Former Crystal Reports creator and co-founder of a Canadian business intelligence (BI) company started two years ago said the reason BI has yet to reach the masses is that tools require users to understand where the data is coming from.
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Mark Cunningham, co-founder of Vancouver-based Indicee Inc., said getting data into reports has always been the biggest hurdle for everyday business users, 15 to 20 per cent of whom actually use BI currently as a result.
Indicee takes a different approach to data access, said Cunningham, by having the service-based BI tool sit atop the business’s existing reporting infrastructure, whether that is made up of databases, Excel spreadsheets, etc. The idea is that the available canned reports will extract data directly from the databases atop which it sits.
This eliminates the need to talk to the IT department or a consultant to access that data, he said. “The business users don’t need to know anything about the database to run those reports, they just go into the reports menu and go run … and, boom, it pops up on their screen,” said Cunningham.
With Crystal Reports knowledge in the company DNA, Cunningham said Indicee has the advantage of being able to interpret and understand Crystal Reports in order to extract the data. The goal, he said, is to build atop the existing Crystal Reports user base in the city of Vancouver, a bit like a “Crystal 2.0.”
The fact that Indicee sits atop existing reporting infrastructures means IT departments won’t have to abandon platforms they have grown comfortable with, said Carmi Levy, a London, Ont.-based independent analyst.
But Levy added that Crystal Reports expertise is not as unique to Indicee as the company may like to say. But it does count as table stakes, since many large to medium enterprises already have that in-house skill and have standardized on Crystal Reports, he added.
The risk of an offering that sits atop existing infrastructure, as Indicee does, is that if the underlying data structures are of poor quality, then the BI will be of little value, said Levy.
According Nigel Wallis, research director with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., it is tougher for companies with multiple legacy applications to access their data warehouses for that integrated view. “This is a big issue for medium-sized firms, which often use custom- and in-house- built applications,” said Wallis.
The hosted element is attractive too, said Wallis. An IDC Canada survey from summer of 2009 shows that seven per cent of respondents would prefer accessing BI tools through a hosted version, a number Wallis expects to grow.
As a new entrant onto the BI market, Cunningham said Indicee is focusing primarily on the small-to-medium business market where formal BI tools typically don’t exist.
But Cunningham isn’t completely ruling out the enterprise space because he believes there is opportunity in those underserved departments where BI tools are leaving some people out. “You’ve got the call centre and HR guys over in the corner saying, ‘When are you going to get my data in the data warehouse?’” he said.
He thinks the “enterprise world has been beaten up by big BI vendors,” the likes of Oracle Corp. and SAP AG.
But as a new entrant, Cunningham likes that Indicee can be nimble. He said large BI vendors like Business Objects (as part of SAP), and any big enterprise software vendor for that matter, won’t do well in “that big machine.”
“If Business Objects/SAP really wants to kill midmarket, they need to start a new company,” he joked.
The cycle of consolidation is such that smaller vendors tend to get swallowed up by larger entities, but Cunningham said that’s not part of his mindset right now.
While the BI market is stable, Levy noted that Web services BI, a subset of that BI space, is still emerging.