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The functions on business intelligence (BI) suites may have become standardized. But enterprises are still prepared to pay big bucks for products that will give them best-in-class data and insights.

In fact, Forrester maintains, enterprises are competing over the quality of the insights they can draw from their data and the customer experience they can offer customers or clients. The other key differentiator is the ability of those BI suites to integrate with legacy enterprise systems.

Leaders of the Pack

The findings, published in the recent "Forrester Wave for Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms, Q4 2013," shows buyers are looking for products that will provide tight integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, as well as portal and desktop office applications. They are also coming to terms with the fact they will likely have to use more than one BI application to give them a business edge.

While the vision of a single platform covering all BI needs remains just that — a vision — large enterprises are focusing their efforts on providing their workers with broad, scalable enterprise suites with BI embedded in ERP, customer relationship management (CRM) and financial software packages, as well as lightweight desktop self-service tools.

There are few enough vendors that make the grade in all these respects, but in this Wave, research for which was carried out last September, Forrester includes 11 vendors that potential buyers should evaluate.

They include in alphabetical order: Actuate, IBM, Information Builders,  Microsoft, MicroStrategyOracleQlikTech, SAP, SAS,  Tableau Software and Tibco Software. All were assessed on 72 criteria, including customer contact. The findings: SAP, IBM, SAS and Microsoft lead the pack, respectively, but the scoring was close.

Forrester also suggests that enterprises that are currently in the market for BI should not limit themselves to this group, but should also look elsewhere and points to these other vendors as offering worthy products: arcplan, Bitam, Board International, Datawatch, Dimensional Insight, InetSoft Technology, JackBe (Software AG), Jinfonet Software, Logi Analytics, Looker, Rocket Software, Salient Management, SiSense, Targit, Treasure Data and Yellowfin.

Information As Differentiator

BI is becoming increasingly important for organizations, Forrester noted, with many enterprises competing for a business edge based on BI-enabled information. BI, the report states, is no longer considered an obscure, back-office process, but a key function that enterprises are prepared to pay for.

As enterprises start to become aware of the inherent commercial value of information, they are competing on the quality of their information as much as they do on costs, efficiency, markets and quality of products. Moving forward, two different kinds of information-based enterprises are going to lead their competitors. They are:

  • Enterprise that have more and deeper information about their customers
  • Those that have standard information about their customers, but get it quicker than everyone else does.

Established and Emerging Trends

There is no shortage of vendors and products to provide that information. According to Forrester, the BI market is more crowded than ever and consists of established vendors, and start-ups that have established themselves in this market quicker than the bigger vendors.

The result is a market with more vendors than ever driven by seven established and emerging trends. Those trends include:

  1. All large software stack and enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors  now have BI built into them through in-house development, or acquisitions like Oracle buying Endeca, or SAP buying KXEN, and IBM with i2.
  2. There is now a large selection of independent BI vendors providing products for those that are looking for diversity and freedom from vendor lock-in
  3. Desktop BI for business users that are characterized by ease of use are being scaled- up by smaller vendors to go after enterprise clients with features that could ultimately challenge larger vendors.
  4. BI vendors are increasingly looking to develop self-service, in-memory, desktop and cloud products that appeal to business users. Many of these are offered free as they as part of a bigger and wider platform from the vendors.
  5. Cloud computing is changing the way enterprises invest in BI. Many enterprises are  turning to cloud solutions to cut initial capital costs and avoid installation and integration problems that come with an on-premises software.
  6. Hadoop is re-invigorating open source BI by enabling companies that have limited budgets reduce their dependency on commercial software vendors. Forrester cites, in particular, Actuate, BIRT, Jaspersoft, Pentaho, and SpagoBI in this respect.
  7. The concept of self-service is changing. Business users are looking to perform basic data manipulation tasks like integration, matching and deduplication themselves as well as standard tasks like discovery and analysis.

Forrester also points out the report is not a complete list of vendors. It doesn’t, for example, include lightweight BI platforms that can be embedded into other applications or pre-built suite components that can be used for case-specific BI apps.

Enterprise BI Platforms

Forrester rated the vendors in three general areas. They were: