Monday, February 29, 2016

BI Industry Research: Is There Magic in those Quadrants?

As a Business Intelligence and Analytics (BIA) consultant, I need to keep up with the latest developments in both analytics process and technology. This has become quite a bit easier in recent years as quite a bit of useful information and wisdom is made freely available over the Internet. Premium fee-based research, however, remains an important source as it is generally deeper and more detailed and tends to carry great weight with clients.

I’ve gotten to know several of the analysts who cover the BIA space, and I find them to be among the most hard-working folks around as they juggle their research, conference and consulting responsibilities. Their methods are rigorous and the surveys span a uniquely broad sample of industries and geography.

Given all that, I have become a bit skeptical as to their influence because the research is often misused and/or misinterpreted, resulting in poor purchases or misdirected implementation programs that I have seen firsthand.

Part of the problem is that some readers just look at the pictures. In the case of Gartner’s trademarked Magic Quadrants, they note the vendors in the Northeast corner, and automatically limit their purchase consideration set to the products fortunate enough to be there that year. This is a big mistake. The real value in this content comes from the detailed review of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each vendor’s offerings.

Others get too caught up in the feature function comparisons.  Quality and applicability; not quantity is what matters. Checking off the boxes may be great for sales demos, but many customers get too far over their skis and don’t end up using half the capabilities of the tools they buy.

Another mistake I see is when buyers try to use the research as a substitute for their own reference checks and a well –executed proof of concept to prove out the technology in context.

Keep in mind this research is intended for both buyers and sellers. The vendors themselves are important clients and participants. They provide insight into their product plans and access to their reference clients. They also end up providing much of the research funding. When vendors are reviewed positively, they often purchase the work for redistribution. See here for one example.

Some of the best insights in research pieces are around the overall market as opposed to the individual products and vendors. For example, in this year’s Magic Quadrant, Gartner took the very significant step of redefining their market domain for BIA technology. They completely removed a set of traditional data analysis and reporting tools that have been a major market presence for many years (e.g. Oracle). They limited the coverage to BIA “Platforms” that enable user-driven full-cycle data preparation, integration, visualization and discovery capability. This change makes a strong statement around the direction of the market and the shift of spending away from IT-driven initiatives to user-driven and funded programs where IT is expected to enable and emphasize data provisioning and governance over technology enablement.

The wise consumer of this type of research takes many factors into account when evaluating the products that are covered, including:

  • Vertical solutions – does the vendor have a strong record creating solutions specific to your industry?
  • Partnerships – does the vendor provide a complete solution or do they rely on partners?
  • Costs and pricing – although there is often useful information around pricing models, every sales cycle is unique with regard to the effective costs of purchase and eventual ownership.  Negotiation skills, reference potential, sales incentives etc. all play a significant role.
  • The relative importance of sales experience, documentation, training, and support to you as a customer
  • Pay close attention to the methodology notes. They are usually very comprehensive important, particularly when they detail the breadth of the surveys and discussion of vendors who were included and excluded.
Careful consideration of these details allows the reader to match the technology for a solution to your specific situation, often preventing expensive mistakes.

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