Forrester Names SAP IBM SAS Microsoft Tops in BI

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:

  • Current offering: Assessment of all capabilities and features as well as a survey of the vendors’ customers.
  • Strategy: An assessment of how well vendors’ strategies for product development meet with likely future enterprise needs.
  • Market presence: Analysis of the vendors’ financial performance, installed customer base, and  number of employees across geographical regions.

The analysis revealed a market that is continuously evolving as it responds to rapidly changing business needs. It was broken into two sets of vendors:

  • Leaders: These are characterized by integration of an entire BI platform — consisting of SAP, IBM, SAS, Microsoft, Oracle, Information Builders, MicroStrategy and Actuate, in that order. While they appear closely grouped on the Forrester graph, they are all quite different in terms of specific individual capabilities.
  • Strong Performers: These vendors offer highly competitive offerings that can in specific circumstances outshine vendors in the Leaders’ segment with, for example, Tibco Spotfire that leads the market in visual streaming, or QlikView for data exploration. Tableau Software also falls into this category, and provides intuitive visualizations.

Forrester Wave BI Leaders

In order of Forrester ranking, then, here are the Leaders:


SAP remains the top dog this year, mainly because of its broad-based BI innovations. SAP has lived up to its promise of “the best tool for each job”, Forrester states. Enterprises are  drawn to SAP because of its one-stop shop for data management, BI products, including the HANA products, and SAP’s track record in developing applications for specific verticals based on its ERP experience. Forrester points out that recent survey data shows that 36 percent of companies use SAP for BI.


IBM has been building its BI capabilities for a number of years through acquisitions and in-house development. At this point, Forrester reports, IBM overshadows competitors in the scope and depth of its products across software hardware (mainframes) and services. IBM Cognos has strong integration capabilities, as well as strong capabilities in analytics, data integration and information delivery. Forrester noted that a recent survey shows that 31 percent of companies use Cognos for BI.


SAS provides more than just analytics — it provides a full enterprise-grade BI platform. Forrester points this out because SAS is generally associated with advanced and predictive analytics. Using SAS BI reduces enterprises dependency on a single vendor as it has strong integration capabilities based on its rich APIs. Recent survey data indicates that 14 percent of companies use SAS for BI. Among the concerns raised in the report are concerns about a lack of pricing, transparency and a failure to offer perpetual licenses.


Microsoft delivers its BI platform through a familiar Excel interface. It provides all the services needed to support managed BI self-service. Users can create BI content in their own sandboxes and collaborate and share BI content via SharePoint. Microsoft has excellent capabilities in query language and facilitates customization through a rich set of APIs. According to Forester 55 percent of enterprises use Microsoft BI. One of the major concerns is the heavy reliance on partners for implementation and systems integration services.


Oracle supports the only plug-and-play BI for complex BI environments. The latest versions of Oracle BI Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) and Oracle BI Applications, and the Fusion version of Oracle ERP all provide a single metadata layer. This means that working in a single Oracle environment the three platforms deliver instant operational and analytical BI, with reporting directly out of ERP. Forrester states 45 percent of companies use Oracle for BI. Concerns include the lack of self-service tools.

Information Builders

Information Builders offers enterprises the possibility of reducing dependency on ERP and software stack vendors. It also offers easy scalability, the possibility of using exotic data resources on an integrated BI platform.  WebFocus, its BI platform, was highly cited by Information Builders’ customers as having excellent data access, analytics, performance management and reporting, among other capabilities.  Forrester noted 4 percent of companies currently use it. Concerns include the lack of desktop-based self-service BI tools and its use of 4GL Focus programming language.


MicroStrategy has a seamless architecture and provides an excellent mobile BI platform. Forrester state its clients find that after the initial investment, the overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is considerably reduced. Forrester also found that the company has an excellent mobile information delivery, scalability, integrated metadata and reporting functionality. Forrester noted 9 percent of companies are currently using it. Concerns include a high reliance on a largely disappearing network of partners.


Actuate is a top choice for scaling to millions of reports and users. Its top use case involves distributing complex interactive online statements to customers of large financial services and institutions. Last year, Actuate closed one of the gaps in its portfolio by buying Quiterian for business user self-service. Currently 4 percent of companies use Actuate for BI. Concerns include its high reliance on a disappearing network of partners, many of which have been snapped up by bigger vendors for architectural components.

This is only meant to be a starting point for analysis of the BI platform market and does not cover all the vendors and possibilities are out there. Forrester recommends those in the market for BI dig deep before investing.

Title image by Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock).