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How Sexy Reporting Has Become

  Article published in DM Review Magazine
January 2005 Issue
  By Keith Gile

Reporting is fundamental to all companies and organizations. Reporting and analysis are not luxuries that a company can choose to grant or deny. Every transaction-based enterprise application, every database and each process that workers perform on a day-to-day basis needs reporting in some fashion. Because of this re-emergence of reporting from beneath the shadow of OLAP and analytics, it is now fashionable and appealing for both vendors and user organizations to discuss the relative merits of this art form.

Okay, perhaps sexy isn't quite right; however, reporting solutions have become pervasive in business, and they must be seen as core requirements and held to the same standards as all core technologies. This added scrutiny means that the various types of reporting - analytic, enterprise and business -- must be clearly defined so that we can compare and contrast the different reporting solutions being offered today.

Market Is Consolidating

The reporting and analysis market is mature. Companies have a wide variety of technology options, from a plethora of BI vendors to platform and application vendors (see Figure 1). The participation by so many vendors reflects two issues:

  • Companies want a single BI reporting and analysis solution because they need to drive down IT support costs and simultaneously standardize on a single reporting solution.
  • Vendors want to be selected as the BI reporting and analysis standard. Simply put, the vendor that offers the most comprehensive BI reporting and analysis solution is in a better position of being selected as the reporting standard.

Companies introduce confusion when they oversimplify the process of defining exactly what "report" means and to whom "end user" refers. Additionally, most Global 2000 companies and large governmental organizations have between five and 15 different BI reporting and analysis solutions in production - many of which are at best redundant and at worst obsolete. Companies must first recognize the characteristics of each end user community and then map the necessary reporting functionality to them. Then they can appropriately assess vendor options to fill gaps or declare one as the standard reporting and analysis platform.

Figure 1: Types of Reporting

Fragmented Market

To better understand the BI reporting and analysis landscape, Forrester categorizes BI vendors into tiers based on their annual revenue specific to BI - not overall revenue.

  • Tier one. These players report BI revenue in excess of $400 million annually: Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion Solutions and SAS.
  • Tier two. This layer has BI revenue between $100 million and $400 million annually: Actuate, Information Builders and MicroStrategy.
  • Tier three. These vendors record less than $100 million of BI revenue each year: Applix, arcplan, Computer Associates, Hummingbird, Jinfonet Software, ProClarity, QlikTech, Temtec and a host of other niche vendors.
  • Application or Database Platform BI. These players include SAP, Microsoft, Siebel Systems, Oracle, PeopleSoft, IBM, Teradata and Geac, to name a few.

End User Categories

Defining users as belonging to one of two groups ("power users" or "all others") is an obsolete practice. Functionally targeted user constituencies must replace these generic definitions. Within these user constituencies, there are two distinct groups: producers and consumers. Most BI tools are targeted at the producers - but most of the users are consumers. This paradox has led to companies repeatedly purchasing tools that are deployed to the wrong group.

In total, Forrester estimates that 14 percent of end users are producers - those who create analytic reports and author enterprise reports. The remaining 86 percent are consumers of the information and data.

Mapping the available BI technology to the functional needs of each end-user constituency will allow companies to consolidate redundant technologies while supplying greater functionality to a broader user community. The characteristics of each end user category, along with an estimate of the size and makeup of each - as a percentage of the total reporting and analysis user population - are:

