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The BI vendors are facing with a classic ‘maturing market’ conundrum. Too many vendors, too little product differentiation, and an increasing ease with which customers can switch vendors. Also, BI software is now not so difficult to develop, encouraging the emergence of a new breed of disruptive low cost innovative vendors (for more information see the recent articles ‘A new approach to software development’ and ‘Is the traditional BI market in decline?’).
No major BI vendor dreamt of giving away their precious BI software for nothing ($0) in the heady days of big market growth in 2006-7. But one cunning upstart vendor did. Qliktech. They acquired lots of new customers with aggressive free trial offers. This differentiated Qliktech from the pack.
Today many BI vendors provide free trials. How about a free trial of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI “fully functional software available as a free download for a 30-day trial”? Or why not the SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand Solution “a comprehensive business intelligence solution in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model” or SAP Crystal Solutions “for small businesses and midsize companies”?
Or Microstrategy “free mobile BI, reporting, and evaluation software; free online training, email support, mobile BI classes, decision-making classes, technical BI, jump-start guide, reporting consultations, custom dashboard”. Microstrategy has moved away from a licence model enabling them to offer a 100-user licence for free – and live off the services revenues.
Or how about Tableau? “Download a full functioning free trial of the new Tableau 6.0 . . . choose Tableau Desktop (51 MB) or Tableau Server (202 MB) . . . a complete business intelligence solution . . . try it for free”. TIBCO Spotfire goes one better with a 1-year trial for TIBCO Silver Spotfire. Wow. Does it really take a year to work out if a product works for you?
A ‘free trial’ is known in salesman parlance as a ‘puppy dog sale’. So why are they called puppy dog sales? Well, puppy dogs (BI tools) are adored by little children (the business users). No matter how much puppy dogs do their business on the carpet (mess up corporate data) the puppy dogs will be forgiven by the users as they are so cute and user-friendly. As one vendor describes it: ‘No IT, no hassle.’ If only that was the case.
Two weeks later the treasured children (the users) have created a whole set of processes and procedures (data feeds, applications etc) to accommodate the foibles of the puppy dog (the BI tool). It would be the most heartless Dad (the IT Manager) in the world who denies his precious children their bundle of puppy joy, as the sobbing would go on for months and months, and risks support for all Dad’s real pet (IT) projects being withdrawn.
Some BI vendors such as SAS, Oracle and Information Builders are holding firm to their principles by not offering free trials, preferring to give-away white papers and offer ‘Proof Of Concepts’ (POCs) demonstrations instead. Free trials are an unwelcome last resort for vendors like these who want more control over sales processes for their complete enterprise-wide integrated solutions.
Customers should be somewhat wary of free-trial deals and the small print that accompanies them. Giving back a puppy dog is a lot harder than it sounds. They would be wise to remember the old saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. Even if it is Christmas.