Balanced Insight, a small startup founded as a consultancy in 2003, sees a market opening in automating and speeding up the beginning stages of BI projects. They are not alone in thinking so: AMR has asserted that 43.7% of typical BI project cost is labor (approximately $250k to $500k.) False precision aside, the argument that the requirements, analysis and design stages are underserved by current products is a reasonable one. Balanced Insight’s product, Consensus, has a very specific, targeted ambition: enable the stakeholders to decide on the meaning of data they want for BI projects, and then automate the generation of metadata, cubes, and other artifacts and reuse the definitions in other BI projects. Balanced Insight asserts they can reduce project time and people costs by half or better; they think the time is right to launch their product more widely.
Following a stakeholder discussion of business terms as the questions to be asked are brainstormed, Consensus generates metadata constructs schemas, cubes, etc. to get to those answers in the tool of choice: Business Objects, Cognos, Microsoft SQL Server or Pentaho. It creates an “information package” that is fed to the Consensus Integrator to create the ultimate deliverables for the selected product. Demos are available here that shows the creation of a Cognos solution, or one here for ProClarity on SQL Server Analysis Services using the same business scenario and the development tools that are relevant, such as Visual Studio in the latter case. (Don’t mind the odd voice on the Cognos version, which sounds computer generated; it’s not.) Consensus uses a workflow designed to help align, communicate and educate – roleplays guide the non-technical users through the business issues. An online knowledge base persists after the prototypes and production pieces are complete, acting as a resource for continued development and education, and as a jumping-off point for future projects. Data sources supported include Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, Sybase, MySQL and PostgreSQL.
The company built Consensus out of its experience in providing consulting services to help build BI solutions, as a way to regularize and speed up its own processes. It soon became evident that there was a commercial opportunity, and now, three years in, Balanced Insight has a small group of marquee customers, including Nike, Key Bank and First Energy.
Consensus will not have the field to itself; IT Market Strategy is seeing more and more firms tackling the perennial problem of bridging business and technical definitions. Some have larger ambitions; the scope of IBM’s vision, for example, is comprehensive from design through deployment and beyond to archiving, and they deliver BI tools as well. Kalido’s “model-based governance” suite also targets more stages of the process, with an eye to effective ongoing management of master data and the warehouse. Both have broad scope that extends beyond BI design activities, although both also attempt to provide early ROI with quick deliverables, and build on them with subsequent projects. Balanced Insight continues to partner with both [Edited 5/27/09 – Kalido tells us they are no longer a partner and have not been for some time] IBM in its services business; such co-opetition is not unusual, but also has risks. Balanced Insight faces these and other large competitors with formidable go-to-market capabilities, and will struggle to gain a foothold as it ramps. But the solution appears sound; it is highly focused, cost-effective, and worth a look.
[Edit May 14, 2009] Peter J Thomas has written a more detailed discussion of Balanced Insight on his blog here. Peter is a knowledgeable guy and his comments are well worth your time. He may be a bit too demanding of their marketing – they set up a dichotomy between what they suggest may be common practice and themselves This is a good way to stress your strengths as a vendor. Peter believes more IT people follow good practice (like the kind he and others correctly recommend), and they are overstating the case. He may be right. On the other hand, maybe bad practice is more widespread than he thinks. We don’t have data – it would make for an interesting study!