BI is a commonly used term with a raft of different interpretations. Wikipedia begins to define it thus:
BI technologies provide historical, current, and predictive views of business operations. Common functions of Business Intelligence technologies are reporting, online analytical processing, analytics, data mining, business performance management, benchmarking, text mining, and predictive analytics.There's a BI evolutionary path that starts with simple, static reporting on historic data (often delivered with spreadsheets) through to real-time predictive analytics embedded into front-office transactional systems. Many suppliers who claim to offer BI systems barely get off the ground on the BI flight to delivering real value to the enterprise.
All those products that offer sexy, shiny, slick graphics with animated 2.5D fuel gauges that make your historic data look exciting but don't begin to tell you about where you're headed are flattering to deceive. If you're considering implementing a BI solution, make sure your chosen software will give you the headroom to grow the value that the solution delivers. Don't box yourself in with a sexy solution that ultimately offers no real intelligence.
SAS salesmen will tell you that they can satisfy the full BI evolutionary path. And they'll point to their recent success in being awarded a Product of the Year award from Customer Interaction Solutions (CIS) magazine as evidence of offering solutions at the far end of the BI evolutionary path. In January, CIS magazine awarded a Product of the Year award to SAS Real-Time Decision Manager (RTDM).
SAS RTDM epitomises the ambition of true BI solutions. Incorporating business rules developed by the business users with a user-friendly graphical interface (and appropriate degrees of security), RTDM uses a service-oriented architecture to deliver SAS analytics into the heart of the customer interaction (telephone, web, ATM), promising recommendations, decisions and actions based upon the best information available.
The most popular reasons for considering a BI solution are to provide an analytical capability to more users, improve integration of data from a variety of sources, and to speed-up access to timely business data. Also, and by no means least amongst the reasons, businesses are often to keen to escape the bonds of spreadsheets and to gain a single, reliable & robust version of the truth.
In addition to the CIS magazine award, January saw SAS placed in the leaders' quadrant of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence. Gartner's Magic Quadrant charts vendors' completeness of vision alongside those vendors' perceived ability to execute the vision. Gartner says that "leaders are vendors that are reasonably strong in the breadth and depth of their BI platform capabilities and can deliver on enterprisewide implementations that support a broad BI strategy."
Gartner's comments that are specific to SAS highlight SAS's focus on advanced analytics whilst noting that SAS customers use a broad range of SAS's BI capabilities. However, Gartner strikes a note of caution regarding the new challenges from big players like IBM and SAP who have recently bought previously-niche products such as SPSS, Cognos and Business Objects. Gartner suggest that SAS's comfortable position in the BI world may become less comfortable once the big boys get on top of their purchases.
I noted in December that SAS were aware of the changing market and felt up to the challenge. Given that SAS BI is currently in the Gartner leaders' quadrant and SAS Data Integration (DI) ranks equally highly in Gartner's view, SAS will consider themselves facing the challenge from a position of strength.