So what ever happened to “BI for the Masses”?  If I had to make a guess after attending last week’s first Business Intelligence Conference put on by Microsoft, I’d say it has become “BI for the Rich Guy.” Now don’t get me wrong; I think every company can achieve significant benefits from well -thought-out BI efforts. Microsoft’s integrated technology platform, with all the tools to develop and deliver BI to all levels of the organization, brings advanced BI implementations within the grasp of a lot more organizations.  However, the focus of this conference seemed to be the value of BI for the large enterprise. The early adopter companies that Microsoft brought on stage as case studies, were large companies that already have best practices integrated into their organization, and that currently align their corporate strategy with the technology to measure and track their business. These companies already use BI to drive growth in their business and they’ve been quick to implement this integrated technology platform offered in the SQL Server 2005 and the new Office 2007 toolsets to improve and expand existing BI efforts.  

 From the BI vendor side, it’s apparent that BI is going to be a hugegrowth area for the big consulting/integration firms working with theseenterprises. During conversations with vendors including HitachiConsulting, Unisys, and Avanade, all expressed they are banking onexplosive growth in the BI consulting area and are making investments inpersonnel and technology training to support this growth. They arepoised to help large enterprises push BI to the “roles at the edge.”This is apparently the new catch phrase replacing ”the masses.” When Iasked Hitachi about their market segment, they said they’re targetingthe Fortune 1000 (the large- to upper- midmarket) businesses. It’s worthnoting that Hitachi defines upper- midmarket as companies with $500million to $1 billion in revenues. Wow—$1 billion in revenues!

This is all great news for our IT industry; however, I kept wonderingwhere does this leave the small and medium businesses (SMBs) of theworld? Some quick Googling of IT spending trends seems to support mythinking.  I admit I didn’t fork out forthe full reports (and abstracts are just that, only abstracts), but itseems to confirm that there is growing research on the impact of SMBexpenditures in IT on the overall economy.Studies such as The Yankee Group’sThe SMB IT Outlook for Computing, Networking and Mobilitytalk abouttheever increasing expenditures for IT by the SMB market in the nextseveral years due to decreasing expenditures by the large enterprises,an improving economic outlook, the increased mobility of employees inthis market segment, and a better-defined value proposition for usingtechnology.Another report by Forrester research onUS IT Spending: Enterprise Versus SMBshowsIT spending by SMBs grew to $320 billion in 2004, representing 44percent of all US IT spending. It also shows the fastest growth in ITspending coming from the SMB market, not enterprise-class companies.This seems similar to projections in the database market as a whole.Microsoft uses the same rationale in looking at the sales of SQL Server2005--they’re not as big as Oracle and DB2 but they are growing faster.(See the editorial,BI Drives SQL Server Growth, by Michael Otey.)

So, what does it all mean, and how does this relate back to my question about what happened to “BI for the masses?” To me, the SMB market is “the masses”. And they’re a market segment that was conspicuously absent from the picture at the BI conference. When Hitachi talks about the “roles at the edge” in a Fortune 1000 enterprise, they’re talking pretty deep penetration, maybe 10 or more layers below the CEO.  Granted there are significant advantages for an organization to be able to generate data from that level as well as push data, for operational management, out to that level.  But, take the SMB where there are only two or three layers between the CEO and the ”edge.” Imagine the impact of BI connecting those layers and you can see the immediate and potential value to a business like that. My hope is that BI becomes a reality for all of these businesses who can use the technology to exploit their core competencies, bring best and repeatable practices into their everyday operations, and really drive value into our economy as a whole.