You can contact Nigel Pendse, the author of this section, by e-mail if you have any comments, observations or user experiences to add. Last updated on April 10, 2008.
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Formed in 1994, Panorama is now one of the longer-lived small, independent vendors in the OLAP world — but unlike others, its survival has not been based on hiding in a specialist niche. We have tracked the company since mid-1996 (well before most analysts) and have observed the remarkable influence on the industry it has had since then.
Panorama’s prominent place in the OLAP world was booked when it sold its original OLAP technology to Microsoft in autumn 1996. For the next decade, the reborn Panorama stayed completely focused on complementing the OLAP server that Microsoft had built on Panorama’s foundations. Panorama’s new NovaView client tool was designed to make the most of Microsoft Analysis Services, building on the server’s strengths and compensating for its weaknesses. For example, it added an extra server cache to speed up some queries and to provide more scalable security.
The established OLAP server vendors such as Hyperion (now Oracle), Oracle, Applix, Cognos and SAP all provided their own client tools and often bundled them with their OLAP servers, greatly reducing the market for third-party client tools. However, unlike other OLAP server vendors, Microsoft initially had no OLAP client tools of its own (not even Excel PivotTables for OLAP until Excel 2000).
Thus, very keen to see its server being deployed, Microsoft warmly welcomed third-party tools vendors, giving them generous technical and marketing assistance. Though there were initially many competitors in this niche, Panorama retained one of the closest technical relationships with Microsoft. After all, the core of the Microsoft ‘Plato’ development team had moved to Microsoft from Panorama.
Panorama had only operated within Israel until 1996. To compensate for this lack of international distribution, it signed an exclusive international distribution deal with Cognos in 1998, but this did not work out as well as hoped, and was not renewed when it expired in 2001. Panorama therefore raised new venture capital funds in 2003, recruited new senior management and moved its headquarters from Tel Aviv to Toronto.
Gradually, the number of competitors in the Analysis Services client tools market thinned out. Some were acquired by larger vendors with different priorities; others did not enjoy the hoped-for sales boom and faded away. By 2006, the only major independent front-end tools vendors focused purely on Microsoft Analysis Services were ProClarity and Panorama.
ProClarity was larger and better known, because it had much wider international distribution and a closer commercial relationship with Microsoft, but Panorama had the more scalable technical architecture. ProClarity tended to go after the smaller deals, often via distributors, with Panorama focusing on a smaller number of large enterprise deals. Throughout this period, Panorama remained resolutely focused on the Microsoft market, refusing even to consider working with other vendors’ OLAP servers. ProClarity did consider working with non-Microsoft servers, though it did not find any sufficiently attractive opportunities to pursue.
Then everything changed in Panorama’s world. ProClarity was put up for sale in 2005, initially at a rather high asking price, but after the expectations became more realistic, Microsoft acquired it in early 2006. Now, for the first time, Microsoft owned a full-function client tool set for Analysis Services, rather than just relying on Excel PivotTables. It therefore had much less reason to support other client tool vendors.
Panorama initially claimed that nothing had changed after Microsoft’s purchase of ProClarity, and that its sales into the Microsoft market would actually increase due to reduced competition from ProClarity. However, as soon as the ProClarity-Microsoft rumors began it started to develop a version of NovaView to work with SAP BW. Its announcement of these plans was, by no coincidence, on April 3, 2006, the very day that Microsoft announced its purchase of ProClarity.
Panorama planned to take advantage of NovaView’s server caching to help improve BW’s dire query performance, and has duly done so. Although sales volumes are much smaller in the SAP world, the value of individual deals is far higher, so Panorama now makes regular multi-hundred thousand dollar deals, with the occasional million plus sales. This compensates for the inevitable reduction in growth from the Microsoft market.
SAP was initially quite friendly with Panorama, as it viewed Panorama as less intrusive in its enterprise accounts, in contrast to the large (then) independent BI vendors, who were keen to sell a whole BI/CPM platform, and not just a client tool that would help BW perform better. In essence, Panorama was too small to be any threat to SAP’s strategic customer relationships. It was also pleased that Panorama made much greater efforts to optimize its product for BW than other client tool vendors had done.
Of course, now that SAP has spent almost $6bn acquiring Business Objects, it is rather less keen on third-party BI solutions of any type in SAP accounts, and would much rather introduce a BusinessObjects solution to those customers which demand more than SAP’s home-grown client tools for NetWeaver BI/BW.
Also in 2006, Panorama forged what was expected to be a major OEM relationship with Cartesis, with a rebadged NovaView and Analysis Services (sold as Cartesis Analytics) providing the analytical front-end to Cartesis’ data. The intention was that every Cartesis customer would purchase this common front-end to the consolidation and planning applications. This was going well for both Panorama and Cartesis — until Business Objects bought Cartesis in mid-2007.
As a major vendor of BI front-end tools, Business Objects was understandably less enthusiastic about licensing BI front-ends from a small competitor. While it did not immediately abandon the deal (having no equivalent to NovaView in its sprawling product portfolio), the relationship’s future was put into question.
Before this could be resolved, Business Objects was itself taken over by SAP, leaving Panorama with two completely separate SAP relationships, both with an uncertain future. Indeed, Cartesis Analytics itself does not feature in the new SAP product roadmap.
Not to be daunted, Panorama then pursued a rather different partnership, this time with Google, which had bounced into the Office productivity suite market with its free Web-based Google Docs. Google soon discovered that many of the users of its new spreadsheet would value a pivot table capability, as found in Excel and many BI tools, and this is what Panorama is now providing. Panorama is doing this under its own name, and continues to own the IP.
