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Gartner's Sallam: Top BI vendors poised for next disruption

Leading analytics vendors appear poised to remain innovative as AI becomes pervasive in BI, Gartner's Rita Sallam explains in a discussion about BI's present and future.

A new generation of business intelligence is coming, and the BI vendors best positioned to succeed may be some of the same ones who were the innovators during the most recent disruption.

According to Rita Sallam, analyst at Gartner, Tableau, which, along with Qlik, helped move analytics forward from reports to data visualizations, may not suffer the same fate as some past innovators thanks to its recent acquisition by Salesforce.

Microsoft Power BI, meanwhile, should benefit from being part of the vast Microsoft universe that includes Azure Machine Learning and Azure Synapse Analytics, among other products.

Gartner named both Tableau and Microsoft Leaders -- the highest ranking -- in the firm's 2020 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms, which was released on Feb. 11. Gartner also named Qlik and ThoughtSpot Leaders. In all, Gartner, included 22 BI vendors in the report, with three ranked Challengers, six named Visionaries and nine ranked Niche Players.

While the Gartner rankings are influential, other tech research and consulting firms produce similarly widely read reports. They include the Forrester Wave, IDC's Trackers and Dresner Advisory Services market study reports.

Sallam recently discussed Gartner's report, current trends and trends that will arise over the next few years, as well as BI vendors poised for success.

In Part I of a two-part Q&A, she detailed what separated the Leaders in the Gartner survey from the rest, as well as BI vendors that showed improvement over the past year. In Part II, she discusses trends such as consolidation and augmented intelligence, and the BI vendors that could be the Leaders of the future.

One of the dominant stories of the past year was consolidation. What do the acquisitions of some top BI vendors say about how the industry is viewed?

Rita SallamRita Sallam

Rita Sallam: Overall, the consolidation in the space has three implications. The first one is that it's an indication that there is some mainstreaming in the market -- the disruption that Tableau, Qlik and even Tibco Spotfire pioneered in the early 2000s around visual-based exploration has become very mainstream.

The second thing, as a result of that, instead of a focus on what has been -- which is the analyst with a visualization paradigm -- you'll likely see an acceleration toward the next disruption in the market. That will be around augmented analytics where machine learning and AI are being used within the platforms to automate many aspects of data preparation and insight generation and even insight sharing via automated data storytelling or automated narration complementing visualization.

The third implication is basically the rise of cloud ecosystems. You see Microsoft and Azure as a complete ecosystem of data management, analytics and BI, data science and machine learning. Google, same thing. The acquisition of Looker begins to round out their portfolio of data management. Salesforce of course is leveraging Tableau to complement its cloud-based application portfolio.

With respect to Salesforce's acquisition of Tableau, the deal was only completed in November so it's too soon to say what effect it might have on Tableau, but a year from now, how do you think being part of Salesforce might affect Tableau?

Sallam: Well, it's hard to say. But there are some potentially strong positives.

Salesforce was one of the early innovators around augmented analytics having acquired one of the early innovative startups, called BeyondCore, and integrated that functionality into Einstein Analytics. Potentially, while Tableau made an acquisition of a company called Empirical maybe 18 months ago and delivered product around augmented analytics this past November in the form Explain Data, there is potential for Tableau to leverage some of the innovations around the Einstein portfolio of capabilities into Tableau. Potentially, the Tableau product can become even more user-friendly, even more disruptive, even more focused on the consumer. It is really hard for a company that's pioneered one disruption -- like visual-based exploration -- to then be one of the leaders of the next phase of disruption. It's called the innovator's dilemma. Companies who were leaders in blocked ice, dry ice, were not the leaders in refrigeration, and it's in every technology. Potentially the acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce will help them jump the innovation barrier that often faces innovators when moving into the next phase of disruption.

Potentially the acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce will help them jump the innovation barrier that often faces innovators when moving into the next phase of disruption.
Rita SallamAnalyst, Gartner

On the flip side, there is duplication between Einstein Analytics and Tableau, and so they will have to work out how they rationalize that duplication. Sometimes when companies post-acquisition focus on integration and rationalization, it can take away resources that would otherwise go to innovation. We just don't know how it will go.

Beyond consolidation, what are the important trends shaping BI right now, and separating the top BI vendors from the ones struggling to adapt?

Sallam: I think what we've seen over the past year is some convergence -- convergence on multiple fronts. Companies in the past might have been happy to have their traditional enterprise reporting sit alongside their modern analytics and BI platform, but today and over the past year we've seen companies want to have traditional reporting features like paginated reports, pixel-perfect reports and large-scale report distribution available within an analytics and BI platform.

Similarly, we're seeing some convergence between data science and machine learning platforms and analytics and BI platforms. Within an analytics and BI platform, a citizen data scientist enabled by augmented analytics … is able to essentially use augmented data science and machine learning to build data science and machine learning models. You're starting to see more and more advanced analytics features available within analytics and BI products via drag-and-drop functions or workflows that make it easier for a less skilled user to take advantage of advanced analytics.

And what trends do you think will be most important over the next three to five years, let's say, that will be driving the market by 2025?

Sallam: What we'll likely see over the next three to five years is a shift toward more dynamic data storytelling. The initial interface into our analytics content will not necessarily be the traditional dashboard where I look at pre-defined KPIs, but rather dynamic insights or data stories that are generated for a specific user in their context so they don't have to start with a dashboard, do analysis as to why something has happened, and then share those findings with someone else.

So three to five years from now you'll likely see a decline in the role that a dashboard plays in the overall user experience. In exchange, you'll likely see, enabled by augmented analytics -- enabled by conversational interfaces, enabled by business monitoring -- user experiences that feature more dynamic data stories being delivered to people when they need them and without them having to do a lot of manual exploration to get to those insights.

Are there particular BI vendors you see as best positioned to take advantage of emerging trends and be Leaders in the Magic Quadrant five years from now?

Sallam: What I can say is that definitely the Leaders are well-positioned, and that's why they're Leaders, but I would also predict that you will likely see other vendors, either ones that are already on the Magic Quadrant or innovative startups that are not yet on the Quadrant emerging and having a significant impact on the market because they will offer capabilities that address this augmented consumer in a better way.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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