  • IT produces the data and information for others to consume. Representing two percent of total head count, IT is the producer of data and information for others to consume. The characteristics for BI include application development skills, data modeling, data integration, infrastructure design, application integration and access and security administration. Generally, IT does not use BI reporting and analysis tools in the decision-making process.
  • Power users produce domain-specific apps to support their business units. Making up 5 percent of the user community, power users have object-based application development skills and use cube and table data modeling, presentation formatting, and data and information exporting. They generally do not use BI reporting and analysis tools in the decision-making process but directly support the decision-makers.
  • Business users depend on domain-specific data, apps and Excel. Business users, representing 25 percent of total head count, are consumers of domain-specific data produced by power users. Their BI activities include local manipulation of data at the cell level of granularity, collaboration with domain peers in support of tactical issues and a preference for working in Microsoft Excel. They primarily use BI reporting and analysis tools to make domain-specific, tactical decisions.
  • Casual users rely on dashboards, reports and analytic apps. At 30 percent of total head count, casual users are consumers of aggregated, cross-domain information produced by power and business users delivered via dashboards, canned reports or BI analytic applications. Their BI needs include: report selection, parameter designation, simple report/analysis manipulation (sort, exporting) and collaboration with managerial and executive staff in support of overall organizational issues. Their preference is to work in the Microsoft Office suite or view in PDF and rich text. They primarily use BI reporting and analysis tools in support of strategic decisions.
  • Extended enterprise users push BI beyond the firewall. The largest group represents 38 percent of total head count. Typically customers, partners or regulatory bodies, they are consumers of highly targeted domain-specific data or information produced by IT and made available outside of the organization's firewall. They need extraction of data to an external location or application and collaboration with domain peers on both sides of the firewall in support of tactical issues, and they have a preference for working in Microsoft Excel or with generic data export formats (CSV, flat file). They primarily use BI reporting and analysis tools to make domain-specific, tactical decisions.

Forrester Wave Comparison
Analytic Reporting Wave

Analytic reporting is used by companies to create ad hoc queries related to customers, products, channels or services. For instance, it is employed to build multidimensional OLAP cubes to allow for slicing and dicing of data pertaining to the supply chain within manufacturing, customer churn in telecommunications, property and casualty claims assessment in insurance, and risk assessment in financial institutions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Analytic Reporting Wave

It is no surprise that tier one vendors flex muscle. As expected, Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions offer the best overall analytic functionality via meta data, OLAP, data access and query.

  • Solutions for decentralized IT score high. The leading analytic reporting vendors - Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions - also accommodate a decentralized, self-service approach to delivering analytic functionality. They contrast with Information Builders and MicroStrategy, which tend to emphasize scalability and open APIs.
  • Platform solutions beat out niche and some best-of-breed offerings. With strong data access, OLAP and security features, BI platform offerings from Oracle, Microsoft and SAP show that the gap is shrinking.

Enterprise Reporting Wave

Companies use enterprise reporting to develop and deploy production reports associated with CRM, ERP and financial applications, and to create large volumes of customer telephone bills, paycheck stubs, credit card statements, and standard bulk output such as 401(k) statements (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Enterprise Reporting Wave

  • Tier two vendors outrank the big guys. Showing that size is not everything, Actuate and Information Builders reflect strengths in scalability, report development and presentation formatting. Note that Business Objects scores well here, thanks to Crystal Decisions, which was also a tier two vendor until its acquisition by Business Objects in January 2004.
  • Solutions for centralized IT score high. For enterprise reporting, there is a different - and more demanding - development community. This is reflected in higher application development (scalability, report development, embedded reporting) scores.
  • Version 1 products have something to prove. The new releases from Cognos, Microsoft and MicroStrategy still have a way to go in terms of usability and application development, even with their early success.

The Bottom Line with Reporting

The opportunity to build reports and perform analysis on any type of data is no longer a luxury available only to those with deep pockets. Every bit of data can be used to help companies understand how to better serve customers, build new products and services and improve all aspects of the business.

Additionally, companies will save money by standardizing on fewer reporting and analysis solutions, ideally adopting a single standard for each reporting category. The earliest that companies can expect to see a viable, integrated single reporting solution that encapsulates all reporting categories is still two years from now.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Data Analysis and Query & Reporting.

Keith Gile is a principal analyst in Forrester's Information Delivery research group, covering information management, data management and business intelligence (BI). Gile may be reached via e-mail at kgile@forrester.com.

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