Few events offer as much promise as The Data Warehouse Institute World Conferences. With a deep educational focus, TDWI provides important opportunities for users. For vendors, the event offers one of the most focused, serious prospect audiences possible. My expectations, tempered though they were by economic realities, were still fairly high for this year’s San Diego event. Unfortunately, the drop in volume was greater than all of us expected, the number of announcements from the vendor community was low, and the content focus seemed a bit out of date.
Some of the observers I spoke to were particularly down about the attendance, calling it “devastating.” Some sessions (even all day ones, typically a mainstay) were very thinly attended – single digits – and one wonders how the presenters felt about the size of their audiences. That said, my conversations with the attendees elicited very favorable comparisons to the Gartner BI event, which several people said doesn’t offer enough actionable, hands-on content.
A real high point for me was Cindi Howson’s “Developing Your BI Tool Strategy and BI Bake Off” session. Cindi’s BI Scorecard site is a great resource for deep product evaluations, and the session didn’t disappoint. Those who subscribe get a deep, hands-on look at feature and function, and in the TDWI session Cindi talked about a framework for assessing several aspects of BI offerings, as well as a way to weight the importance of various facets of what has become a bewildering rich array of details to consider. As someone with a good deal of experience using a similar method – the Forrester Wave – I was impressed by the richness and depth of the work. A few quibbles I had with the content – such as the assertion that SAP “has no database” – paled by comparison to the overall richness and quality.
The second part of the session was the well-known “bakeoff.” Three vendors are put through their paces responding to a specific set of scenarios and tasks, and the audience votes. IBM Cognos, Oracle and SAS were the participants for this go-round, and Cognos repeatedly came out on top as we looked at query, reporting, OLAP, architecture, dashboarding, administration and predictive analytics (PA). Most features were not well suited to show SAS off, so it was no surprise that they did not do well until the PA part of the exercise- which they dominated with100% of the votes. The presenter counts for a lot, and Oracle might have done better with 2 participants like its competitors, allowing a split between the technical and the marketing pitch that lets both focus on their job. Oracle’s patter was a bit too glib and the demos a bit too thin, and their results thus a bit lower than I expected based on the actual products, which did not show as well here as they could.
The exhibit hall floor looked sparsely populated to me. But my overall impression was somewhat more sanguine on the floor, buoyed in part by comments from executives in several of the vendor booths. “We were pleased,” said Vertica’s Dave Menninger. “The people we spoke to had real projects they expected to do soon. Lower quantity, but good quality.” I heard similar sentiments from Kickfire, Netezza, and others. For these smaller players, TDWI is a very valuable opportunity for exposure and they make the most of it. And deals are done between vendors as well; several discussed partner conversations they started – or completed – here.
TDWI is a great opportunity for analysts to meet with vendors and get multiple briefings in a short time. I had excellent conversations with SAS, ParAccel, Lyzasoft, Kognitio, and friends and colleagues like Claudia Imhoff, Mark Madsen, Neil Raden, John Myers, Ron Powell, Shawn Rogers and others. I’ll blog further about some of the vendor conversations. I might have already done so, but I was slowed a bit by a disappointing press room, which had no phones, no connectivity, no power strips, few press releases, no beverages or snacks for the hard working scribes, and was even closed down on Thursday without notice, surprising at least one vendor/analyst pair when the occupants gruffly advised them to “shut the door and stop interrupting our meeting.” If this is typical, it’s no surprise there was so little participation by the large analyst firms in a week where there was little significant “competition.”
On the 4th day, Dave Wells, formerly head of education for TDWI, delivered a morning “closing keynote” (although the event continued for another 2 days, the exhibit hall closes on the 3rd day.) Wells pointed out the the economic cycle lags market indicators like the stock market, and that the “uncertainty curve” is an inverse function. The questions now are “what if” questions, he pointed out, but organizations are using old metrics because they don’t know what to change. Today, in this climate, he said,
“Even good decisions aren’t good enough. Yesterday’s scorecards are insufficient; we need nearer term data, influencers and scenarios. Move from goals-measures-monitor to model-simulate-feedback. I need more than insight; I need predictive analytics.”
Wells was correct in all this, but two problems were apparent. First, he himself offered no suggestions about how to get there – vendors, first steps, priorities – all were missing. Second the content of the event, while it had some significant offerings pointing in this direction, did not raise this issue to the top. TDWI has a great opportunity to wave the flag here for the next steps in BI, but it is still focusing a great deal on the last set of issues. PA, semantic technologies (as Neil Raden pointed out in conversation) and truly active technologies are needed. Will TDWI step up and be the advocate? Time will tell; it’s a mainstay and it can, and should, do better.