Build or buy? This question runs to the core of almost every major software purchase considered today. Should I try to find an existing application out there that does most of what I need done (with the risks of customization) or build something from scratch with core components (with the risks of multiple product integration)? Unfortunately, this article doesn't provide the answer to this timeless question. There's a new breed of "buy" products coming out that offer great promise to revolutionize how business analytics are performed; but the new sellers of these "buy" applications are some of the same companies that once insisted that the reason you should buy their ("build") product was to avoid the hassles of customization. The sales shoe is coming down on the other foot now, so let the buyer beware. While a packaged analytic solution may very well fit your needs, you should buy with an understanding of the risks you may face in implementation.

First, let's define what we mean by a packaged analytic application (PAA). The PAA consists of a predefined and pre- integrated set of software components (usually separate commercially available standard software) designed to answer a specific set of business analysis questions. You could also think of a PAA as a "data mart in a box." When you buy the package, you receive a data model; an extract, transform and load (ETL) process designed to populate this data model (likely including a limited- use license for an ETL product); reports (again likely including a limited-use license for a reporting or business intelligence product) designed from this data model; and hopefully a very complete set of documentation explaining it all. Common PAAs on the market today include packages for Web site/clickstream analysis, supply chain analysis, customer relationship management analysis, manufacturing analysis, purchasing analysis, and so forth.

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