After our conversation, Ajay posted an intriguing blog post on PivotLink's blog entitled "Is Reporting Overrated?" that has already got a great comments thread running including James Taylor (his excellent blog here) and Jerome Pineau (his excellent blog here):
Late last week I had lunch with Nenshad Bardoliwalla, an ex-VP from SAP’s Business Intelligence group. He has written a great book on Corporate Performance Management . He said (and I paraphrase)” that users don’t really know what to look for in a report and that information is useless without context. So even if you gave all the required reports to a customer they wouldn’t know all the right things to look for.” His point was that the BI industry needs much more than reports. Customers need guidance on what to look for.If you've read this blog or Driven to Perform: Risk-Aware Performance Management From Strategy Through Execution, you'll know that reporting is one small part of a very rich set of capabilities needed to manage a business effectively: goal setting, risk management, compliance management, initiative management, planning, budgeting, and forecasting, predictive analytics, data mining, simulation and other types of modeling, and optimization.
But as to reporting specifically, for as long as I've been in this industry, and from what I can tell, as long as this industry has been around, we have not been able to get more than 20% of the users in an organization to use query, reporting, analysis, etc. tools despite continuous attempts. We've made the reporting tools significantly easier to use, with attractive options available from SAP BusinessObjects, Oracle, and IBM Cognos having been available for years. We now have a new generation of SaaS BI players like PivotLink as well as Birst, and Good Data that also do a credible job of providing the functionality that the on-premise vendors do, but with the significant TCO advantages that SaaS can provide, with a much lower time to implement, compelling UIs, and nowhere near the manageability headaches of their on-premise counterparts. Will these newer BI tools be able to break the barrier of increasing the adoption of BI technologies in the enterprise?
While I have good friends at every single vendor above and wish all of them nothing but the utmost success, unfortunately, I don't believe so. I think even vendors with very low costs and very compelling options like the aforementioned SaaS BI vendors will still hit the 20% adoption wall because although their reporting capabilities are excellent, the metaphor of the report is not what end user's want. Reports, the kind that have a grid with a lot of numbers, a number of dimensions, a few metrics, etc. require too much work to create and too much work to interpret. If I'm a sales manager in the middle of a task and I have to look at the sales pipeline report, I have to expend a lot of cognitive effort to figure out if the right filters have been applied, what this number means versus another, etc. It's a very specific metaphor whose rightful place is on the analysts' desk, not on the desktop of every user in the enterprise. Those end users definitely need the information that is contained within those reports, but delivering it in the report format is unlikely to work, no matter how easy it is to create. But, I readily acknowledge that it is too early to tell. I am an empiricist and always welcome contrarian opinions and more importantly data that refutes my hypotheses.
For those users in the enterprise who DO need reports, such as analysts, I think the SaaS BI offerings like PivotLink's and Good Data's are very compelling from a value perspective compared to their on-premise brethren, and all have their sweet spots in terms of differentiation. But that post is for another day!