Business Objects Partner Summit: Selling Intelligence

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Solution providers attending the annual Business Objects Partner Summit here this week are looking for a way to add more intelligence to business intelligence (BI) applications.

Business Objects' focus is on solution selling, rather than just features and functionality, in BI applications. Seemingly a simplistic message, but not something easy to put into practice.

"The market [for BI has changed," says Dave Kellogg, senior vice president of marketing at Business Objects. "For the past five years, we have been ax battlers in the feature/function war."

Solution providers that are adept at selling BI, Kellogg says, and they already know how to develop solutions. They know how to differentiate the products they're aligned with in the marketplace. The challenge, he says, is selling to a businessperson who doesn't know they have a problem we can fix. "They know they have a problem, but they see no way of solving it and put it in the back of their mind."

The VAR's job is to explore the problem and help them realize the solution.

Ultimately, Kellogg says, Business Objects is on a mission to move away from the "fulfillment model" for BI, and move toward where the company and its solution provider partners are out creating a market, talking to end users and showing them why they need BI.

Much of the time, what businesspeople are looking for is a better understanding of their business. Often, Kellogg says, that's why they invest in IT systems. The database industry started out focused on getting information to users. But around the mid-80s, there was a turn to focus on transactions. And in the early '90s, the industry went back and rediscovered its roots--getting information to end users. ERP, he says, did the same thing. "The user thought they were buying insight into their business, but what they got was automation. And that's very, very useful. But by and large those vendors have not developed the analytics side of their business. If you're lucky, you get 10 reports that come with the app. And, I think, for the user, BI is what they wanted. But for the applications vendor, BI's been an afterthought."

The hard part, Kellogg says, is doing the transactions. "This is the great riddle of all this. It's actually very, very hard to build a huge transaction system. But people get all wrapped up around the hard part and they forget what the end user wants."

That's the premise behind Business Objects' solution-selling model. Here, in an exclusive interview with VARBusiness, Kellogg offers VARs five tips for success in selling business intelligence solutions:
(1) Find the users with the problem. Find out who's not getting the information they need.
(2) Work with IT. IT is instrumental. "Here's a little bit of trivia," Kellogg says. "One of the reasons one of our symbols is a baton with two hands on it is to represent IT and the users, because it is definitely a partnership between them, and you can't work with just one or the other."
(3) Be sure there's good back-end architecture in place. You need to have a data warehouse architecture that has good, clean data if you want to sell BI.
(4) Try to get control of the different BI coming in through applications.

"We have application provider channels. So do a lot of our competitors," Kellogg says. "And what's happening to the end user organizations is they're ending up with six BI tools just from all their application vendors. Now, if I were the solution provider in there, I would say, 'Don't let all this stuff creep in because it's going to be like gremlins; they're going to be everywhere and it's going to be very hard to manage.' So try to get control of all the BI that's arriving in the organization."
(5) Prove ROI. "And it's actually pretty easy to do for BI," Kellogg adds. "It's pretty hard to prove the ROI of a database or an object request broker or a piece of infrastructure. But with a BI tool, you can do it. We've actually built spreadsheet tools that we give to the solution providers to help them do that. BI is nice in a downturn because everybody whips out a magnifying glass and wants to know where the money's going."

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