Consumers (and B2B customers) are more and more empowered with mobile devices and cloud-based, all but unlimited access to information about products, services, and prices. Customer stickiness is increasingly difficult to achieve as they demand instant gratification for their ever changing tastes and requirements. Switching product and service providers is now just a matter of clicking a few keys on a mobile phone. Forrester calls this the age of the customer, which elevates business and technology priorities to achieve:

  • Business agility. Business agility often equals the ability to adopt, react, and succeed in the midst of an unending fountain of customer driven requirements. Agile organizations make decisions differently by embracing a new, more grass-roots-based management approach. Employees down in the trenches, in individual business units, are the ones who are in close touch with customer problems, market shifts, and process inefficiencies. These workers are often in the best position to understand challenges and opportunities and to make decisions to improve the business. It is only when responses to change come from these highly aware and empowered employees, that enterprises become agile, competitive, and successful.

  • Information agility. Agile enterprises must gather customer and market knowledge and rapidly incorporate it into decisions. To support and promote business agility, enterprise knowledge workers need to be empowered with easy access to agile, flexible, and responsive enterprise BI tools and applications. Yet, while organizations of all sizes made significant headway over the last two decades in their enterprise BI accomplishments, many organizations still struggle with making their data and information management, BI, and analytics environments agile. 

Alas, earlier generation BI platforms are often anything but agile. Indeed, all modern enterprise BI platforms are scalable and robust, support and promote a single version of the truth, and minimize operational risk. But these capabilities carry a hefty price tag of complexity, rigidity, and inflexibility, and as a result they are slow to react to constantly changing customer and business requirements. This lack of BI agility promotes two unfortunate side effects of earlier generation BI deployments:

  • Only a small percentage of enterprise data is leveraged for business insights. Only 40% of structured, 31% of unstructured, and 27% of semistructured enterprise data is leveraged for business intelligence and quantitative decision-making 

  • Majority of BI applications are still built by a shadow IT process. Forrester research finds that majority of organizations (63%) still build most (more than 50%) of the BI applications based on desktop tools such as spreadsheets. More than a quarter of respondents (26%) share an even more dreary story — 70% or more of all BI apps are built in a shadow IT environment 

So what does "agile" really mean in terms of BI? Point-and-click, drag-and-drop graphical user interfaces (GUIs) may be intuitive to an experienced professional with a background in command-line interfaces but not so obvious to a millennial who grew up with a thumb-typing mobile phone UI. And while menu- and prompt-driven instrumented (radio buttons, dialog boxes, etc.) applications may seem user friendly to left-brained people (who think in numbers and lists), right-brained office workers (who see the world in pictures and associations) may prefer an application driven by icons, visual associations, and artistic infographics. Forrester describes Agile BI in highly objective and quantifiable terms, which specifically address many of the shortcomings and limitations (rigid and restrictive data models, too much reliance on technology management professionals, and many others) of the earlier generation enterprise BI platforms. For example, Agile BI tools have to 

  • Empower business users to be self-sufficient. Core Agile BI requires capabilities that empower business users to be self-sufficient in their BI environment with little or no involvement from technology professionals. These capabilities are typically supported by BI platform features such as, self-provisioning applications and data, user driven data integration, mashups, and wrangling, automation of BI process and effective user interfaces.
  • Help business users get more insights with effective data visualizations. Agile BI wouldn't be complete without advanced data visualization (ADV) capabilities. Older definitions of ADV (versus static data graphs and charts) included visual querying (without writing SQL code), dynamic visualizations (where visualizations dynamically changed based on query results), and several others. These features, however, are table stakes in all modern BI platforms and no longer differentiate one vendor from another. Today we look for differentiated ADV capabilities such as richness of ADV content and data visualization effectiveness.
  • Give BI professionals options to provide additional features. Even though Agile BI is mostly all about business user self-sufficiency, do not overlook the fact that IT BI  pros still need to develop, customize, deploy, and support multiple BI capabilities. Look for BI platform features that can empower IT pros to to deploy BI platforms and applications and customize BI applications.

So how do leading BI vendors support Agile BI? After examining past research, user need assessments, and vendor and expert interviews, Forrester developed a comprehensive set of evaluation criteria. We evaluated vendors against 15 criteria, which we grouped into three high-level buckets:

  • Current offering. We assessed each vendor's current offering by considering all of the features and capabilities reviewed above. We also evaluated a short demonstration by each vendor outlining its key capabilities and triangulated our finidnings with vendor customers.

  • Strategy. We reviewed each vendor's strategy and considered how well each vendor's plans for product enhancement position it to meet future customer demands. We also looked at the financial and human resources the company has available to support its strategy.

  • Market presence. In this particular research, we only considered vendor BI revenues and number of customers as a measure of global market presence. For a more comprehensive market presence analysis, please refer to the "The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms, Q1 2015" where we combined information about each vendor's financial performance, installed customer base, and number of employees across major geographical regions with information about its partnership ecosystem and its horizontal and vertical industry applications. 

Forrester included 13 vendors in the assessment: Birst, GoodData, IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, MicroStrategy, Oracle, Panorama Software, Qlik, SAP, SAS, Tableau Software, and TIBCO Software. Please take a look at the detailed report for the juicy details and a few surprise in terms of who-is-who in Agile BI.