Posts Tagged Business Intelligence
After just returning from IBM’s Information on Demand (IOD) Conference in Las Vegas, I would like to take this opportunity to virtually whisper just one word in the ear of a current day Benjamin Braddock, “analytics”. Many businesses have spent the past 25 years or so automating and streamlining business processes in order to drive improvements in efficiency and productivity. But now, it is becoming apparent that these businesses expect their future success will increasingly depend on how skillfully they manage, govern, and analyze information. Businesses are applying analytical techniques to business information to help reduce risk and increase the certainty that they are making the right decisions.
IBM has, in fact, spent $12 Billion in software investments (both organic multiple acquisitions like SPSS, Cognos, Filenet, iPhrase, and Ascential Software, just to name a few) over the past 4-5 years to ensure it will be able to support its customers in their quest to unlock the business value of information. In addition, in April of 2009 IBM announced a new organization comprised of 4000 consultants focused on advanced business analytics and business optimization – teams with skills in applying business intelligence technologies like mathematical modeling, simulation, data analytics, and optimization techniques.
In an era of intense competition, tight credit, and cost concerns across global and vertical markets, this focus on getting the most value from the information you have makes a lot of sense. Companies find they are processing more information than ever before, but less of this information is being accurately and adequately used. The quantity of available data that a business needs to manage and understand has skyrocketed along with the increase in instrumented and intelligent products. For example, RFID tags that are embedded in manufactured products, plants and animals generate an enormous amount of data in efforts to control inventories and improve security and safety. Trying to make decisions with inadequate, inaccurate, or untimely information is like driving a fast sports car down the highway with a very large blind spot impeding your view of the truck approaching on your side. You need to know about the obstacles that might appear in your pathway before you try to make a “real-time” correction and steer your car (or your business) of a cliff. So, students and business leaders alike please take note, I see some “analytics” in your future.
I attended the HP Analyst Meeting in Boston a few weeks ago and had several discussions with the business intelligence (BI) group. It is clear to me that HP is struggling to try to figure out the best way to sell in this type of down market. Obviously, this isn’t easy for anyone. HP’s approach to solving this problem for its BI, data warehousing, and analytics solutions was to create a BI solutions group consisting of consulting (based on the 2006 Knightsbridge acquisition) and technology (Neoview, an integrated hardware and software platform for enterprise data warehousing). One of the best articulations of the approach HP has adopted came from a discussion by a sales executive who is on the front lines of trying to convince customers to part with cash. What struck me was the coordinated effort that was necessary to sell to a large global organization with huge data management challenges. This got me thinking about what it takes to sell in a very tough market.
To be successful, this sales person went all out. The Neoview product team and BI consultants all pulled to together to provide the right solution for the customer. Over the course of about ten weeks they conducted at least 100 interviews with the company to build strategy, roadmaps, and ROI estimates. The team worked with the customer to create a master plan that showed how HP could help the company with its goal of transforming its business.
The HP sales team leveraged many different resources to make sure they had an excellent understanding of the customer’s needs and that the company understood how HP could help. HP made sure to get executive sponsors in key leadership positions at the customer organization. They also brought in some of HP’s top thought leaders and made sure that happy customers were available to discuss their experiences. In addition, HP leveraged its partner network (including Ab Initio, SAS, and SAP Business Objects) to provide a complete solution.
Neoview was a good fit for the customer’s data management challenges. Problems with inconsistent customer information and disconnected IT systems were so hard to manage that it was becoming impossible for IT to adequately support the business. This customer’s top priorities were to regain control of its existing analytics data store and revamp enterprise customer intelligence and enterprise risk management. They liked the way Neoview was built. It is based on HP’s NonStop engineering expertise that has been used for over 30 years in industries such as financial services (stock exchanges) and telecommunication (switching) where the management of vast amounts of data is essential. Neoview is designed to support hundreds of terabytes of data and over one thousand processors. The customer also had some concerns about issues like getting its team up to speed on the product. HP stepped up to meet their concern by offering training and help with Neoview’s operation to ensure a smooth transition..
