Choosing the right BI vendor

Brian Gogle

Brian Gogle

Originally posted on Brian Gogle’s blog.

The scene: Your organization is flying blind. Either you don’t have a technology strategy around business intelligence; the one you have isn’t working; or it’s become outdated or unsupported by other critical systems in your organization. You have all this information in databases, and you may even be spending a significant amount of resources in your organization on data warehousing, yet that data isn’t making it to your users—either because the information isn’t available or it’s not telling a compelling story to your users. Now after some careful planning, executive questioning, and CFO scowling, your organization has committed to spending money on a new BI platform. What do you do?

What are you asking me for? I don’t know. Oh sure, if I spent some time getting to know your organization I would have some ideas. But even then, there’s no perfect answer. There are a lot of great BI platforms out there and they all bring different things to the table. In a lot of our engagements at Slalom, we spend weeks or even months evaluating our clients’ people, processes, and technology environments to frame out those pros and cons and how they apply to their organizations. In this post, I’ll share what some of those considerations are. It’s no substitute for getting the advice of a good third-party consulting company (call us, we’re in the book). But even if you do hire a good consulting company, putting some thought into these areas before initiating your engagement will be a good head start and make the consultants’ time (and your company’s money) more productive, efficient, and effective.

Executive sponsorship

As I’ve mentioned before, when people ask about the number-one risk I see in a BI platform implementation, I frequently cite organizational challenges. The most important element of this is executive sponsorship.

Executive sponsorship means a lot more than getting financial approval or a pre-written email sent by the project head that’s then sent to a C-Level officer. It’s knowing that the executive sponsor(s) will consistently look anyone from any level of the organization in the eye and consistently emphasize the company’s commitment to the project; support of the project leadership; and help the subject matter experts prioritize their requirements with other responsibilities. Without this, the project has very little chance to succeed.

Hardware considerations

One of the most limiting considerations in this process is the ability and willingness to invest financial and human capital in hardware. If you are building your company’s first BI solution, you will almost certainly need new hardware. But even if you have a robust existing solution in place that you are replacing or enhancing, it’s likely that you’ll need to make a hardware investment.

If you have an existing system it is very likely you will need to run in parallel. And if you reach your ultimate goal, which is probably higher utilization of the solution in the company, more traffic will likely require additional hardware cost. Also, new technologies have different hardware requirements, especially if you are looking for the latest and greatest. One way or another, it’s difficult to plan a new BI solution without being prepared for new hardware costs, and it’s best to know that going into the process to avoid wasting time and resources.

What do your leaders already think about certain vendors?

As you are looking at the BI market space and considering vendors (the Gartner Magic Quadrant is never a bad place to start), you’d be surprised to know how many opinions your leadership (particularly your IT leadership) has about specific vendors.

For example, when I am discussing Microsoft with potential customers, many of them believe that Microsoft does not play well with larger data sets and are unaware of the investments Microsoft has made in this space recently. It can be a very good idea to identify these preconceived notions with your leaders early. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not your job to change minds—leave that up to the vendors. But you want your vendor to have the chance to address those concerns before wasting several hours sitting in a pitch meeting, only to dismiss the vendor due to a preconceived notion that the vendor never had an opportunity to address.

How does your audience receive information?

From my observations, the major BI vendors are all strong in most of the fundamental BI areas, but if there is one place I believe their strengths vary, it’s in their delivery methods (e.g., standard vs. ad-hoc reporting or desktop vs. web vs. mobile reporting).

So you will want to know ahead of time how your users prefer to receive information. This question is a difficult one. Probably the most difficult part about it is that you can’t rely on how people currently operate, and you definitely can’t always go by what they say they want. People will say they want mobile, but if your culture is a very 9-to-5 centralized culture mobile really won’t add a lot of value. They may say they want visual information, but are their PowerPoint decks “wordy” or “graphy”?  Discuss this with your leadership and observe how the people in your organization take in data. Numbers people will always be numbers people, and visual people will always be visual people, no matter what they tell you.

Look for future posts about BI vendors in the market today; what they offer; what their viewpoints are on the future of BI: and what to look out for when implementing their products.

About Brian Gogle
Brian Gogle is an Information Management Practice Area Lead based in Dallas who has created performance insight solutions for prominent companies all over the country. Brian has also worked in the retail services industry creating merchandising execution programs built and refined by in-store data and emerging trends.

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