Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gartner's Business Intelligence Conference

I’m just back from Gartner’s BI conference in Chicago and I feel energized. First of all, let me mention that I founded this very conference in 2003 and chaired it until I left Gartner in 2005. So, I was honored and delighted to be invited back to deliver a keynote on Thursday with “Mr. Balanced Scorecard” himself, Dr. David P. Norton, in addition to presenting at a “power breakfast” and a doing a book signing.

I was impressed with how the conference has grown since 2005. With over 1,200 attendees and more than 50 vendors on the show floor – it is the biggest vendor-neutral BI/EPM show in the world. When we started the conference in 2003, it was at the Sheraton in Chicago. After three years – and growing from 400 attendees to 800, it moved to the Hyatt. Now at 1,200 attendees, Gartner will be moving it to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, in Maryland, for 2009.

Unlike when I was chairing the conference, I had plenty of time to talk to people and even attend some sessions. Here are some of the things that I observed:

Even though many of the sessions were designated “advanced sessions”, most attendees were first timers and were there to begin learning about business intelligence, data warehousing and performance management. This confirms my belief that, while vendors consolidate and make for a more mature supplier market, user adoption and penetration is still in its infancy. Absent a real BI strategy, these organizations are rife with the misuse of spreadsheets and other personal productivity tools. To cater to them, Gartner offered tutorials and even some workshops this year.

Eighty percent (or more) of the attendees came from IT departments. The rest (presumably) were business users. Gartner has been trying to encourage its traditional following to bring a user “buddy” with them by offering discounts. Having said this, much of the content was oriented towards IT, not business. Among the most popular sessions: data warehousing and master data management – i.e., the “plumbing of BI”.

Some of the attendees that I spoke with felt frustrated by their inability to take what they learned and change the status quo of their organizations. This is nothing new and underscores the fact that success with BI and EPM requires much more than architecture and technology. In fact, while it might be easier to buy yet-another-tool, it is often the wrong approach. Change requires vision and leadership at the highest levels of the organization. Those who have read my book, The Performance Management Revolution (John Wiley & Sons), know that I have focused predominately upon organization, culture, politics and method as the obstacles or enablers of “information democracy”.

Others attendees were sent with a real mandate to supply better information to management. Here I see the potential to change management’s perception of BI and EPM. However, shifting from a tactical request for better information to a performance-driven culture is fraught with risks and challenges. Working with Finance and establishing a competency center outside of IT can help. Gartner had at least two sessions on competency centers. The one I went to was extremely well attended. However, at my “power breakfast” I surveyed the audience and found that only a small minority of them had a competency center in place.

With some of the changing market dynamics, I was pleased to see sessions on “open source” BI and DW and software-as-a-service (SaaS). However, to my great surprise, when polled during the MQ Power Session, none of the attendees indicated that they were using any open source products for DW, DI or BI. A few seemed to be exploring SaaS. Perhaps those were the few business users, as most IT folk view SaaS as a problem. And, while the “mega vendors” (e.g., IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP) were often mentioned, I found no in-depth or critical discussion of their offerings, strategies or relative merits.

All-in-all, it was a great conference which was very well received by attendees and vendors alike. And, given the imperative by management to improve decision making and access to information, I suspect that 2009 will see continued strong demand – with the indoctrination of the next crop of “newbies” to DW, DI, BI and EPM.

And, don't forget to check out my website for details on articles, speaking engagements, presentation abstracts, my book and more!


  1. Howard, I wish I was there!
    Did you hear much/any talk of a reduction in investment in IT/BI/EPM given the economy? Or are people seeing that these are strategic technologies/processes that can potentially help them manage out of a downturn?

  2. Ron,

    My impression is that projects continue to be funded. However, in discussions with vendors they tell me that sales cycles are lengthening a bit. That leads me to believe that many will use existing technology. After all, many organizations haven't yet absorbed all of the "shelfware" they've bought over the last 5 years.



  3. Howard,

    I attended you power breakfast as well as keynote along with Dr Norton. Your sessions were fantastic and your book on Performance Management Revolution is the best in class and is worth reading by every IT and Business professional in today's information democracy world.

    Chandra Kapireddy
    Chief Architect, D2I3 Inc

  4. Chandra,

    Very kind of you to say so.

    It was a pleasure to have met you!