Spotfire: Making Innovative Gains in the BI Game

News Analysis: Has the Web 2.0 phenomenon arrived in the enterprise via business intelligence? BI specialist company Spotfire and some industry heavyweights say so.

The business intelligence market is an extremely crowded space. Companies such as Oracle, Hyperion Solutions, SAS Institute, SAP, Microsoft, Actuate, InformationBuilders and Cognos have some form of BI application, either sitting on top of its own database technology or as a stand-alone product.

For very large enterprises, these BI platforms may be a part of even larger, more complex ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), sales, human resources and financial systems.

Spotfire, a BI vendor based in Somerville, Mass., has been in the data management game for 10 years, but has by all accounts been a lesser-known player in a busy, complex market. Spotfire is not a major database or data warehousing company, and is not selling ERP, CRM and other major business applications, but it appears to have a valuable niche.

What makes Spotfire unique is more visual approach to data analysis and streamlined access to a variety of data sources, the company said.

"Traditional BI organizes data, reports on it and lets it be queried. Sometimes it provides a small degree of interactivity and customization. Because this approach is optimized for ITs control of information, users often find these products unapproachable and not especially relevant to the specific business problem theyre trying to solve," Roger Oberg, chief marketing officer of Spotfire, told eWEEK.

As an example, a pharmaceutical company may need a way to better discover undesirable drug effects in the R&D phase of a drug it wants to bring to market. That company certainly will have a major amount of data to sort through from a variety of sources, but it may not have an intelligent application that can plug in and help view the intricate effects, patterns and rhythms of drug interaction during testing.

"Spotfire desktop clients display large and complex amounts of data in interactive visuals like bar charts, scatter plots, line charts, box plots, maps, multidimensional tables, etc. that arent just static images but can be juxtaposed and interrogated by the user in a number of ways to reveal interesting patterns [and] outliers," Oberg said.

Spotfire said its platform handles the kind of complexity that is driven by what its users want and need resolved. With an ability to use existing data sources like Oracle applications and SQL Server, and requiring no data store, Spotfire said it believes it is in good position to add value to a wide variety of real business challenges utilizing databases and applications that companies have already made their platforms of choice.

"By connecting to existing data sources, it leverages the investments theyve made in data management, traditional BI and spreadsheets," Oberg said.

Spotfires customers include companies such as Advanced Micro Devices, Royal Dutch Shell, Texas Instruments, Toshiba America, Nestle, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, and Chevron, as well as a number of government agencies involved in both civilian and intelligence services.

Some research analysts agree with Spotfires assessment of the future of BI as being more "Web 2.0"-like, and said the company is answering real needs of the market.

According to Kurt Schlegel, principal BI analyst at Gartner, Spotfire is filling a void in the market by providing a "much more flexible way to analyze data" that is "more user-driven."

On Jan. 26, Spotfire was recognized as a top BI vendor in Gartners "Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms" for the first quarter of 2007, its first such recognition since 2004.

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Gartners Magic Quadrant focuses on broader BI platforms that are applied to business processes and not just delivering reports, while also focusing on BI vendors that are offering innovative technologies. To be included in the Magic Quadrant, Spotfire had to meet the following requirements: to accumulate over $30 million in BI revenue, to be able to successfully deliver at least eight of 12 BI Platform capabilities and to be able to deliver BI deployments that span across the enterprise.

"Spotfire provides users with a way to analyze data using interactive visualization to discover new insights that drive business performance, while also delivering on some of the emerging technologies that are very significant, such as memory and interactive visualization," Schlegel told eWEEK.

When asked about Spotfires place in the market, Boris Evelson, principal BI analyst for Forrester Research, told eWEEK, "Spotfire occupies a very special segment—they excel when data volumes exceed the capability of a user to analyze information in a structured way."

Evelson went on to say that when data sets are so large (he used the example of tick-by-tick prices of all financial instruments on all exchanges over the last 10 years) that comparing them would take considerable effort, Spotfire offers the ability to "present all data points visually, so that one can detect a pattern and then drill in to details to research what the visual pattern means."

In regards to the future of Spotfire within the highly competitive BI market, Gartners Schlegel said, "There is always the innovators dilemma—that other BI vendors will try to copy what Spotfire is doing."

Oberg said he feels that with its inclusion in the Magic Quadrant, Spotfire is in a prime position to be recognized and valued. "Gartner puts us on the BI platform map and those who value Gartners expertise will look at how Spotfire can help businesses with an analytics platform," he said. "Weve been getting this business for years, but as the BI market has shifted towards the user and away from command and control architectures, what we do is converging with where BI is going."

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