More than just “The Usual Suspects” – Doing Due Diligence for DW and BI Tools

April 3, 2009
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Usual_suspects The publishing of Gartner’s Magic Quadrants or Forrester’s Waves is eagerly awaited by vendors in many IT categories, particularly those who scope in the “top” quadrant or wave. I know when the latest data warehousing, data integration or business intelligence reviews are published because the companies who are category leaders start issuing press releases about their accomplishment. Congratulations, we are the best!

In our industry (DW and BI) the core group of products has remained the leader for many years. The companies have changed because of acquisitions, but the underlying products listed stay the same. The top two data integration or ETL (extract, transform and load) products and top three BI (business intelligence) toolsets are perennial winners. And because the market is mature, at least there is a core set of functionality (but there is much innovation and expansion possible), and the leaders pack has been expanding in recent years.

The annual results are getting boring with “The Usual Suspects” being the leaders every year. Sort of like an award show with the same singer or actor/actress winning every year, they may be the leaders in their field, but…

Usual_suspects
The publishing of Gartner’s Magic Quadrants or Forrester’s Waves is eagerly awaited by vendors in many IT categories, particularly those who scope in the “top” quadrant or wave. I know when the latest data warehousing, data integration or business intelligence reviews are published because the companies who are category leaders start issuing press releases about their accomplishment. Congratulations, we are the best!

In our industry (DW and BI) the core group of products has remained the leader for many years. The companies have changed because of acquisitions, but the underlying products listed stay the same. The top two data integration or ETL (extract, transform and load) products and top three BI (business intelligence) toolsets are perennial winners. And because the market is mature, at least there is a core set of functionality (but there is much innovation and expansion possible), and the leaders pack has been expanding in recent years.

The annual results are getting boring with “The Usual Suspects” being the leaders every year. Sort of like an award show with the same singer or actor/actress winning every year, they may be the leaders in their field, but…

This is not a “trash the reviewers” post. The work the industry research firms do is great and they provide an invaluable tool when you’re doing due diligence, especially if you are new to the market. However, these reports are often used as a shortcut to truly doing due diligence or as a hammer to reinforce a bias an IT group may have for a particular product. 

Misusing this research by no means invalidates it, nor suggests that the research methodology is inappropriate. Gartner even suggests how to use their research but, sadly, like warning labels on a pack of cigarettes, readers often ignore this advice.

In “How to Use a Magic Quadrant,” Gartner states:

“Your needs and circumstances should determine how you use the Magic Quadrant, not the other way around. To evaluate vendors in the Leaders quadrant only and ignore those in other quadrants is risky and thus discouraged. For example, a vendor in the Niche Players quadrant could offer functions that are ideally suited to your needs. Similarly, a leader may not offer functions that meet your requirements — for example, its offerings may cost more than competitors’, or it may not support your region or industry. Use a Magic Quadrant to narrow your list of choices, but don’t base your decision only on the model.”

I think the leaders in these categories are terrific. I have been involved in many successful implementations with these tools and worked with the vendors who sell these tools over the years. And the leaders’ products are not standing still, but continually being updated to incorporate expanded functionality and emerging technologies.

There are many companies that are only beginning their journey using DW, data integration and business intelligence tools. And, there are many more that are trying to shift from data shadow systems or spreadmarts to tools that will improve both business and IT productivity and enable the kind of reporting or analytics that their companies need. In this economy, budgets are tight and companies have to look at the TCO (total cost of ownership) and the amount of skills necessary to develop, deploy and support solutions. TCO is relative to your company size, but regardless IT and business need to look outside the usual suspects if for no other reason than to do the due diligence and determine what truly meets your needs.

A company may end up buying or expanding their use of leaders’ products, but at least they will have truly explored their options. There are very good products available from emerging firms; on-demand software or SaaS (software-as-a-service); open source software (OSS); and, smaller firms that have been around for years with many customers. There have been a quite a few mergers and acquisition (M&A) in our industry, but there are many firms that offer these products.


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