It was referred to by Hyperion President and CEO Godfrey Sullivan as “the dirty little secret of business intelligence” at his company’s annual user conference in New Orleans earlier this month.

“It” is the notion that builders of this kind of enterprise software are offering nothing more than what BI has always offered: reams of data on key elements of a company’s operation, such as the number of widgets sold or length of shelf life for a piece of inventory stored in a warehouse.

It’s the idea that BI tools aren’t growing out of the clothes they’ve been wearing for years, into something bigger and better.

Sullivan, of course, was raising the point in order to prove that Hyperion was indeed taking BI to the next step, namely in the form of the vendor’s Project Avalanche initiative, to be rolled out over approximately the next 16 months.

Avalanche will hope to accomplish what Hyperion says its competitors aren’t achieving. The initiative ties into the vendor’s business performance management (BPM) concept, which attempts to transform hard and fast BI numbers into business strategies.

It seems another way to put it would be, turning numbers into words — words that dictate a company’s overall business philosophy and direction. If such a concept can be turned into reality (and Hyperion is starting to do just that), life should get a bit easier for IT managers and CIOs looking for some plain answers from the morass of numbers their software has been laying on their desks for years.

This is definitely the direction in which BI has to go if the bread and butter, Fortune 500 customers are going to keep investing in BI upgrades. There still exist many untapped fields for traditional BI, such as the mid and even small-business markets. But the most lucrative opportunities for Hyperion and its competitors are those upper echelon members that can afford the most cutting-edge offerings.

Just how successful ventures such as Project Avalanche will be is still to be determined, but it will be interesting to watch which vendors succeed in providing customers with the next generation of BI tools and how much those tools change the process of business planning.

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