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Executive Insights: A Conversation with the “Father of Business Intelligence” Howard Dresner

Executive Insights: A Conversation with the “Father of Business Intelligence” Howard Dresner

July 27, 2020
4 min read

It has been a great pleasure over the years to meet and work with some amazing pioneers in the world of high technology.  They all have several things thing in common – vision, passion, and ability to drive innovation and make their brilliant ideas become reality.

One such person is Howard Dresner, the Chief Research Office and founder of Dresner Advisory Services. I first met Howard over 30 years ago at DEC. The company was faced with the challenge of being successful in the field of information access, executive information systems and decision support system solutions.

This was also the early stage of Data Warehousing, and while these all worked together, they were comprised of disparate components.  At the time we used “marketecture” concepts to explain such complex solutions.

I have since come to understand this as an “inside-out” versus an “outside-in” concept; we started with the products and concepts and built out from there.  What was truly lacking was a unification concept that was easy to understand and consume.

I am proud to say I was in the room the day Howard Dresner coined the term Business Intelligence (BI) at DEC.  I remember that moment vividly, with a single graphic that unified disparate concepts, and an umbrella term that would go on to change the IT industry forever.

Howard took the concept to Gartner, became a VP and Research Fellow, and established the Gartner BI practice and a successful BI customer conference. As we say — the rest is history.  I joined Howard’s team earlier this year, and it has been great working in BI again — although I really never left, especially given how pervasive data and analytics have become in marketing.

Now in the thirteenth year of running Dresner Advisory Services, we had a chance to look back and discuss the state of BI, the changes we’ve both experienced in three-plus decades and discuss what the future may hold.

Q: Howard, you have been at the forefront of Business Intelligence literally since the creation of the concept, have been a BI practitioner and a thought leader and witnessed extraordinary change over that time. What is your take on the evolution of BI tool, technology, solutions and where is the market headed next?

A: Ultimately, we’re headed to what I call “information democracy” where all stakeholders have access to timely, relevant and actionable insights. While most people get hung up on tools – and there are some impressive ones – we still have the majority of users without access to actionable insight.

Q: I recently had the opportunity to interview Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot and the “father” of Marketing Technology (MarTech) – Scott spoke about the phenomenon where software companies are incorporating services and services companies are incorporating software to redefine core concept of solutions.  How do you see that impacting the Business Intelligence marketplace and how we define BI solutions?

A: I haven’t observed many/any software companies that want to venture into the services business. That said, many/most are concerned with customer success. So, having some services capability is key. Conversely, many/most services organizations seek higher margin businesses – like software. In the BI space, System Integrators (SIs) will leverage off-the-shelf software but also develop some of their own “added value” supporting higher margins.

Q: We often segment the success of customers in a market as “leaders, laggards and those in the middle”. What are some characteristics of leaders in BI today and what differentiates them from the other groups? Are their key technologies and best practices those in the middle can implement to step up and become leaders?

A: Technology does not define leadership in this space. What makes a difference is having a vision at the most senior levels for how information and insight are used to help align stakeholders with the strategy and mission of the organization. And, while technology is important, it serves as an enabler for a more evolved and visionary organization.

Q: Both of us have lived through major technology changers and paradigm shifts – PCs, client/server, networked business solutions, the rise of the packaged software/ISV industry and much more. How does the rise of cloud solutions and SaaS and “everything as a service” (XaaS) impact and define the future of BI?

A: We’ve been tracking the cloud and SaaS phenomenon for a decade and have seen it go from nascent to mainstream. However, conceptually, it’s not new. Many years ago, there was something called “timeshare” which offered similar benefits: no on-premises systems or software, and, with managed services, there was no need for technical staff. This made solutions affordable for many more organizations like Small and Midsize Enterprises (SMEs). Certainly, technology has advanced since that time. However, conceptually they are quite similar.

Q: Do you see skills gaps in today’s BI marketplace, and if so, what are they? As the recent global COVID19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated digital transformation, what has its impact been upon the BI marketplace and how will the landscape change?

A: As more people have access to business intelligence/analytics, data literacy has not kept pace. Again, technology and tools alone won’t move an organization forward. People have to gain insight and execute based on that insight. However, most organizations report only modest data literacy. To be fully successful, organizations should establish a mandatory data literacy program – to establish basic data fluency all the way to sophisticated data science skills.

Regarding Covid-19, we’ve been tracking its business impact since early this year. And, in fact, our survey will remain open until the pandemic ends at As a result of the pandemic we’re seeing greater demand for data-driven insights than ever before. Anecdotally, I’ve been told that BI projects that struggled for funding in the past are now getting funded and have greater urgency than before. In addition, organizations are focused on greater self-service, collaboration, governance and cloud-based delivery – all of this with an eye to enabling the digital enterprise.

Howard, thank you very much for your tremendous insights. We appreciate you showcasing why Business Intelligence is such an exciting place to be and thank you for your decades of outstanding leadership.  Be sure to follow Howard and join him and the Dresner Advisory team for their monthly Luncheon Learning webinars, weekly #BIWisdom “tweetchat” (on summer hiatus until September, then Fridays at 1 PM EST) and for the upcoming Real BI Conference (virtual for 2020) on August 11-12 2020.

Howard is founder and Chief Research Officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC and founder and chair of the Real Business Intelligence Conference, Author and a former Gartner Research Fellow and Analyst
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Fred is a Research Director at Dresner Advisory Services, a high technology industry marketing veteran and former Senior Marketing Director for SAP Global Marketing.

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Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell is a B2B marketing veteran with expertise in Thought Leadership, Marketing Analytics, and Marketing Strategy Execution and. He was formerly Associate Director, Portfolio Marketing and Thought Leadership for Wolters Kluwer. Fred was formerly a Research Director for Dresner Advisory Services. He was with SAP Global Marketing as Senior Marketing Director & BMO Lead, SAP Services Field Engagement and led Thought Leadership Marketing. He led SAP North America Services Field Marketing and Channels Marketing for SAP Small and Midsize Enterprises (SME) Solutions. Before SAP, Fred held a variety of senior solutions and services marketing roles with Compaq and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He is a graduate of Yale University with honors and has an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business where he was a Fuqua Scholar and received the Fuqua Alumni Exemplary Leadership Award.

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