These days, it seems as if business intelligence (BI) vendors are hawking their wares on every sidewalk. How do you choose which one is right for you? Over the course of the last couple of months, I've asked quite a few IT managers and executives at several Fortune 500 companies how they would go about choosing a BI package and/or vendor.

The hodgepodge of answers I received indicated that there's not really very much in the way of a standard selection methodology available when it comes to selecting a BI package. For this reason, I'd like to discuss some criteria that I've used to help my clients successfully select BI vendors and packages.

The vendor criteria center around commitment and stability, and include:

  • Pricing strategy that includes per user/concurrent pricing.
  • Product scope that includes the ability to provide a complete solution.
  • Vendor commitment reflected by willingness to prototype and willingness to answer questions.
  • Vendor size including number of employees/offices, and sales and market share.
  • Future presence in the marketplace predicted by level of R&D investment and vendor market image.
  • Client support levels including local vendor training and local vendor representatives.

The product criteria focus on performance and functionality and include:

  • Flexibility that includes the ability to support several data types.
  • Performance: processing speed and multiple processing.
  • Reliability in the form of tool stability over the useful life.
  • Security that includes the use of passwords/user IDs.
  • Functionality: drill down/drill through in the form of ad hoc queries/what if scenarios.
  • Ease of use.
  • Ease of development (short learning curve).
  • Reasonable cost of ownership.

Quantify these criteria to select the vendor and package that best fits your needs. My suggestion is to construct a matrix that turns the answers you receive to each vendor question into a quantified, percentage-based answer.
Assign each criterion a weight that is a percentage of a total score of 100. For example, you could assign pricing strategy a maximum weight of 15 percent. That would mean that the maximum the best-price vendor could receive would be 15 points. Whatever weights you choose, all the points should add to 100.

Next, evaluate each vendor on your list in terms of how many points they receive for how well they and their products meet your criteria. I would suggest that you develop two parts to the matrix: one part should focus on the vendor and one part should focus on the tool. That way you can see a quantified picture of how well each vendor and each tool meet your criteria. I have provided an example of just such a matrix in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Example Matrix

As you can see, Product A scores the lowest, and Product E scores the highest. There is one caveat, however. Don't let only the numbers lead you to your final answer. Gut instincts are always helpful in making decisions. For example, Products C and D have very similar scores overall, but Product C has better vendor factor totals, while Product D has better tool totals. Which tool you pick ultimately depends on whether the vendor score or the tool score is more important.

You can obviously customize the matrix and the criteria to fit your needs. However, whatever criteria you choose, quantifying them should give you a clearer picture of how all the myriad BI vendors stack up against each other.

All information provided is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation. The views and opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of BearingPoint, Inc.

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