December 13, 2010, 9:04 AM — Self-service tools are becoming a must-have for successful BI vendors.
In 2009, small, "visionary" self-service BI companies like Tibco Software , QlikTech and Tableau challenged established BI vendors by introducing "intuitive, interactive BI tools" and "strong, interactive visualization tools for analysis," according to a Gartner January 2010 report.
The big players have fought back with their own self-service introductions: Microsoft's PowerPivot , SAP's BusinessObjects Explorer , IBM's Cognos Express and Information Builders' WebFocus Visual Discovery . Pure-play BI vendors including Targit and MicroStrategy also have self-service offerings.
However, prospective business buyers should be aware that all self-service offerings are not created equal. One of the key differentiators is ease of use, according to Forrester vice president Boris Evelson. While most BI vendors claim to have user friendly and intuitive applications and tools, "what's intuitive to a BI professional is not necessarily intuitive to, say, a marketing analyst," he points out.
End users with limited BI expertise need tools that prompt and guide them through basic BI tasks, as well as customizable report and dashboard templates, he adds. Other key features include a Web portal for sharing information and a natural language interface for queries and searches.
Power users such as business analysts, on the other hand, want sophisticated BI tools such as in-database analytics, that give them the flexibility to drill down deep into databases, and create their own views and queries on the fly, but without having to deal with the technicalities of the underlying data infrastructure -- which would require IT assistance.
Cost is another major differentiator, particularly in these troubled times. (See related sidebar, "The costs of BI" .) Companies that already have a leading BI vendor's platform in place can usually add a self-service front end with minimal effort and cost, according to Jim Kobielus, a senior analyst at Forrester.