The pressures on Business Objects and Cognos

Squeeeeze

hands waving dollar bills in the air

Analysis Business Objects and Cognos are the most well-known suppliers in the business intelligence space and are perceived to be the market leaders. However, this duopoly is increasingly under threat and it is worth considering the different pressures that these suppliers are under.

The first element of competition is, of course, from other direct competitors, of which one would historically have thought of MicroStrategy and Brio (now part of Hyperion) but also Panorama, ProClarity and a number of others. However, arguably the biggest threat in the traditional OLAP space is coming from SAS, which is a bigger company than either Business Objects or Cognos, and which is making a determined (and apparently successful) attempt to challenge Business Objects and Cognos in their heartlands.

Then there is also IBM, which is pushing its BI credentials with products like AlphaBlox, which competes (though it is a toolkit) with the analytic applications provided by Business Object and Cognos.

Then there is reporting. Let's think out of the box for the moment and about application development. There are, today, basically only two development environments: Microsoft Visual Studio and the open source Eclipse framework. If you want to develop reporting as a part of an application within a Microsoft environment then your default choice is to use SQL Server Reporting Services.

That was okay for Business Objects and Cognos because they could still expect to win some business in the Windows space and they had Unix all to themselves. Not any more they don't. Actuate has just announced formal availability of BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) which is the Eclipse standard for developing reporting applications (or parts thereof) within an Eclipse environment. How many developers are going to licence Crystal (part of Business Objects) or Cognos ReportNet when they get a free download of BIRT? And if they need some support because they want to embed the software then they can get that relatively inexpensively from Actuate?

This isn't the end of the Open Source threat to the traditional BI vendors. There is already one company (Greenplum) promoting an Open Source approach to data warehousing: how long will it be before someone starts building open source cube technology? That would really put the cat amongst some pigeons. And, of course, it remains to be seen what IBM does with AlphaBlox and Eclipse.

Even without Open Source cubes the traditional multi-dimensional cube is under threat: QlikTech recently announced version 7.0 of its QlikView product. Now, without going into too many details this is a BI tool (actually it is more than that, for example it supports the construction of analytic applications) that does everything that OLAP does but more, doesn't use OLAP technology and runs entirely in memory (so it is very fast).

In fact, QlikTech has been around for more than a decade and it has more than 1,800 customers world-wide. It has traditionally focused on the mid-market, but the introduction of 64-bit support means that its in-memory approach can now cater for huge volumes (which was not previously the case). As a result, the company is now tackling major organisations where Business Objects and Cognos have traditionally been strongest, and it is winning business and growing (it has doubled in size in the last year) as a result.

Of course, Business Objects is the most threatened. Cognos has its financial and corporate performance management applications to keep it warm at night where Business Objects does not. It begins to look as if the acquisition of Adaytum (by Cognos rather than Business Objects – they both wanted it) could turn out to be a key strategic (survival?) decision.

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