As I stepped back from this discussion, it occurred to me that successful technology sales in this type of complex market is incredibly challenging. It is simply not enough to make an announcement and hope for the best. On the one hand, the ingredients for a successful sale sound pretty simple – you need to understand the customer’s pain and provide the right solution at the right price. Easy? Try telling that to a team that just implemented a full-scale, coordinated sales push, made all the right moves, and beat out formidable competitors to win the sale. It’s not so easy, particularly with a complicated IT solution in a market where the business demands fast and cost effective results.And, if it takes such a coordinated effort to win one sale, how realistic is it to expect to sustain these efforts over the long term?
There are three main requirements for selling IT products and solutions in today’s market:
Get the basics right.You need to provide good technology at the right price. Your marketing plan needs to be based on clear and concise messages and your sales team needs to be able to articulate those messages in a way that is just right for your customer. This sounds like a good plan in any market. The difference today is that you can’t count on some of the sales that might previously have been considered “low-hanging fruit”. For example, assume you are preparing a proof-of-concept for a prospective customer and several of this company’s developers know you and your product from their work at other companies. Although it is helpful to have strong supporters of your product on the prospect’s IT team, their support can not overcome a product or solution that doesn’t solve real business problems. Today, the business is demanding more from IT – more business value, more trusted data, more control over costs, and more control over project time lines.
Understand your customer’s needs. You need to understand your customer’s challenges and expectations in order to make sure your product/solution is a good fit One of the most common mistakes that software product marketing teams make when preparing marketing materials is to focus on the outstanding and differentiating features of their product from a product-centric instead of a customer-centric point of view. You need to understand what problem you are solving for your customer and how your solution will solve this problem faster-cheaper-or with more flexibility for future changes than your competitors products. An understand of customer needs should happen at two levels. First, it helps to look at customers in a vertical market so your solution and marketing strategy account for industry specific complexities and challenges. Second, you need to understand the requirements of the prospect at hand -within the context of its industry as well as unique situations such as a recent acquisition or internal changes that may impact their sales decision.
Develop a coordinated and well organized approach. The difference between a good sales effort and a great one is in the way internal teams and business partners collaborate to put knowledge about customer needs and product/solution capabilities together to find the right fit for the customer. For many software vendors, the services or consulting team (internal team or external partnership) has a large role to play to help close the deal. For example, regulatory requirements in industries such as health care and financial services industries are continuing to change making significant demands on IT environments for companies in these industries. Although, you may have a great solution for handling vast amounts of data and improving data security and governance, you may not have the opportunity to prove it to your prospect without a coordinated sales effort. By bringing your product and sales teams together with a consulting team with deep experience in the regulatory and data requirements for health care and financial services you will be better equipped to show the business value of your solution.
As you try to finalize your deal, it often comes down to very similar issues across different types of customers. They are all looking for quick, inexpensive fixes to hard problems! The reality is that there are no easy solutions to closing deals in this economy. Understanding what the customer needs is hard, but what is even harder is making all of this scalable.
With all of the acquisitions happening in the business intelligence space, customers are in a state of confusion. What do all of these changes mean — both short term and long term? In my view, it is best to take a pragmatic approach to this changing market landscape. This acquisition spree in BI is impacting as many as 80,000 customers who use business intelligence software from Hyperion, Business Objects, or Cognos. What should customers be asking their vendors about the future directions of their products? All three BI vendors have either just been acquired or are soon to be acquired by three large IT companies – Oracle, SAP, and IBM, respectively. Is it business as usual or do the IT managers need to alter their business relationships and plans for business intelligence implementations now that a wave of consolidation is underway?
Customer concerns about the re-alignment in the business intelligence area tend to fall into three categories: impact on legacy environments, impact on future buying decisions, and technical innovation. Management issues will vary with how business intelligence software has been deployed at their companies and how well integrated this software has been with other information management software.
