At the end of January, the Gartner Group released its “Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms, 1Q07” report. Last September, in “The Magic of BI” ( http://www.sqlmag.com/Article/ArticleID/93683/sql_server_93683.html ),I wrote about Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant for Data Warehouse Database Management Systems 2006” report, which was similar to the current report and overlaps product coverage in some ways. But as their names suggest, the two reports are different. The data warehouse report released last fall focuses more on BI from a data warehouse perspective, whereas the report Gartner issued a few weeks ago focused more on “pure” BI. I think it was Shakespeare who said “BI by any other name is still BI” (they had dimensional modeling in the time of the bard, right?). I could devote multiple articles to simply parsing the differences between the terms BI and data warehousing, but in the interest of time and space, let’s just say that you should read both of the reports if BI or data warehousing is a topic that’s in your future. Are you a database professional? Then both topics are in your future, whether you realize it or not.

You can read the data warehouse Magic Quadrant report at http://mediaproducts.gartner.com/reprints/ncr/vol3/article2/article2.html, and you can find the BI Magic Quadrant (kindly reprinted by Business Objects) at http://www.businessobjects.com/pdf/company/gartner_2007_q1_bi_platforms.pdf. Gartner reports typically cost several hundred dollars, but vendors often buy reprint rights, so a bit of creative Internet searching will often turn up a free version of whatever Gartner report sparks your interest. The BI report weighs in at nine pages and doesn’t require a significant amount of BI skill to digest. Here’s a quick summary of several key elements in case you can’t spare the 30 minutes to digest the report properly.

First, Gartner explains that its Magic Quadrant methodology is a graphical representation of a marketplace at a particular point in time. It places vendors into one of four quadrants--leaders, challengers, niche players, and visionaries--based upon how Gartner rates the vendor according to certain criteria that are outlined in each report. The goal of the January BI magic quadrant is to “present a global view of Gartner's opinion of the main software vendors that should be considered by organizations seeking to develop business intelligence (BI) applications.” In other words, caveat emptor: Make sure you understand the market, emerging trends, and vendor positions in the market before committing to a particular BI strategy.

The current magic quadrant rates Business Objects as the big dog on the block based on its market leadership position (it currently has the largest slice of the BI revenue pie). Microsoft is also highly rated in this Magic Quadrant, garnering a spot in the Challenger category along with SAP, rather than the Leader category. However, Microsoft’s rating within the “ability to execute vision” criterion is higher than any of the current vendors included in the Leader category. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant points out that Microsoft made great strides in 2006 in offering a more complete, integrated vision and predicts that Microsoft’s growing ability to offer BI solutions that are tightly aligned with the Microsoft Office system will be viewed favorably by consumers. The report also predicts that Microsoft will be viewed as a BI market leader by 2012. Gartner suggests that Microsoft’s biggest weakness today is its limited ability to offer robust solutions in a heterogeneous environment. Personally, I’m not sure that I agree because SQL Server Analysis Services does a wonderful job of integrating with varied, non-Microsoft back ends. But, in any event, Gartner reports few gaps or weaknesses in Microsoft’s BI strategy for companies that are otherwise committed to Microsoft technology as a large part of their infrastructure.

The Gartner report discusses two important market trends. First, the report tackles the concept of a “process- and strategy-driven vision of BI” beyond simply the delivery of reports and measurements to end users. Process- and strategy-driven BI seeks to embed BI technology directly within the workflow of a business process or application. In other words, BI is in the eye of the beholder, and the lines between what is and what is not BI will continue to blur. Microsoft’s ability to tightly integrate its BI offerings into the Office system and other development technologies will presumably benefit from this trend. Second, Gartner points out that several large application and software ISVs, such as Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP, have increased their focus on the BI market. Gartner suggests that this shift will lead other major vendors, such as IBM, HP, and Sun to increase their presence in the BI market. As BI becomes more pervasive, we’ll see further rounds of consolidation within the BI marketplace. Gartner predicts that this consolidation will diminish the advantage traditionally held by “pure play” BI vendors.

Each trend is arguably self-evident to anyone who follows the BI market, even if you haven’t had the benefit of reading a fancy analyst report. But these trends are nevertheless important to be aware of as you’re charting your BI strategy for the short, mid-, and long term. I encourage you to read and enjoy the rest of this magically interesting report.