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Critiquing the Gartner BI and analytics MQ

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy February 7, 2016
Gartner is once again in the middle of a fierce discussion around BI.

After I published my critique of Tableau's Q4 2015 results, I got a steady stream of people asking me if I'd seen Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms. The answer was no because I often find those reports contentious at best and downright wrong at worst. The problem for everyone in the buy cycle is that a Gartner MQ has become the de facto tick box item with which IT decision makers can cover themselves. An MQ is also the place people go to source what they hope will be their next safe buy. So when Gartner makes a major switch, as it has on this occasion, balloons go up in many places.

This from Mico Yuk, who is never short of a straight opinion and who is wedded to the SAP scene:

Others were less restrained:

What's the problem? There are a few. As Yuk alludes, Design Studio is not used as a reporting tool yet that is how Gartner has chosen to classify it and exclude from the rankings analysis.  This from SAP: 

SAP BusinessObjects Design Stuido allows for intuitive design of centrally governable analytic content ranging from guided analytics to sophisticated OLAP applications and aggregated dashboards.

The bigger problem for me though is that Gartner has taken a 'kitchen sink' approach to the topic while also changing the definition under which it assesses vendors. The report starts with:

The BI and analytics platform market's multiyear shift from IT-led enterprise reporting to business-led self-service analytics has passed the tipping point. Most new buying is of modern, business-user-centric platforms forcing a new market perspective, significantly reordering the vendor landscape.

When you look at the world with those optics, the selection process and outcomes start to become self evident. Gartner then goes on to explain how the change in the way BI is acquired has led to an expansion in interest among vendors and the emergence of names that would have been unfamiliar just five years ago. These are what it terms Mode 2 vendors. It also cautions that organizations should not ditch what they've been using - which is certainly fair enough - but instead:

Gartner's position is that organizations should initiate new BI and analytics projects using a modern platform that supports a Mode 2 delivery model, in order to take advantage of market innovation and to foster collaboration between IT and the business through an agile and iterative approach to solution development.

Gatner MQ BI
Gartner MQ BI and analytics platforms 2016

Gartner MQ BI and analytics platforms 2015

There are lots of problems with this statement and you can see what it has meant. Above are the MQs for 2015 and 2016 which show a radical rethinking of the topic and, an even more radical repositioning of the players Gartner selected.

The platform question looms large in my mind. A platform has specific meaning in IT that is not the same as that for a business user. In IT, a platform is something upon which other things sit. A business user could care less. This allows Gartner to throw all sorts of vendors into the pot meaning that we end up with comparisons between apples, oranges and bananas. It says Tableau is a leader. I've no doubt that is true from a market perspective because as I've said before: a combination of Excel and Tableau has become the de facto combination for many businesses. But Tableau is not a platform in the sense IT understands it. That, in turn means that when it looks to expand across the enterprise it can follow one of two paths.

The preferred route is to keep plugging away with those fans inside the lines of business. The second is to engage IT. It is this second approach where things come unstuck because, as one colleague correctly pointed out, you can't govern spreadsheets. This means that people will have different definitions for even the simplest thing like 'customer,' depending on their analytical focus. Try parsing that lot in the IT department. It's not going to happen so easily any time soon.

The second issue is that Tableau has been characterized as a visualization tool first and foremost. The company itself says: Tableau helps people see and understand their data. Conversations around the networks on this led to questions around functionality or rather the lack thereof, with many saying that while they love Tableau, they wish they could do more.

The third issue I see comes from the inclusion of Alteryx. That company is not a platform either but a sophisticated ETL tool that can allow power users to self serve the data they need for other tools like Tableau, Microsoft and Qlik. Alteryx is therefore an enabling technology you likely can't live without but which does nothing to help you make a buying decision for the front end presentation where Tableau does best, but not always.

Moving on, I was surprised to see Salesforce included in the overall selection. Gartner explains this away as a niche provider and I can almost 'get' that if it wasn't for the fact that until very recently, Wave just wasn't priced for its mass market but for a very small sliver of Salesforce's large customers. Even then and as Gartner points out, Salesforce is only playing to its own audience in large measure. It's not a solution you can bolt onto anything else.

To be fair on Gartner, they have made a solid effort at explaining their rationale and, given there are some 500 vendors globally, vying for attention, narrowing down to this selection is a valiant effort. The care with which Gartner has made its understanding known is also commendable, even if some of those explanations are questionable.

Another problem with the report is that it is static. It is a snapshot at a point in time that is biased in favor of one constituency and which does not, in my view, adequately recognize the necessary and sometimes difficult tensions that exist between IT and lines of business when it comes to rationalizing or consolidating BI tools in an enterprise setting. I think Gartner has done the industry a major favor by decoupling the reporting element and focusing upon the modern approach to BI. But that's not enough.

In short. buyers can draw some good conclusions from reading the report but you have to be very careful to ensure that you understand exactly what Gartner is saying and how that squares with your understanding of solutions. Where the two don't match then you must do more digging.

Image credits: Gartner MQs ©

Disclosure: SAP and Salesforce are premier partners at time of writing

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