HP beefs up BI services offerings

Hewlett-Packard announces a set of services aimed at master data management

Hewlett-Packard is getting deeper into the BI market, announcing a set of services on Tuesday that are aimed at laying the groundwork for successful business intelligence implementation.

One service is for ensuring master data is captured, stored, and processed in a consistent manner across a company. Master data is organized around key aspects of business operations, such as "customers" and "products," and therefore often shared by multiple systems and divisions.

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A second new HP service focuses on ensuring business data is accurate and complete. The third service will help companies develop a framework for governing data access, auditing, availability, and security, HP said.

HP bolstered its BI team through the 2006 acquisition of the systems integrator Knightsbridge Solutions. On the product side, HP has the Neoview data-warehousing platform, as well as the recently announced HP Oracle Exadata Storage Server for large-scale data warehousing, co-developed with Oracle.

Meanwhile, investment in BI tools is expected to remain solid despite the weak economy, and many customers will likely turn to HP and other companies to help them complete projects.

But HP's announcement drew mixed reactions from industry observers on Tuesday.

"This has an enterprisewide feel to it," said Nucleus Research analyst David O'Connell. "It sounds to me like, 'let's boil the ocean.' People don't want to boil the ocean in this economy." Also, BI customers prefer to work on one project at a time, he said.

Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson echoed O'Connell.

"In every report I write, I recommend baby steps -- small, tangible [project] deliverables a few weeks apart," he said.

This is necessary because of the very fact that BI tools enable users to analyze and explore data, making it hard to pin down precisely what the application should be able to do.

"It's not like ERP [enterprise resource planning] -- 'my supply chain looks like this,'" he said. "With BI, you don't know what questions you're going to have tomorrow."

BI projects therefore can't follow a traditional software development lifecycle, where requirements are written, handed off to developers, and then an application shows up months later, according to Evelson. "That absolutely never works. The only thing that works is rapid prototyping," with developers and business analysts working closely together, he said.

On the other hand, companies pursuing BI should not merely engage in a series of small efforts, he cautioned: "If you only do that, all you're going to get is all these little dashboards all over the place that don't have you marching toward another goal."

HP ought to be able to help companies achieve an overarching strategy, he said: "The core of their BI services are really coming from ex-Knightsbridge people. I have lot of respect for those people. They're one of not too many BI practitioners that do see the big picture."

But there are many other options for BI consulting, from the usual suspects like IBM, Accenture, and Deloitte, to a wide range of second-tier companies.

And while HP's Tuesday announcement emphasized MDM (master data management), all major BI integrators should have expertise in that arena, according to Evelson. "I wouldn't say it's a differentiator. It's a staple, something you must have."

Given the tough economy, companies that procure BI services should "absolutely be pushing" for contracts that are conditional on project success, with some money paid up front and a bonus upon completion, Evelson said.

One problem with this scenario is that it is more difficult to measure a BI project's return on investment, he said. The challenge is "finding that kind of mutual understanding of what the success metrics are."

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