it. It’s the same work you’ve been doing with data all along.

Hostmann: Is that a different market though? Is it a different market of buyers and sellers?

Rose: Right now it’s heavily into IT departments and markets that are dealing with these things. I happen to live in Silicon Valley where a lot of this is happening now and it is a specific segment, it’s a different part of the IT organization that is really focused on this challenge and…they’re doing things very differently from the traditional part of BI.

Leland: We are absolutely seeing it as a growing market and we’re hearing a lot of demand from our customer base in terms of “We’re tying to make sense of all this ambient data that we’ve got coming from different avenues and we need a new set of tools. We need a new set of tools to be able to store it, store it to scale, and we need new capabilities to be able to analyze that process.” We’ve seen the need and we’re working with customers in a preview form.

Corcoran: It’s hard to have a market if you can’t define it. Big data means something different to every vendor you talk to and they all want to claim that their product is big data. Is big data a category in and of itself? Maybe, but I think there are a series of larger data applications where the economics of the data doesn’t work for the companies that want their data now. I think it’s in a placing mode.

Lorion: In our exposure to the business buyers, I don’t hear a lot of of business executives talking about Big Data. I think to business communities it’s just data. I think it’s more of the same. I think it’s got a brand new name on it. It’s called big data but it’s just the acceleration of big data.

Hostmann: Are smaller and independent vendors able to innovate at a faster pace than mega-vendors?

Lorion: There’s a lot of interesting work going on in the venture community that are attacking some of the emerging problems, so that’s good. We’re a billion dollar software company at TIBCO. We’re spending a lot of money on R&D to try to find a balance between the really big stack vendors and the lightly funded ventures that are hunting through new areas so that we can bring the best of both worlds together.

Rose: If you look at a big vendor we take a portfolio approach to innovation and revolution. If you look at SAP HANA, just as an example of in-memory database technology, we have a great relationship with Intel so we’re able to innovate at that level. However, if you look at a smaller vendor it’s all about focus. Focus. Focus. Focus. Doing one thing really well so the innovation is much more concentrated.

Peters: The legacy baggage that you have to carry around as a legacy vendor is so great that these products ossify over a period of time. Fundamentally the reason Silicon Valley exists is companies reach a certain point where innovation leaves. The folks who started a company leave to start new ones and they don’t have to carry the baggage forward. This is how innovation happens in this industry.

Corcoran: We focus on this problem and the entire cycle of the problem I give credit to the smaller startups. Those are the guys who create a lot of innovation and they drive a lot of motivation among established vendors to come out with new technologies.

I think in the middle you can come out very quickly. You do have to admit with the acquisitions, the mega vendors have a couple years where they have to integrate vs. innovate, right?

Hostmann: By 2015 the cloud will be a dominant factor in analytic capabilities and delivering and deploying analytic applications.

Lorion: The cloud is just part of the infrastructure. We’re going to drop the term at some point. Some things will be on premise and some things will be offline and some things will be in the cloud and you’ve got to manage all of that.

Peters: I agree it’s not all going to be in the cloud. People move to what they’re best at doing. What cloud technologies fundamentally do is attract away the commodities stuff that you don’t get paid well for anyway and move those to vendors who do that for a living, to let other organizations focus on the high skilled business analytics that are out there.

Leland: I think we’ll agree on a number of fundamentals: the first is we’re living in a hybrid world and we’ll be living in a hybrid world for quite some time. We believe as a company that the cloud will be play a dominant role within that mix based on  3 things: cost advantages, innovation, and agility.

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