Andy on Enterprise Software

Impartial Advice?

January 17, 2007

HP continues with its plans for the business intelligence space with an announcement of in-house data warehouse technology:

http://www.computerworld.com:80/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9008218&intsrc=news_ts_head

with a new business unit. The offering with be based around HP’s attempt at a “data warehouse appliance”, called Neoview. This is a competitor to Teradata and Netezza, but at this stage it is hard to tell how functional this is, since it is unclear that there are any deployed customers other than HP itself.

The timing of this announcement is curious given HP’s acquisition of data warehouse consultancy Knightsbridge. Certainly data warehousing is a big market and Teradata is a tempting target – after all, most of the really big data warehouse deployments in retail, telco and retail banking use Teradata. There are lots and lots of juicy services to be provided in implementing an “appliance”, which in fact is no such thing. An appliance implies something that you just plug in, whereas data warehouse appliances are just a fast piece of hardware and a proprietary database, still requiring all the usual integration efforts, but with the added twist of non-standard database technology. Certainly plenty of business for consultants there.

However HP’s home-grown offering will not sit well with its newly acquired Knightsbridge consulting services, who made their reputation through a quite fiercely vendor-independent culture which always prided itself in choosing the best solution for the customer. People trust independent consultants to give them objective advice, since they are not (or at least they hope they are not) tied to particular vendor offerings. Presumably HP’s consultants will be pushing HP’s data warehouse solution in preference to alternatives, and so can hardly be trusted as impartial observers of the market. An analogy would be with IBM consultants, who while they may work with non-IBM software are clearly going to push IBM’s offerings given half a chance.

If you were a truly independent consultant how would you react to a brand new data warehouse appliance with a track record only of one deployment, and that in the vendor itself? Would you immediately be pushing that as your preferred solution, or would you be counseling caution, urging customers to wait and see how the new tool settles down in the market and how early customers get on with it? If you are a Knightsbridge consultant now working for HP, what would your advice be? Would it be any different to the advice you’d have offered in December 2006 before you became part of HP?

This kind of conflict of interest is what makes thing difficult for customers when choosing consultants. It is hard to find ones who are truly independent. Of course consultants always have their own agenda, but usually this is about maximising billable hours. If they are tied to a particular solution then that is fine if you are already committed to that solution, but you will need to look elsewhere for objective advice about it.