Legacy environments. Many companies tend to use BI tools for traditional management reporting. In general, they like to stick with what they know and what their users are trained to use. Therefore, they want to be assured that they can continue using the familiar reporting tools in the same way. While most managers assume that once an acquisition is complete, there will be new operating efficiencies. What they don’t always know is whether those efficiencies will translate to savings. They also would like to understand how the company might benefit from the fact that a larger company with more resources has bought the company they have been dealing with. How will my company benefit from the acquisition? Will there be any changes in the sales and service teams? What about pricing issues and planned upgrades?
Typically, it will take a while before changes are evident. For example, if you are getting good value from your use of Crystal Reports—the Business Objects’ reporting solution designed to support business modeling, analysis, and decision making – it really may not matter to you which company purchased Business Objects.
Ironically, some of the most important issues that might emerge happen when customers merge with each other. For example, one company might have standardized on Cognos for its analysis and reporting while the company being acquired uses Business Objects as a standard. Since large enterprises rely on business intelligence software to gain insight into production, sales, revenue, or other data across divisions and subsidiaries, too many tools may make decision making more difficult.
It is interesting that these acquisitions are hitting the market at the same time that companies are trying to move from a departmental view of data to an enterprise perspective. A unified and standardized approach to information management across the enterprise is becoming a top priority. Companies that have accumulated many different BI vendor software may use this time of change to re-evaluate a BI strategy.
Typically companies are used to managing multiple software components from multiple vendors. The expectation is that the consolidation of two or more of a single vendor will lead to benefits resulting from the tighter integration of the products. This is often the best outcome in terms of support, training, and management. However, this is typically a multi-year effort by the vendors building a unified portfolio based on acquired software. As businesses move from a traditional siloed single purpose data warehouse to information integration and analytics, having one vendor to call is often a welcome change as companies try to simplify the management of its infrastructure.
Impact on Future Buying Decisions
The situation may be a little different if a customer is in the middle of a proof of concept (POC) for a project designed to develop a single view of a company’s customer base. How will the recent acquisitions in the business intelligence market impact how businesses to move forward?
Consider the example of a large bank that had recently made a significant acquisition. The bank wanted to understand its most profitable customers across the newly merged company. Customer history and sales data was retained in a siloed manner by line of business and there was no integration between the data for the two companies. This company used Cognos for many of their executive level reports, but now management had raised concerns about data quality.
In order to develop a single view of customer they needed to look for incompatibilities and inconsistencies in the disparate data sources. These data sources needed to be integrated and IT needed to assure the business that the information was accurate, complete, and trust worthy. The bank selected Informatica to provide the software needed to help with the integration and to improve the quality of its data.
Informatica has a comprehensive solution for data integration and data quality. In addition, just a few months ago Informatica and Cognos announced an expansion of their strategic relationship. This partnership fit well into the CIO’s priority to consolidate all the many disconnected vendors in use in IT and to ensure that the integrations between different applications are as tightly integrated as possible. Now, suddenly Cognos is part of IBM and a direct competitor to Informatica. What should the CIO do? Certainly IBM is committed to supporting all of Cognos’ existing partnerships. You should not have to change your plans because of the acquisition, however there are questions to ask about how things will change in the future.
All the BI vendors mentioned above have well-established partner relationships with emerging information management software companies. There has been a lot of customer support for the creation of tighter integrations between the information management infrastructure and the business intelligence layer. Companies have recognized that the reporting structure becomes meaningless if the supporting data cannot be trusted.
The partnerships have been important because much of the important innovation comes from small emerging companies. Partnerships with major players makes it easier for the company to leverage innovation with lower risk. The established players can provide the integration with the analytics and reporting technology. As companies attempt to unlock much of the data that has been previously unreachable at the enterprise level, it will become much more important to have a unified approach to information quality, information integration, and business intelligence. Market consolidation will help ensure that innovation is better utilized in a predictable manner.