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TIBCO buys Spotfire: why?

Does it really need interactive visualisation?

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TIBCO recently announced that it had acquired Spotfire, the business intelligence vendor. Since this is not an immediately obvious acquisition, the question is why?

According to the press release issued by TIBCO, "the Spotfire acquisition is a natural extension of TIBCO's Predictive Business strategy, by offering customers next-generation business intelligence solutions for radically faster data access and delivery. Combining real-time infrastructure software with enterprise analytics allows TIBCO to deliver the industry's most complete real-time and event-driven software to businesses today." Well, they would say something like that, wouldn't they?

The most important point is that Spotfire is not a next-generation business intelligence solution - at least it isn't what I would class as that. Where it is ahead of most other vendors - with the arguable exceptions of Tableau and Advizor Solutions - is in the interactivity it brings to its visualisation capabilities. In particular, Spotfire dashboards are characterised by the use of lots of sliders that you can use to interactively change the various parameters that apply to any of the on-screen graphics, all of which will dynamically change as you adjust said sliders.

Now, if you haven't seen anything like this before you should know that this is cool stuff. However, by no means everybody needs this sort of capability. As an illustration of this, Spotfire's core market has always been pharmaceuticals (though, of course, it has other customers) where you need to do detailed exploration of the results of clinical trials, for example.

So, to sum up: Spotfire has fairly average business intelligence capabilities but great interactive visualisation for detailed exploration of data. The question is: where and why would TIBCO need this?

The answer is that this is not immediately obvious. The press release from which I quoted above suggests that TIBCO will be using Spotfire in conjunction with its BusinessEvents (complex) event processing product. Now, pretty much all event processing uses cases that require a dashboard of some sort, but I don't think that there are that many where you need the sophistication of a Spotfire. There are some: for example, the airport-monitoring scenario that was recently quoted by BEA when it entered this market and which has previously been touted by AptSoft. Here, you are constantly managing by exception and you need to juggle multiple resources - ground staff, baggage handlers and lines, gate allocations and so forth - so that you can see how sliders might be useful - make a change here and how does that affect everything else? However, even this is a relatively simple application of Spotfire's technology and most customers will probably not even need this much sophistication.

I think I'd better look at my opening question from a different perspective: did TIBCO need to buy a BI/dashboard vendor? Yes is the likely answer. Certainly, other event-processing vendors have been introducing more and more advanced reporting capabilities. So, from that point of view the acquisition makes sense and the client base that Spotfire brings is an added bonus. However, my concern is that event processing does not really need all of the sophistication that Spotfire offers and there is, therefore, a danger that TIBCO will focus its development of Spotfire on serving the needs of its event-processing customers at the expense of those companies that use the Spotfire software purely for its BI and visualisation capabilities.

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