Interview with Philippe Nieuwbourg, coordinator of the Decideo community
Analyst/publisher and consultant Philippe Nieuwbourg has been working for over 20 years, analyzing and advising readers and customers in the field of information technology. He is the founder and coordinator of the community www.decideo.fr. Today, he shares his vision as an observer of the major trends in Business Intelligence.
Paradoxically, this year the economic crisis seems to have boosted the Business Intelligence market. How do you account for this?
Business Intelligence is rather like the cockpit of the company. You need it when things are going well, to work out how to get more market share quickly or win new customers. But you need it even more when times are tough, and when you have to closely monitor a changing situation, to simulate and analyze the impact of possible management decisions: what’s going to happen if I cut this or that marketing budget, if I change my stock levels, if I segment my distribution channels more effectively…? So even in an IT market that shrank in 2009, it’s not surprising that BI was the only segment that actually grew.
Another factor also came into play: falling prices for entry-level systems. A few years ago, there was not much available BI for under €1 million. Today, with players like Microsoft and QlikTech, Open Source software publishers, organizations are starting to get access to powerful solutions for a few hundred thousand euros. This process of democratization is helping to boost the market, both in terms of volume and overall value.
How do you see the changing market and the evolution of BI technologies?
Looking at it in diagrammatic terms, you can divide the software publishers market into two. On the one hand you have the traditional giants like IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft, to which you can add SAS, who have extensive and highly integrated offerings, conceived as part of a suite of software packages. Then there is a myriad of smaller players, who play on their innovation and ‘best of breed’ criteria in niche markets. In a consolidating market like BI, you might think that in the future only the biggest players will be left, given their marketing and financial power.
But in fact, the innovation provided by start-ups is undeniable. Especially since the big publishers have had to digest their recent acquisitions and dedicate much of the R&D efforts to merging their different offerings. Even though we have been seeing some interesting innovations, such as appliances like Microsoft FastTrack, we have also seen that developments in the areas of BI 2.0, collaborative solutions and social networks, for examples, have been bracketed together. On the other hand, we’re seeing a lot of interesting innovations from smaller players: the rapid growth of ‘in memory’ BI (which allows you to run BI models much faster), the first BI solutions bases on GPUs or graphical processors (which offer exceptional processing power at low cost, provided that appropriate algorithms are used), etc. There’s also some talk of Cloud Computing, even though its use in BI is still very much in its infancy.
Looking ahead, what do you seen as the key emerging trends for the future?
Since its earliest days, Business Intelligence has been focused above all on analyzing structured data. But these days a large proportion of corporate information comes from elsewhere; we are surrounded by billions of items of unstructured data. Eventually, a major evolution in BI will undoubtedly be in its ability to manage this kind of data, with the move to new kinds of database which mark the coming together of BI and content management.
Another future trend will be so-called ‘search-based applications’, which will involve rethinking all the typical BI architectures of the past 15 years or so (with their separation between the production base and the info center) to search for the information directly at its source, using Google-type queries. This is still very much an emerging field, with players such as Exalead in France – but one that is sure to be talked about in the years to come.
In the more distant future, another fundamental revolution will very certainly be in the area of the user interface. Imagine tactile systems, like the iPad, where you could manipulate data using your fingers, or even virtual environments such as the one being explored in the Microsoft Natal project, which analyzes your gestures as you face the screen… and then apply this to BI systems. And a whole new universe opens up to the user, whether they are working alone or with others in a meeting. It will certainly arrive faster than we think. All the more so because the driving force for digital innovation has changed. Before, it was business that propelled developments in information technology. Now it’s the mass market. You can see it with smartphones, games consoles, digital objects… Tomorrow’s users will be much more innovative and demanding. And that heralds a very exciting revolution in how systems are used.