Dashboard Insight’s Peter Traynor recently spoke with Robert Farris, who is VP & Business Intelligence Capability Practice Leader at Hitachi Consulting and Jim Budkie, who is Hitachi Consulting’s Managing VP and they discussed product development and corporate strategy at the company.
Peter Traynor: Could you tell me what’s new at Hitachi in terms of products or new directions for the company?
Robert Farris: I’m part of our BI national team and we focus on defining our services in this space and then helping our market teams deliver. In other words, we sell and deliver. A trend I’ve noticed within our customer base is with respect to the conversations around BI. Six years ago the conversations used to be more about finance and BI was an issue that was more departmentally focused.
These days, however, everybody is talking about how to solve the information/business intelligence and performance management problem on a more enterprise-wide basis.
This trend is what is driving the demand for what we do and, in response to it, we have BICC services which are about putting out road mapping for Enterprise BI, data warehouse and performance management.
PT: Tell me more about BICC – I’m familiar with the “BI” part but what does the “CC” imply?
RF: BICC is a Gartner buzzword; it’s an acronym for Business Intelligence Competency Center but I’m not too keen on the term. It’s more about the concept of thinking about BI and data warehousing and performance management on an enterprise-wide basis and how you achieve that. And the way you achieve this is through a number of things – technology being one of seven or eight things that are important to be successful in this area.
Other things are organizational in nature such as getting your processes in place, governance, funding the initiative, how you architect it regardless of the tools since there are certain best practices on data warehousing and BI applications.
So our BICC services are really focused on that holistic feature. Clients are requesting it and we’re selling a lot of that kind of service right now.
PT: That’s interesting. Is it right to assume that Hitachi is engaged in a fair bit of partnering?
RF: We partner with most of the vendors because we’re basically technology-agnostic. For us, it’s primarily about solving the client’s problem and secondarily about what tools will be used.
The other big driver is vendor consolidation and this actually plays well into our partnering with most vendors because one of the concepts that we always talk to our clients about that are interested in this on an enterprise basis is that they need to narrow their footprint of technologies.
Having a scenario where one department did one thing with a particular tool and another department did something else with another tool will create a mess over the years. It is expensive to pay for the software maintenance and keep it running on all servers. It’s also expensive to have the expertise and, more importantly, it’s confusing to the users and creates “islands” of information which is not what an organization is trying to achieve. The organization’s goal is to have one version of the truth.
PT: Where do you see the industry going in terms of growth? I know nobody wants to use the “R” word these days. Maybe this is not a recession-proof industry but it certainly appears recession-resistant. What has Hitachi’s experience been?
RF: I think it’s too early in this downturn to tell. I don’t think we’ve lost business yet that you can claim was because of the economic downturn. That doesn’t mean that we’re not watching it; everybody’s watching to see what the impact is because you can delay some expenses and incur them at better times.
One approach that we’ve seen in the past is that sometimes when there have been market downturns, the appetite for BI actually increases because it’s all about managing your numbers. So if decision makers can have better visibility to operational expenses and to the productivity end of things, BI can help them with their cost cutting – they would know how and where to cut without doing much damage. We saw this at work when we had the downturn in late 2001; coming out of that saw a lot more focus directed toward operational costs and productivity.
PT: What about governance? Do you find that there’s a lot more emphasis on that now with your customers?
RF: Well, I don’t know if corporate governance is driving a lot yet in a sense that may be behind some of the enterprise push I mentioned earlier – where decision makers need more visibility to all the things that are going on within the company instead of having an issue or a problem localized to a particular department or a location.
PT: Sometimes even if things are turning south if you can show the shareholders, for instance, a clear picture of the company with total visibility and transparency, it assuages the problem to a certain aspect.
RF: Exactly. The visibility and transparency is important for that. Another trend that we’ve noticed is that more mid-sized companies are getting onto the Enterprise BI bandwagon. I’m not sure if this is related to what we were talking about earlier regarding a potential recession.
Some of our biggest recent clients in the last year weren’t Global 500 or Global 2000 companies; they were smaller mid-sized companies and they are spending a lot of money on Enterprise BI. This indicates that they’re taking BI very seriously and they see it as a competitive factor.
PT: So, Jim, is the SMB market something that Hitachi is pursuing?
Jim Budkie: We really don’t market per se; we see it as an opportunistic play and there are some parts of our portfolio that are really attractive to that marketplace right now. Schumacher, a client, is a perfect example.
RF: The example Jim’s referring to is a company called The Schumacher Group; they manage emergency rooms for hospitals. They’re a small-medium sized company in Louisiana and they met us at the Gartner show last year, and discussed budgeting and forecasting. We said they needed to step back and look at their overall Enterprise BI and they said we were right. And so we have a very large initiative going on with them right now.