The latest Gartner's Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant portrays a mature market that has a wide variety of vendors mostly working on getting companies to move up from descriptive analytics to the next step of diagnostics.

2012: The Year of Data Discovery

Over the past two years, Gartner focused its BI Magic Quadrant on ease of use and the speed of acquisitions. Now, the market has changed to a point where even the title on the report has been changed. Gartner added analytics to the report title to showcase its importance.

Business intelligence vendors cover a wide swath of use cases and maturity levels. Gartner has identified those levels as descriptive, where most of the companies are diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive systems. Because most companies are trying to move up the maturity chain from descriptive to diagnostic, that is where most of the vendors are concentrating, the updated BI and Analytic Magic Quadrant report found.

After years of good feedback, vendors focusing on data discovery achieved a few highlights Gartner pointed out. Specifically, companies like SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, SAS, MicroStrategy, IBM and Actuate all responded to the data discovery trend. Oracle bought Endeca, IBM launched Cognos Insight and SAP launched Visual Intelligence, as a few examples.

The Challenger: Birst

Birst has, um, burst onto the Gartner MQ scene because it is the first (along with Niche Player GoodData) cloud based BI offering to achieve enough traction and garner enough customer references to meet the MQ qualifications. An achievement itself, no doubt. Oddly enough, Birst's cloud configuration isn't the reason it achieved Challenger status, however.

Only about 33 percent of survey respondents expressed an interest in a cloud BI layout, the report found. That means Birst is a new Challenger, in part due to its ease of use and low cost compared to what it offers. The other reason it ranked so high was because companies rated it number one in product functionality. Companies reported no problems with Birst software or support.

Its main drawbacks, what Gartner calls cautions, are that it is limited mostly to departments and SMBs, and mostly only in North America. Gartner also cited its lack of mobile device support. Birst only supports native iPad capabilities, though HTML5-based dashboards are on its road map.

BI in the Cloud Two Years Away

Birst will be partly hampered from entering the enterprise IT space because cloud based BI is in its infancy, Gartner reported. The industry could hit a cloud tipping point in the next two years, however, so that would play to Birst's advantage. Overall, Gartner has produced a very in depth report on BI here, and all of the vendors are profiled in tremendous detail.

Furthermore, besides the four segments the MQ is broken down into, Gartner names an additional dozen or so vendors for businesses to consider. In other words, the report scope is very wide, and any company looking for guidance in the BI industry will find the short list here.

Microsoft, IBM, SAS + Oracle Out in Front

Microsoft and IBM were the two companies identified as having the best ability to execute along with a complete vision for Business Intelligence and analytics. In the MQ graph, IBM is more or less alone in the Leader space along the completeness of vision axis. Microsoft is the highest on the ability to execute axis, but it's not as far ahead of the other companies clustered near it in the graph.

All that means is Microsoft and IBM get the nod for having the highest ratings in this MQ, but they got there in different ways and for different reasons. For IBM, that meant it led the way in completeness of vision by having a more complete road map and strategic vision. Additionally, IBM scored high for successfully moving a large percentage of its Cognos 8 BI user base to the newer version 10.

Other IBM releases or acquisitions in 2012 also ranked high in the MQ, and that included the Tealeaf Technology and Vivismo buys. The problem with all this great tech from IBM is that it is often simply difficult to use, Gartner reported. Only about 17 percent of survey respondents cite ease of use as a reason for choosing IBM products. That's compared to an industry average of about 35 percent.

Respondents are saying other products are easy to use at double the rate they say the same thing about IBM. Its other problem was cited as performance based. This is mostly due to the older Cognos 8 system, the report noted, but 24 percent of IBM references cited poor performance compared to the industry average of just 11.5 percent.

On the Microsoft side of things, the fact Excel 2013 has added BI and data discovery capabilities is a key to its performance in this MQ. Furthermore, Microsoft is planning even more BI updates for Excel this year, and that will help make it one of the most widely distributed BI tools. Together with SharePoint and SQL Server, Microsoft offers its BI tools to a huge swath of users that also use those products for non BI tasks.

Microsoft's continued integration of BI tools with products like SQL Server will allow it to expand its already considerable reach.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, that is also one of the things Gartner is cautious about. It's referred to as multi-product complexity in the report, and it simply makes using Excel, SharePoint or SQL Server for BI a bit more difficult. Microsoft leaves implementation of the BI tools up to the customers, and it can lead to low adoption rates. This do-it-yourself approach also keeps prices down for Microsoft, at least when it comes to volume licensing, for example.

Because of implementation and ongoing development costs however, the overall price of ownership for Microsoft BI tools ends up being nearly equal to its competitors.

Beyond Leaders + Niche Players

Gartner included a huge list of companies in this MQ, but they're not very spread out. Of the four quadrants, nearly every single company came out as either a Niche Player or a Leader. We mentioned Birst as being a newcomer to this space, and it was included in the Challenger quadrant. The only other vendor to make it to Challenger status was LogiXML, a smaller vendor that largely succeeds on price alone.

It also tends to win on ease of use, though it is deployed more often with OEMs and SMBs where the larger vendors are less common. As Microsoft moves more aggressively into the BI space with its advanced Excel abilities, LogiXML may not be able to be as successful, Gartner reported.

We previously mentioned the slew of other companies detailed in the report that didn't make it into the MQ, but Gartner even included three additional mentions of small companies doing meritorious work with Hadoop.

No companies were dropped in this MQ from last year, but besides Birst, there were two others added. Bitam and GoodData are Niche Players, but Bitam ranked a bit higher than GoodData, especially on the ability to execute axis.