Businesses today face increasing pressure to open up their business intelligence (BI) capabilities to business partners and customers. Whether called a customer portal, vendor information system or partner BI, businesses ranging from consumer products to pharmaceuticals to high-tech manufacturing need to tackle this challenge. While the core methodology for building an external data warehouse is similar to that of building one for internal consumption, there are specific factors critical to the success of an external-facing BI application. These distinguishing factors include performance, security, compliance and user interface tools.

Opening up a BI system to external users may increase the number of users by thousands or tens of thousands over the original internal warehouse. Underestimating the impact of this influx of users is one of the most common mistakes of earlier attempts at creating external-facing BI systems. I worked with an organization that tried to fix the problem by adding more servers and memory, with less than successful results. The influx of users actually required a look at the complete architecture, not just the hardware. Key areas to examine include:

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