Behind the simple pivot table interface is rather more OLAP technology than might be expected. As the Google spreadsheet is Web-based, Panorama cannot use the RAM on the client machine to cache the multidimensional data, which is of course what Excel does with local PivotTables. Instead, Panorama uses an undisclosed proprietary OLAP server to do the job, generating server cubes on-the-fly from the data in the users’ spreadsheets. This cube-creation process does cause a delay of at least 10 to 15 seconds (more with larger cubes), and screen refresh after any user action also takes several seconds, so the user experience is not nearly as slick as in Excel.
For commercial reasons, Panorama plans to switch to an open source alternative OLAP server, which will also give it more control over the functionality. Along with this technology change, Panorama plans to build its next version in Java, to run on Linux, thus moving it away from its hitherto Microsoft-only server architecture. However, Panorama is not new to Java – its Web client has long been Java-based. Despite the use of open source technologies, Panorama itself will not become open source, and this Web offering will continue to be based on NovaView.
This use of a behind-the-scenes OLAP server means that, ironically, a Panorama pivot table user in the Google spreadsheet is using more sophisticated OLAP technology than even an Excel 2007 PivotTables user! This is not obvious to users in the current release, but Panorama has the scope to add features to its free pivot tables not available even to fully paid-up Excel users (unless they are using Excel as a client to a grown-up OLAP server).
This seems like absurd generosity on Panorama’s part, as its pivot table gadget is, like the host Google spreadsheet, a free service to anyone who wants to use it — no need to register, nothing to download. How can a small company like Panorama afford such benevolence? After all, it appears to be Panorama, not Google, that is paying for this free service.
The reason for this apparent generosity to Google Docs users is that this is just the first step of a new strategy. Panorama is extending the technology to work with other Web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) applications, and most of these new Panorama manifestations are unlikely to be free. Panorama says that its mission is to “unleash the power of Google Apps in the analytical space and make it the ultimate enterprise SaaS based productivity suite”. Supported applications will be both from Google and other vendors, such as SAP, Salesforce.com and NetSuite. It is also possible for Panorama to offer a SaaS analysis capability to users of, for example, desktop accounting systems.
These chargeable services are likely to be sold on the same basis as other SaaS products: for a small monthly fee per user. This is a very different revenue model to Panorama’s traditional enterprise sales, as the revenues come in over time, rather than up-front. Initially, this will impact Panorama’s finances. As a private company, Panorama is not under the quarterly earnings release cosh, but the cash flow implications are real. Of course, Panorama is not abandoning its current business model, so it should continue to generate conventional license fees while the SaaS business builds up.
Panorama is also adding new features to the on-premise version of NovaView to take advantage of the SaaS version’s capabilities. Actions such as ‘Save View to Docs’, ‘Collaborate in real time’ and ‘Publish’ will all be done from within NovaView classic but add new functionality for collaboration and publishing. This is similar to what Business Objects did with Crystalreports.net but Panorama says it will charge a fraction of the price and hopes to upsell its existing customers. Panorama hopes that this will, in time, add 10 percent to its revenues.
Panorama also plans to support direct connectivity to Microsoft Analysis Services, making Google Docs an alternative front-end to Excel. However, we are not convinced of the benefit of this for the typical business user of Analysis Services who is likely to have Excel already installed, which will deliver better performance and possibly more functionality, at least initially. Panorama says that the free version will only be available with cub files; a premium version, with functionality much closer to full NovaView, will be available to Analysis Services users.
The partnership with Google is also a great shop window for Panorama, bringing its technology to the attention of millions of people — Panorama retains its branding in the pivot tables gadget. Panorama has already found that the added credibility it has gained from a high profile Google relationship is helping its sales to Microsoft AS and SAP BW sites (which are, of course, where Panorama gets all its current revenues).
Panorama must certainly be all too aware that Microsoft and Google have, to put it mildly, an aggressively competitive relationship. Google Docs were obviously introduced in an attempt to damage sales of Microsoft’s biggest cash cow, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft’s Yahoo takeover bid is an attempt to compete more strongly with Google’s advertising business. Indeed, Microsoft has had to reduce the entry price for Office 2007, almost certainly because of the new free competition from Google Docs and Open Office.
It seems that almost every action that each takes is with an eye on the other, so Microsoft will undoubtedly have taken due note of Google’s new relationship with Panorama. Microsoft is hardly likely to continue to provide the same level of cooperation that it continued to do even after its ProClarity takeover. Panorama points out that it has already had to adapt to a lower level of Microsoft support since April 2006, and says it is confident that it can continue to build the most sophisticated OLAP client for Analysis Services, even with reduced assistance from Microsoft.
Nevertheless, not only is Panorama now getting closer to Microsoft’s greatest enemy, but if its extensions to Google Docs are successful, these will become a more credible competitor to Microsoft Office. This is likely to annoy Microsoft far more than any dent in ProClarity or PerformancePoint sales that Panorama might have caused had it stuck to its traditional strategy.
So Panorama is now in the delicate position of having about half of its current license fees, and almost all of its current customer base, from the Microsoft Analysis Services world, while trying to build up an entirely new SaaS business under Google’s umbrella, which potentially competes directly with Microsoft. Although Panorama’s technical partnership with Microsoft will undoubtedly continue — there are too many important mutual customers for Microsoft to refuse all cooperation with Panorama — its relationship with Panorama is likely to become less cordial than before. Panorama is going to have to tread very carefully as it attempts to participate simultaneously in the Microsoft, Google and perhaps even the SAP ecosystems.
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