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September 15, 2017

Forrester Reshuffles the Deck on BI and Analytics Tools

The industry upheaval that began in the BI and analytics market several years ago continues to play out, as the aggressive upstarts that displaced the old guard of BI itself gets displaced. Now Forrester Research is jumping into the fray with a new analysis of major players in the market that identifies who’s shaking things up.

The BI market has changed considerably over the years, and the change continues to accelerate. Fifteen years ago, large enterprise BI products from the likes of Cognos and BusinessObjects ruled the BI roost. Then self-service BI tools from Qlik and Tableau Software rattled the status quo.

However, because those vendors’ systems could not, at that time, scale beyond departmental use, the pendulum swung back the other way, and enterprise-grade is once again is back in style. What’s important today, Forrester says, is the combination of enterprise features (like centralized deployment and security) and self-service BI and data discovery. In other words, customers are demanding — and vendors are delivering — the best of both worlds.

The Forrester analysts, Boris Evelson and Martha Bennett, say it’s “getting harder to find significant platform differentiators” anymore. The result is a level of parity that has never been seen. As a result, there really aren’t any runaway winners or losers in the Forrester Wave for on-premise enterprise BI platforms (the analyst firm has a separate Wave for cloud products).

While MicroStrategy, IBM, TIBCO Software, and Qlik lead the pack, you can also find “highly competitive options” from other vendors in the report, including Information Builders, Looker, Pyramid Analytics, Tableau, Yellowfin, Sisense, and SAS, according to the analysts.

The one vendor coming away from this Forrester Wave feeling the best is likely MicroStrategy, which owned the pole position in the leader’s sector. Forrester lauded the firm for its “powerful, highly scalable ROLAP” engine that can optimize queries in a range of databases; perform complex heterogeneous joins between multiple databases; and support a drill-anywhere.

Mark Gambill, CMO for MicroStrategy, says the report reflects the work the company has put into the product. “We were gratified” with the report, Gambill tells Datanami, “primarily because we think the Forester Wave is a highly credible report. It’s one of the few that addresses all BI use cases.”

Whereas some BI tool analyses more heavily weight one aspect over others, Gambill considers Forrester’s approach to giving equal weight to IT considerations as well as usability by business users to be a better approach.

“It equally weights enterprise IT capabilities in conjunction with data discovery, visual appeal, and elements like that that are getting a lot of visibility in today’s marketplace,” he says.

MicroStrategy has not radically shifted its product development strategy in recent years. Rather, it’s been a gradual evolution in response to changing market conditions, the CMO says.

“Like any company you adapt and evolve to the needs of the marketplace, and the direction that enterprise analytics is going,” he says. “What we saw was what everybody was seeing, which was a pretty significant shift from the IT decision-maker being the primary buyer of analytics to it being much more dispersed where functional business leaders were also now decision makers.”

But it wasn’t all about MicroStrategy in the recent reports, and Forrester gave kudos to other firms, too.

BI Leaders

  • Forrester applauded IBM for its work in adding predictive analytics capabilities (via integration with SPSS) into Cognos Analytics, and also for adding “a shot of AI” through integration with Watson Analytics.
  • TIBCO also has turned things around since going private a few years ago, and recent Spotfire releases reflect that, according to Forrester. “TIBCO Spotfire is back in the market as a formidable player in full-spectrum analytics, from basic descriptive analytics to advanced data visualization and predictive analytics,” the analysts write.
  • The other leader, Qlik, has kept up with changing requirements for BI with its primary products, QlikView and Qlik Sense, which are powerd by Qlik’s associative engine. “All BI tools work great when you know how to ask a question and what specific data sources, tables, and columns contain the information you are looking for,” the analysts write. “What if you don’t? This is precisely the sweet spot for Qlik’s two products…”

Strong Performers

Forrester liked what it’s seeing with other BI vendors too.

  • It appreciated Goldman Sachs recent investment in Information Builders, as well as how its product, WebFOCUS, embraces R for predictive capabilities. “Clients who don’t view Information Builders as a viable competitor in predictive analytics should take another look,” the analysts write.
  • Looker has also turned some heads of late with its BI application (although company executives say what it’s really building is a data platform, with BI as the main product). Unburdened by legacy code, Looker has “concentrated its R&D investments into one clean, simple, modern BI platform that addresses most BI use cases,” Forrester writes.
  • Pyramid Analytics has dropped its dependence on Microsoft Office with the latest release of its BI Office product. While the product lacks capabilities in some areas, like suggestive BI, natural language generation, and geospatial analytics, the product “is a solid choice for buyers looking to deploy a scalable and governed BI platform.”
  • Tableau is well-known for being the Cadillac of visualization tools, and for good reason: it’s pretty much all the product does. “This razor-sharp focus earns Tableau Software a top spot in this market,” the analysts say.  However, the firm is still playing catch-up in other areas.
  • SAP has a broad portfolio of BI products, spanning BusinessObjects, Analytics Cloud, and Crystal Reports. The products offer lots of capabilities, and multiple deployment options. While the company has made progress in consolidating and integrating the various products, there are still some seams evident, according to Forrester.
  • OpenText was lauded for how it’s integrated various products into a unified big data platform. “Rather than buying and using three separate products for reporting…customers can get all three functions in a single product,” the analysts say.
  • Yellowfin is still mostly an OEM play, but the company has been gaining a bigger presence on its own, according to Forrester, which lauded the firm for its collaboration and storytelling capabilities. However, it scored lower in complex analytical use case and advanced/predictive analytics.
  • SiSense excels in circumstances that require processing very large data sets, according to Forrester. “Sisense’s secret ingredient, its core IP, is in the way it moves data between disk, RAM, and CPU, minimizing the number of cycles it takes to move the data beyond what the CPU and operating system can deliver,” Forrester writes.
  • SAS might be prescribed for customers who want to perform real-time data visualization, analysis, discovery, and exploration on databases that may not be very scalable. “…SAS bets that no DBMS is scalable enough for big data analytics,” the analysts write. But data prep, profiling, cataloging, and geospatial analytics remain areas of concern for SAS, according to Forrester.


The analyst firm liked what it saw with two contenders, including BOARD, which excel in blending BI with enterprise process management (EPM) functions, and Panorama, which develops a collaborative BI product along with a recommendation engine.