Time for traditional BI vendors to “pass the baton”

The shouts from the back of the BI room seem to be getting louder. In various ways, they’re saying let Big BI die.

Former TDWI education director Dave Wells, visual analytics critic Stephen Few, and Tableau Software CEO Christian Chabot are back there. Others, too.

Last spring, Wells proposed a new, people-centric definition of business intelligence. (See my Q&A with him for TDWI.). On November 18, he published “The Changing Face of Business Intelligence.” He predicted that the industry will soon “experience change that will have broad, deep and lasting impact.”

In early January, Tableau CEO Christian Chabot talked about the failure of BI platforms to deliver the BI promise. He seemed to laugh in surprise at interviewer Carl Weinschenk’s comparison of Chabot’s thoughts to Ronald Reagan’s 1987 challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The comparison was apt.

Now last Thursday, Few sounded like he’d had about enough with BI tools “entrenched in a techno-centric paradigm.” He wrote in his weblog, “It’s time for traditional BI vendors to pass the baton.”

I believe it’s now time for the vendors with real decision support solutions to thank the BI industry for the technical infrastructure that it’s provided, but then set themselves apart as a new industry, different from but complementary to BI. Much as groups of people throughout history have arisen and set themselves apart to fix what cannot be fixed within the reigning power structure, the decision-support solutions that people need will only make their mark on the world by leaving the calcified fortress of BI.

Thomas Jefferson might have put it this way.

When in the course of business it becomes necessary to dissolve the bands which have connected us to failed technology, after a long train of abuses and usurpations, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such technology and to adopt new tools for decision making.

Big changes can seem to come suddenly. The Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, the Tech Bubble of the ’90s, and Lehman Brothers all came down to widespread surprise.

I don’t put much faith in predictions. But these three independent thought leaders are all pointing in about the same direction. I’ll be looking for changes coming that way.


  1. Dan Murray says:

    Many small to mid-sized business with a little targeted training and assistance can develop the underlying reliability in their source system data to make tools like Tableau Software pay big dividends, and quickly. I should know, I did it for myself and saved between $100K – $580K in consulting fees while reaping 95% of the benefits. Data can be turned into actionable information in hours/days vs. weeks/months without the large capital expense and risk of a full-fledged BI implementation.

  2. Pingback: Birst Blog » Decision centered BI, made for real humans - Stephen Few raises the cry

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