App Vendors Meet User Demand with BI Tools

Products can aid upgrades, but they lack support for disparate data sources

To meet increasing user demand for business intelligence, application and database vendors are muscling in on the BI tool market that has long been dominated by third-party suppliers.

For example, Whirlpool Corp. has opted to freeze new investments in BI tools from Business Objects SA, Information Builders Inc. and Cognos Inc., said Brian Murphy, director of geographic information systems development and business solutions at the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based maker of home appliances.

The company plans to replace those tools with an updated version of SAP AG 's BI suite, called NetWeaver Business Intelligence, which is slated to ship this spring with NetWeaver 2004S.

Whirlpool has been using the new SAP BI tools since November as part of a limited test. That effort has already led the company to phase out Cognos BI tools at its Australian unit, he said.

Murphy said the new version of SAP's BI tools improves on earlier releases by closing gaps in front-end visualization and reporting capabilities.

Whirpool will continue to use predictive analysis tools from BI vendor SAS Institute Inc. to mine unstructured data because the SAP products focus mostly on structured data, Murphy said.

Replacing most of its third-party BI tools with SAP software will ease Whirpool's integration requirements and eliminate the need for employees with multiple skill sets, he added.

John I. Haas Inc., a Washington-based producer of hops used in beer manufacturing, decided a year ago to buy BI tools from Oracle Corp. rather than from traditional BI vendors. The company wanted to avoid the disconnect that often occurs when back-end software is upgraded before the BI vendor can support the update, said Kyle Lambert, vice president of information systems.

Haas plans to upgrade the BI tools in April when it installs Oracle's E-Business Suite 11i.10.

John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, said the enterprise application vendors¿traditionally focused on transaction proc-essing rather than analysis¿have increased their focus on BI as users buy more tools from the BI-centric vendors.

"The enterprise vendors saw this as money they were leaving on the table," he said. As a result, the traditional BI players are "getting knocked around a little bit" by the enterprise application vendors. Multiple Data Sources

However, Hagerty also noted that the traditional BI vendors have the advantage of supporting disparate data sources, whereas the platform providers generally focus on their own data sources.

IBM 's BI tool, the DB2 Data Warehouse Edition, overcomes some of the issues facing other platform vendors by supporting multivendor data sources.

Todd Grinaway, director of data warehousing and senior IT manager at a large health insurance company in Pennsylvania, plans to use the IBM tool set, unveiled last year, to access data from multiple sources.

Grinaway also noted that using the IBM BI tools means that there "is one less finger-pointing exercise I have to go through" when something goes wrong.

Nonetheless, the firm still uses third-party tools where appropriate, he said. For instance, the company plans to continue using BI tools from Business Objects for enterprise reporting.

Upping the BI Ante

In addition to SAP, these ERP vendors are also updating BI tools:

Lawson Software: It's in the process of developing a line of analytical applications that will be embedded in the company's enterprise applications.

Epicor Software Corp.: The midmarket ERP vendor is working on building a single SQL Server-based data warehouse that will run across all its product lines. The warehouse is due out later this year.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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