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Issue Date: October 2007

Q&A: Howard Dresner, the Godfather of business intelligence

11 October 2007
Madan Sheina

Howard Dresner talks to ComputerWire on what is big in BI and performance management today and why he switched sides.
Dresner is widely credited with coining the term 'business intelligence' while an analyst at IT research firm Gartner. He certainly has the credentials to be called a founding father after dedicating much of his life to researching BI technologies and trends, advising corporations and vendors and shaping the market.
After a 13-year stint at Gartner, Dresner jumped from the analyst frying pan into the vendor fire, joining Hyperion Solutions, a leading BI and performance management vendor, in 2005 as its first chief strategy officer.
After Hyperion was acquired by Oracle for $3,3 billion this April, Dresner left to set-up his own one-man industry analysis and strategy consulting firm, Dresner Advisory Services. He works from a home-office in New Hampshire.
Q. You coined the term BI well before decision support systems hit the business computing mainstream. Do you think it has stood the test of time?
A: Stood the test of time? Indeed it has! I just did a quick Google search of 'business intelligence' and got 123 million items returned. Granted that this is somewhat imprecise, but it does indicate that BI has become mainstream.
Q. Everyone seems to be talking about performance management these days. What is the difference?
A: Enterprise performance management, or EPM, builds upon BI. In fact, you cannot have EPM without BI. EPM takes BI a step further and includes things like modelling and planning. These two disciplines add context and accountability to the equation in a way that BI cannot.
Q. You are putting the finishing touches on a book called 'The Performance Management Revolution' which is due out this autumn. What is the story and the message?
A: The key theme is that 'information democracy', through performance management, is achievable today. However, organisations must be willing to make the needed investments not just in technology but in skills, methods, organisation and culture. My books covers all of this and more providing some solid and practical advice for those truly wanting to succeed with EPM.
Q. BI has been around for a while. So how come relatively few people are using them today? Where have vendors gone wrong?
A: It is true that in 2007 penetration of BI is not at the level that I would have expected by now. However, we are in better shape than we were 10 years ago. Why has progress been so slow? There are many reasons.
However, the top reason is lack of a coordinated strategy for BI that is driven by C-level executives. So much of BI is implemented at a departmental level or by IT as '"self service' reporting. Neither of these approaches will deliver BI in a strategic and comprehensive way.
One approach that can help is the establishment of a competency centre or centre of excellence to establish and promote uniform best practices for BI and EPM within an organisation.
Q. You have always said that BI canno work without the right culture in place. Why is that so important?
A: To be effective with BI, organisations should have a culture that values fact-based analysis and the open sharing of information ie, transparency. This goes against human nature as most believe, like Sir Francis Bacon, that 'knowledge is power'. Until we can overcome this natural tendency, an 'information democracy' cannot flourish.
Q. After scrutinising BI vendors and the market with a critical eye for so long, what motivated you to join a BI vendor, and why Hyperion Solutions?
A: After spending 13 years at Gartner, I wanted a new challenge and the appeal of applying the advice that I had been dispensing was irresistible. In my professional life I have always believed it is important to have both fun and impact. Hyperion offered both. My time at Hyperion was great fun. I worked with some wonderful and talented people and I learned a great deal. And, I would say we succeeded in changing the landscape of the market. You cannot hope to have more impact than that.
Q. And now you are an independent consultant once again. Why?
A: My new company, Dresner Advisory Services, LLC offers another great opportunity to be challenged while having fun and learning albeit on a somewhat different scale than Hyperion or Gartner. And, I am once again working with some terrific people and organisations - applying many of the lessons I have learned to my own company.
Q. Consolidation in the BI market; what do you make of it and who does it really benefit - vendors, shareholders, or customers?
A: Consolidation is the natural order of markets. It is inevitable. As for the beneficiaries, that varies deal-by-deal. Sometimes everyone benefits. Sometimes only the shareholders benefit. The bottom line is that not all acquisitions are sensible.
Q. Was Oracle's decision to buy Hyperion a sensible move?
A: I think the Oracle acquisition made sense from several perspectives.
First, the Hyperion products filled some critical gaps and Hyperion employees brought some important skills, especially in finance. From an Hyperion perspective, Oracle brings tremendous resources and global scale.
Q. Who do you think is the next big acquisition target and likely buyer?
A: There are always buyers and sellers out there. If you want to figure out who is next, find a large company seeking to expand its presence in the BI market and an existing leader in BI. There may also be some 'strategic combinations' emerging, since size does matter.
Q. Now that you are an independent who do you think will dominate the BI landscape over the next five years and who will fall by the wayside?
A: The answer is not that simple. Although consolidation of established players will probably continue, new and innovative vendors are always sprouting up. I have met a few of them and they represent what could be the future of BI. So, for every established vendor that 'falls', there are a myriad of new vendors breaking into the market.
Q. What BI companies have particularly impressed you over the years?
A: In general, I am impressed by various aspects of most BI companies that are around today. All are quite clever, but in different ways. It might be in technology, business practices, management, marketing, etc.
For example, smaller companies often have an innovative technology while larger ones may distinguish themselves through brilliant channel strategy or marketing campaigns. All can be learned from.
Q. What trends in BI really excite you at the moment?
A: The most intriguing phenomenon to me is 'software as a service', or SaaS. It may sound like hype, but I have seen a number of vendors show success in selling and delivering SaaS solutions. The down side of this is continued fragmentation as their strategy is often to sell at the departmental level. If SaaS evolves properly, and embraces SOA and data interchange standards it could be a new and important paradigm for BI.
Q. Which BI CEO would you like to be stuck in an elevator with, and which one not?
A: Nice try. But, seriously and without naming names, there are very few that I would not want to spend time with. The BI industry is fortunate to have great talent in the ranks of CEO.
Source: Computergram

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