Monday, November 12, 2007

Polarization of BI Solutions

It almost seems like the big BI companies figured out they had to be a part of something even bigger to justify their already sky-high license costs. Just within last 12 months, we've seen Hyperion get bought Oracle, Business Objects get bought by SAP, and now today Cognos got bought by IBM.

And I can't help but feel that Enterprise BI software has become a dying breed.

If you are a fortune 1000 type of organization, chances are you already have some sort of elaborate licensing agreement with at least one of these acquirers (Oracle, SAP, or IBM). So now, they have one more thing to sell you so that you can have a check mark for your BI initiatives without having to drive too far to a different vendor.

I guess I shouldn't be so cynical. As BI software, Hyperion, Business Objects, and Cognos are pretty feature-rich, and have many compelling qualities. My problem is with their complex enterprise deployment model, proprietary nature, and staggering cost of ownership that continues standing in the way of making BI available to the masses. And their recent acquisitions further polarizes the world of BI haves and have-nots.

Perhaps this is how corporate world will come to demand a new breed of BI solutions. Back in 2002, when we started our marketing analytics company, we thought (and still do) open source and software-as-a-service were going to drive this new trend. And it's good to see companies like JasperSoft, Pentaho, Swivel, and LucidEra lead the way in this direction. What's more important than just looking for open source and/or SaaS solutions to BI, is to demand "openness" -- openness in terms of architecture, sharing of insights, and just as importantly, openness about cost of ownership. How many times you have seen a BI initiative where the entire budget got spent just on data integration and/or cleansing? How about the cost of those special consultants who seemed to be the only earthlings that understood the esoteric workings of a popular yet proprietary BI software package?

Above all, one needs to keep in mind that BI is about leveraging all available data to get a clearer picture of what's going on in the business, be able to focus on the most relevant issues, and make better decisions. Instead of taking a centralized approach of one system doing it all, a good BI system today needs to act more like a network that can connect to various data sources, systems, API's, web services, etc. What if your BI system acted more like a mashup that lets you combine compatible information sources and cross-reference them as you please? Swivel has an approach close to this except that it expects all information to be uploaded by its users. It could be interesting if Swivel could connect to some common public data repositories (like geographical locations, weather, stock prices).

The key here is to have BI systems that enable mashup of information resources and analyses, a la web 2.0, as opposed to being traditional "enterprise" solutions that need your business to bend over backwards to fit into their proprietary framework and terminologies. Which to me conjures up images of Oracle, SAP, and IBM.

Maybe I liked them better when they were Hyperion, Business Objects, and Cognos. At least they didn't say -- "BTW, we also do BI".

Monday, November 05, 2007

Freeway to Yosemite

Freeways are ugly. After driving for a few hours, once I took the exit off Highway 99 to get on Hwy 140 towards Yosemite National Park -- I felt the 2-lane highways much more a part of the landscape than the concrete mesh work I'd just driven through that meandered through equally artificial and out-of-place looking subdivisions. But I digress..

On the way, a rock slide had closed a section of the highway. There was a detour that alternately stopped traffic for 15 minutes each way so vehicles can take turn on a single-lane highway. The geek in me kept wishing for sensors that optimized wait time on each end, but I told myself the whole point about being in Yosemite was to slow down.

More to reinforce rather than repeat something you may have have heard a thousand times -- Yosemite in fall is simply wonderful. Not crowded, the weather is sunny, nice, warm. Ok -- most of the waterfalls were dried up. But, would you consider the following images any less breathtaking?

Since we had our 2 little kids with us, we opted for a relatively short hike to Vernal Falls Bridge (categorized as "mildly strenuous"). We got around the park in these cool hybrid buses. The kids got real excited when we spotted a small bear strolling around the trees, and I was happy we weren't planning on camping out. The hike to Vernal Falls is a part of a much longer trek, most popular of which is the one that goes all the way to the top of the half dome. Maybe next time when we have some babysitting help (or if the kids are old enough to climb with us).

We learned that a few weeks earlier, a man in his 60s was on his way on the 211-mile trek to Mount Whitney. Apparently he'd made arrangements for food/supplies to be air-dropped via a plane or maybe a helicopter. Sounded like a cool (literally) adventure.

On our way back, it was close to 7:30 pm, both kids were asleep in their car seats, we drove up to Glacier Point (about a 20 mile detour) to watch the stars in the clear night sky. Living in the city, you tend to forget what they sky looks like at night without any artificial light. We even managed to see some shooting stars. Too bad my camera couldn't photograph that -- some things are just meant to be experienced.

Driving back on 120 towards 99, suddenly a deer crossed the road in front of me. Good thing I wasn't driving fast and was able to slow down in time, without waking up anyone inside either. Pretty soon, we got back on the concrete mesh work by way of Highway 99, making me even more certain -- freeways are really ugly.

Halloween Pumpkin Carving Contest

In the spirit of the day, we decided to have a little pumpkin carving contest at the office. Here're are the contestants:

Mine is the one on the right below:

And the winner is: