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Forrester: Old guard rules the BI roost

In a new report, Forrester Research sizes up the BI vendors with an analysis of Cognos, Microstrategy, Crystal Decisions, as well as offerings from some of the large technology vendors' like Oracle and Microsoft.

In its recent ratings of business intelligence vendors, Forrester Research found that vendor viability weighs heavily with buyers. That means established applications providers like Cognos and MicroStrategy, who have been entrenched in the market for several generations of software, stand out from the pack.

"User companies are looking for vendors that have some heritage in the BI space, in terms of both experience and product maturity," said Nate L. Root, a Forrester analyst and the report's author.

In the current atmosphere of economic uncertainty businesses are putting the emphasis on traditional BI functions such as historical data analysis, data mining and analytics. Those who bought multiple BI systems several years ago are now looking to consolidate, Root said.

So Forrester interviewed 25 enterprise-level companies to get their take on the business intelligence vendors.

Despite the viability of Cognos and MicroStrategy, Forrester's report cards for the two leading vendors' tools were not lacking criticism. The Boston-based researcher indicated that firms with highly custom BI needs using Cognos' Series 7 Version 1 wished the platform had Java and .NET application program interfaces (APIs). The cut on MicroStrategy's 7i Version 7.2 is that users must buy additional third-party tools for extract, transfer and load (ETL) capabilities, as well as for advanced modeling.

Another vendor that scored well in the BI TechRankings was Crystal Decisions Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. Companies surveyed by Forrester lauded the software maker's Crystal Enterprise 8.5 package for its ability to provide competitive online analytical processing (OLAP) manipulation and data mining capabilities, spread across multiple user interfaces.

"Crystal Decisions has always been pigeonholed as reporting vendor, but it turns out they score well in more complex areas like multi-dimensional analysis and data mining," Root said.

He added that the increasing focus on core BI functionality has allowed Crystal Decisions to compete with more established vendors.

Root said one surprising result of his research was that Microsoft and Oracle continue to build momentum with BI users.

According to the survey, Microsoft has turned SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition into the "core of a strong BI platform" through acquisitions and enhancements. However, Forrester found that buyers would need to deploy a mixture of Web and Windows applications to have success with the platform.

For its part, Oracle's 9i with Business Intelligence was found to deliver surprisingly strong analytic capabilities. Yet, to take full advantage of the vendor's BI platform, firms must purchase and configure extra components, Forrester said.

"When you do a feature function bake-off against some of the more entrenched BI vendors, [Microsoft and Oracle] actually hold their own," Root said. "Where they fall down is usability, because their products are often cobbled together with duct tape and bailing wire."

Looking forward, the analyst said he feels there will be a growing interest among BI users around real-time decision support, in particular business activity monitoring and corporate performance management.

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