Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Business Intelligence

Two years ago, the business intelligence market was pretty static. At the bottom end, tools like Microsoft Excel, ChartFX graphs and Crystal Reports were suitable for most data analysis. At the top end, Business Objects and Cognos ruled, incorporating data warehouses, OLAP cubes and sophisticated data querying functionality.

Changes at the top end...
Recently, the top end has completely changed as vendors realise they need to understand the business processes being analyzed. So it's merging with Business Process Management software - note the recent purchases by Tibco of Spotfire, and by Oracle of Hyperion. That's because there are common industry metrics and reports - like the click-through rate in the advertisement industry - which analysts want to see out of the box. Vendors also get a chance to move up the food chain and offer companies not just reports, but business advice too.

Opportunities at the bottom end
Meanwhile, the bottom end of the market has remained static. I think there is a massive opportunity here for innovative new tools based in the browser.

That's because of two recent trends:

  • Most data is now available on the web, and if it isn't, many tools (e.g. bloggers) can easily get it there.
  • Browsers now support either SVG or VML, vector graphics formats that can be manipulated using javascript, in addition to Flash.

Internet analysis
Imagine a website that you could log in to, type in a reference URL for your data, and immediately see all manner of customizable graphs and charts based on it. You can see it being part of an online suite of content management applications, alongside word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

There are plenty of advantages compared to (for example) Microsoft Excel charts

  • You can easily analyse data stored elsewhere - in realtime - simply by typing in a URL
  • No need to download a client application, it can be done online
  • You can support a community of analysts, sharing chart types, techniques and advice
  • You can build up a library of chart types and styles, allow people to create favourites and apply them to many different data sources

Moving business intelligence online
Many client applications are starting to move online - think of Google Docs, or MySpace blogs, or HP Snapfish - but they always take on a new twist. Often, this is in collaboration, storage and search.

Low-end business intelligence - graphs, charts, and reports - is no exception. Expect a flurry of tools as Silicon Valley realises the power of web graphics.

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