When I reflect back on 2007, it was certainly a year of change in the BI industry. The three largest BI vendors – Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion – were all acquired by some of the largest software companies in the world. Additionally, Microsoft shipped its new performance management product – PerformancePoint Server. IBM also entered the MDX space with the latest release of its Cubing Services product.

So, what will happen in 2008? 2008 will most likely see further M&A activity. However, the biggest story of 2008 in the BI space should be integration. The SAP acquisition of Business Objects and the IBM acquisition of Cognos will complete in Q1, and I am eagerly waiting to see each company’s new product roadmap.

In the OLAP space, Oracle acquired Hyperion, including its Essbase product. While Hyperion applications work with multiple data sources, they’ve tended to be better tuned for Essbase. Essbase is a major component of Hyperion’s “secret sauce”. Hyperion  controls Essbase’s development direction and tuned its applications to really perform with Essbase. A tightly integrated solution that worked very well was the obvious result.

I expect to see similar tuning of Business Objects on SAP and Cognos on IBM. In the roadmaps that these companies will soon produce, other than branding, I initially expect to see Business Objects applications work better on SAP BW and Cognos applications work better on IBM DB2. This will be a big win for Business Objects customers that have SAP backend systems and Cognos customers that have IBM backend systems.

I also see Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion and Microsoft applications continuing to work well in heterogeneous environments. Virtually every enterprise customer has multiple systems from different vendors. Any company selling applications must guarantee that those applications will work across multiple data sources. For example, if you are using Crystal Reports, you do not need to fear in the future that Crystal Reports will only work against SAP BW or R/3. Rather, Crystal Reports will continue to work against Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, etc. The advantage will be most apparent if you are a SAP customer. In this case, I expect Crystal Reports will work even better against data sources like BW because now the Crystal Reports developers will be able to talk directly to the BW developers, due to the groups working for the same company. I believe that this will be the story of 2008 – how will these vendors’ products better integrate?

I also see 2008 as being a good year for the MDX Query Language. With all the industry consolidation going on, every software vendor in the BI space will need to maintain that its products are open. As such, open standards will be key, and in the OLAP space, the MDX Query Language is the de facto standard. Oracle/Hyperion, IBM/Cognos and SAP/Business Objects will all need to continue to support this OLAP API standard, and each will need to ensure that its future MDX support is addressed in its roadmap.

I think it is evident that Microsoft Excel will continue to be the most used application in BI. Excel is the most prevalent MDX client in the market today, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Microsoft made many enhancements to Excel Pivot Tables in Excel 2007, and as Excel 2007 adoption continues to increase this year, all of the OLAP server vendors will need to keep up. Many companies, such as Hyperion, have Excel add-ins for their OLAP servers. Historically, the add-ins provided functionality that these companies felt was better than what Excel provided natively. Similarly, the add-ins also provided Excel connectivity to the companies’ proprietary OLAP interfaces. However, as the OLAP functionality within Excel matures (we saw a big jump in Excel 2007, and I expect that the next version of Excel will raise the bar even higher), the need for an add-in will drop. As such, more users will want to be able to use Excel’s native Pivot Tables functionality against products like Essbase, and as a result, this will push the OLAP server vendors to improve their MDX support.