Thursday, January 29

Microsoft bundles BI software - what they are doing unveiled

The inevitable nature of big companies is to lock customers into their suite of products. For instance, Oracle started with databases, now bundles financial and integration software with their database. Customers are told it's easier to use their add-on, value-add products than use another vendor and get into compatibility issues. Add-on, value-add products are sometimes free, enticing you even more.

So it comes to no surprise that Microsoft has announced they have tightly bundled their BI software, PerformancePoint Server, with their document management software, Sharepoint. Joined at the hip, you cannot buy one without getting the other.

Comparatively to other BI vendors, Microsoft has the only bundled BI, document management, workflow, collaboration software on the market (I think). IBM Cognos, SAP Business Objects, and Oracle Hyperion are behind with this endeavour - they haven't tightly integrated BI with their other software.

Each of these competitors to Microsoft have similar software breadth but Microsoft's tight integration is a step ahead. It may take years for IBM, SAP, and Oracle to properly integrate BI, document management, workflow and collaboration.

But what about the customers? On the surface, the tight bundling can be viewed as positive. You could be using Sharepoint and now want some BI reporting. Or maybe you have PerformancePoint reports and need to manage documents.

Tackling both BI and document management pieces is challenging.  Without considering planning, governance, and skillsets, you will most certainly encounter serious setbacks.  Or worse your vision is restricted to an unimpressive rollout.

Here are some problems you may encounter with tight bundling of BI and document management.
  1. Standardizing on Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP technologies requires highly paid IT resources and/or consultants (not great for this economic climate)
  2. Very different skillsets are required to build Sharepoint sites vs PerformancePoint reports (need to hire more staff and/or pay for more IT training)
  3. Goverenance and best practices are very different for managing BI vs documents (different knowledge needed, so twice the effort)
  4. Locked into sole-source agreements (difficult switching BI or document mgmt products for a better and more cost effective product in the future)
Putting those concerns aside, there are positives in Microsoft's story.  Microsoft's price point is unbeatable when compared to other on-premise vendors.  This can offset additional costs (see points above) and make your entrance into Document Management and Business Intelligence a little easier.

The question is whether the competitors - Oracle, SAP, IBM - will compete directly by integrating their products with BI.  Here's my thoughts on where these companies are going.
  • In the case of SAP Business Objects, it's natural direction would be to simply use Business Objects as the reporting engine for the SAP application (do away with SAP's current BW).  Perhaps keep Business Objects as a stand-alone BI product set... perhaps.
  • Hyperion is a natural fit for Oracle Financials.  Hyperion was deeply entrenched within the financials of large companies.  But Oracle has many other products that could work along side Hyperion's BI.  For instance, SOA/messaging integration replacing traditional ETL (or parts of it).
  • As for IBM... guessing where they are going is just a gamble.  I don't have any insiders that could give me hints.  IBM and Cognos were working together prior to the acquisition and you look at the breadth of products, consulting division and R&D coming out of IBM... well your guess is probably as good or better than mine.

Friday, January 2

Why the auto industry sells lemons

Let's start the year off with something fun.  And Happy New Year everyone.

I was sent this Calvin & Hobbs comic strip about lemonade stands and business [you can find the full strip below]. After I had a good chuckle, it got me thinking. How often is the 'lemonade stand' used as an example for business? Surprisingly quite a few.

In Donald Trump's "The Apprentice", Donald gave each team $250 dollars to start a lemonade stand. There are 3,233 book results from Amazon for 'lemonade stand'. Countless blogs on the subject -- how to be a Lemonaire and Umpqua Bank funding kids starting a lemonade stand.

However Calvin's lemonade stand highlights well known problems with business. One could apply this to the automobile, financial and oil & gas industries. Companies in these industries are either having troubles currently or problems are looming (of course unless your government simply bails your company out).

What are the problems through Calvin's eyes?
  • Stockholders demand monstrous profit for their investments.

  • Presidents and CEOs demand exorbitant salaries.

  • Employees demand high wages and all sorts of company benefits.
Not to be flippant using a comic strip from 10+ years ago to emphasize problems with business today but one must admit there is truth in Calvin's statements.

Here's an idea for those who can navigate Web 2.0, mashup, and BI. The SEC is requesting company filings via XBRL and making them freely available online.   What if BI was applied to analyze executive salaries across companies and industries. Or compare financial costs of employee salaries and benefits.

Would there be answers to why the Ford company didn't take the bail out but GM and Chrysler did?

Why would someone do this?

Think of the comparisons that can be done. Comparing trend increases or decreases of salaries. Have union salaries and benefits brought down GM and Chrysler? How does the auto industry compare to the oil & gas industry for executive salaries? Could predictions of bankruptcy be made for other companies because of the comparison made with GM and Chrysler?

[this post used copyrighted Calvin & Hobbs material]