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Smaller BI Vendors Still Alive and Kicking

Robert Lendvai was as confused as anybody when he read RCPU's declaration that IBM's planned buyout of Cognos meant the end of business intelligence as we know it. The chief marketing office of Blink Logic, an Ottawa-based BI firm, even had a bit of a career crisis: "I wondered whether maybe I should resign," Lendvai said.

Hey, folks, he's just kidding. Lendvai's not going anywhere, and neither is his company. Blink Logic, an independent vendor whose leaders cut their teeth at Cognos, actually has a pretty cool idea: BI for BI. Cognos, Business Objects (recently acquired by SAP), SAS and the gang came up with BI so that executives could more easily drill into and use SQL data that previously only IT types knew how to find. It was a great idea, and it sold -- a burst of innovation at the early part of this decade met genuine customer need and voilĂ ! BI was big business.

Unfortunately, it was also...well, just big. And expensive. The applications that were supposed to (and did) ease a painful process actually became bloated and pretty difficult to use. They also ended up costing a lot of money, and they weren't easy to implement, either. "There's a good reason why two-thirds of the licenses of most BI platforms are sitting on the shelf," said Bill Stewart, a member of Blink Logic's product marketing team who bravely fought through a vicious cold to speak with RCPU.

In steps Blink Logic. It's a pure, Web-based, Software-as-a-Service play with nothing to install at the client site. It sits on top of a variety of platforms and provides a simple, front-end view of structured data (stuff residing in databases) as well as unstructured data (stuff roaming around in e-mails and the like). It can serve as a point of entry to BI for smaller companies or as a way for firms already invested in bigger BI systems to get more out of their implementations. It can sit on top of a Microsoft BI platform or work with Cognos applications.

What Blink Logic really does is deliver through a browser-based interface what BI was supposed to provide in the first place: a clear, manageable view of critical data. At some point, the bigger BI vendors largely lost their focus on simplicity of interface and user experience. Blink Logic intends to bring it back.

There are collaboration tools, user-customizable views and all sorts of other neat things in Blink Logic's offering -- and it's cheaper and easier to manage than a lot of heavier, software-intensive alternatives. That's one of the reasons why Fieldpoint Service Applications, a Gold Certified Partner also based in Ontario, sells Blink Logic to its clients, who mostly play in the technology services industry.

"BI has always been a cost-prohibitive thing for any of us who sell in the small-to-medium space," said Fieldpoint President Richard Smart (who goes by Rich -- meaning his name is Rich Smart, two adjectives most people would love to have associated with them). "If you want to partner with Cognos or the other big players, you've got to staff up for that. It becomes a whole part of your business. The fact that we've got a low-cost entry point for our customers is absolutely key."

Now, with the great BI consolidation of 2007, Blink Logic finds itself running into new competition: Oracle, SAP, IBM and, of course, Microsoft. But Lendvai doesn't look at those big vendors as competitors, only as data sources.

"We've never seen ourselves as competing directly with the BI platform vendors," he said. "We're not going to build OLAP servers. These guys are just a group of data sources for our product. As we grow the business, it could be any data source. We will sit on top of their stacks."

Blink Logic has put out the call to Microsoft partners -- it wants to work with them on development for the Microsoft BI and SharePoint services markets. And the upstart vendor sees in the consolidation around it nothing but opportunity.

"You cut the big trees down, that clears room for vigorous growth to come back in," Stewart said. "Those platforms are going to be tied up in how do they fit into the bigger story of their acquirer, but the rest of the industry is not going to be marking time while they make their minds up. It opens up a lot of opportunity."

So, it appears, Lendvai will keep his job after all.

Have a BI story of your own to tell? Tell it here: lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/28/2007 at 1:21 PM


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