The BI market place is flooded with a variety of solutions, making it difficult to pick the right solution that best meets specific business challenges. Data warehouse appliances, analytical databases, advanced analytics, predictive analytics, what-if models, advanced visualization and cloud computing only touch the surface of what organizations are doing in relation to their analytics framework. And, in addition to the types of applications, hardware, software and delivery choices, there are also a variety of outlooks on BI development and deployment. Building versus buying, customization as opposed to best of breed implementations, or open source instead of proprietary solutions are all preferences that remain unique to companies, BI practitioners and developers.

When looking broadly at the market, businesses can choose from more than 200 software vendors depending on the types of analytics they want to apply within their organizations. Key differentiators that used to exist between vendor capabilities are becoming harder and harder to decipher, with branding and market penetration becoming a key factor in many software evaluations. Now, in software selection, time to value and scalability are becoming more important success factors than simply providing common features and functions out of the box.

What this really means for organizations is that although there are more options, BI choices have never been more difficult to make. How does one make an informed decision when so much is riding on the success of a BI implementation? Which data warehouse will provide the processing and analytics environment required to meet the multiple and varied demands found within a single company? Questions like these show the difficulties in selecting the right platform and front end applications to create a full BI suite. This article looks at whether the flexibility in the BI marketplace, created by the number and diversity of market solutions, really helps and empowers organizations.

Software Selection Woes

The fact remains that for many businesses, concern over too many choices doesn’t exist. Many organizations do not conduct a lengthy evaluation of a full range of available offerings. And those that do tend to focus on 8 to 10 solutions, at most, to lessen potential confusion. For many businesses, a lack of knowledge exists about what solutions are available and how each solution differentiates from one another. Consequently, organizations fall back on what they currently have in house (the common expansion scenario), what they have heard about or what others are recommending. In many cases, these methods actually work, as most solution choices can be optimized to work within the environment. However, in some cases, this can lead to the implementation of a mediocre BI environment.

This doesn’t mean that an organization should rethink its whole evaluation process, but businesses should take the evaluation process more seriously and invest the time to learn about available offerings within the marketplace to make sure that selected solutions can be optimized to the fullest. In essence, even though each company will have its unique business requirements that can be addressed by most BI vendors, some solutions are developed to address specific needs, niche industries or special business cases. Even though it becomes possible to select any popular BI offering, customizing and managing that solution over time might not be optimal.

Learning the Ropes

The BI market landscape is full of robust offerings that provide businesses with broad business insights, identify opportunities and help drive performance. For organizations to identify which offerings will work best, it becomes important to broaden the scope of software selection. Here are some ways organizations achieve this:

  1. Identify the purpose of BI. Some organizations want to implement a centralized approach to BI, while others prefer to give individual departments the flexibility to use their own tools. Making sure the purpose and overall goal is defined will help ensure that business criteria match what the solutions can provide.
  2. Learn about the market. There are certain solutions that are well-known and always seem to make a short list. The reality is that many of the larger BI players require more time to develop and lack flexibility, in terms data management (i.e., the types of data and processing). Understanding the market means identifying the type of solutions that best meet the BI requirements and making sure that all of the applicable solutions are evaluated to identify the pros and cons of each.
  3. Develop a short list of essential criteria and identify which solutions make the cut. Only vendors that meet these criteria should make it to the short list. Therefore, do not rely solely on marketing materials to provide information, but also request demos and customer references.
  4. Make sure vendors meet the technical requirements of the IT architecture. In some cases, this means what currently exists for a data warehouse, while, in others, it means looking at how storage, security and integration tie in to overall expectations.

Managing Expectations

Reinventing the wheel is never fun. Going from a simple selection of software toward in-depth research is time-consuming and can be frustrating. However, the payoffs can’t be overlooked. Businesses that take the time to identify the best fit can develop and maintain BI solutions that provide the best bang for their buck and enable them to not only implement a solution that meets their immediate analytics requirements and can grow with them over time.

Check out Lyndsay Wise’s new book, Using Open Source Platforms for Business Intelligence.