Q:

We are in the process of evaluating several EBIS (enterprise business intelligence solutions). We have limited IT resources and are leaning toward vendors with prepackaged analytics and source data extractors. Are companies really able to use 65-80 percent of the prebuilt reports and connectors the vendors claim?

A:

Sid Adelman’s Answer: There’s an easy way to find out. Ask the vendors for three references, organizations that have been using their prepackaged analytics. When you call the references you get to ask which of the prebuilt reports they are using. Next, take those prebuilt reports to your users and ask them if they would use them. Ask them what those new reports would replace, ask them if the reports satisfy their needs and what the reports are missing.

Chuck Kelley’s Answer: In some cases yes and in other cases no. It all depends on the requirements for the EBIS that is provided by the user community. If they have provided enough requirements and the EBIS vendor provides sufficient reports and connectivity for your organization, then get it. If not, ask the EBIS vendor if it is possible to have them produce some other reports for you (for a price, I can’t imagine them not wanting to do this).

Clay Rehm’s Answer: I want to respond to the question – are companies really able to use 65-80 percent of the prebuilt reports and connectors the vendors claim. When you think about it, what really is a report? A report is a document or file that captures specific data elements, and those data elements are arranged in a specific sort order.

There are standard reports and data elements that are used across each industry such as customer, product and revenue. Most vendors rely on this and are able to develop what they think is a standard report that can be used in most situations.

Instead of relying on this assumption, perform an inventory of data elements and how they are used by reviewing each existing report. Compare this inventory to the vendor’s list of reports and you should be able to determine how close their claim really is.

Les Barbusinski’s Answer: If your source systems are standard, commercially available packages (i.e., ERP, CRM, accounting, supply chain management, sales force automation, etc.) … then, yes, the EBIS vendor’s ETL connectors should be 65-to-80 percent compatible with your implementation. Be sure the vendor supports the specific release of each source system you intend to extract data from. Also, you may have to do some customization to the connectors if you’ve customized your source system or if your installation decided to use code values other than the defaults provided with the package. Otherwise, you should be cool.

If, on the other hand, your source systems are home grown, then the EBIS vendor’s standard connectors can – at best – be used as templates.

The reports are another matter. I’ve never seen the business users accept a vendor’s analytical reports straight out of the box. They always want substantial modifications and/or customization. That’s not to say the packaged analytical reports are useless. Quite the contrary. It’s often very difficult to get end users to tell you what kind of analytical reports they want. It’s hard to visualize. The packaged analytical reports are great for crystallizing user requirements (i.e., "I like that" or "I don’t like that") and can act as detailed templates for the finished reports. Hope this helps.

Mike Jennings’ Answer: Prepackaged analytics can be a great way to jump-start an enterprise business intelligence implementation. Your ability to use the packaged solution is going depend on how well the provided solution meets your specific business needs. Business users need to understand clearly that customization needs to be held in check in order to gain the maximum value from the solution. Some items to consider in your decision include:

  1. What data sources (and versions) are supported by the solution? How much of the data source content can be extracted into the BI environment? What data from the data source is not supported through the provided data extraction processes? Can data be extracted data from unsupported data sources? What is the cost and level of effort for data extraction from unsupported data sources?
  2. What server hardware, operating systems, databases, Web server applications, middleware applications and entitlement stores are supported by the solution? Check the versions supported. If the solution requires your firm to use a new technology not currently supported by your IT organization, you need to factor in this cost to your decision.
  3. What third-party applications are required by the solution (e.g., reporting, ETL, portal)? What is the licensing arrangement with these solutions? How are new releases of these third party products supported by the solution? When are new third-party products release incorporated and released through the solution? What is the lag period for this incorporation?
  4. Does the solution provide for specific industry data and/or reporting requirements (e.g., third- party data sources such as census or government compliance reporting)?
  5. How does the reporting solution incorporate your firms’ organizational hierarchy into reporting? Can reporting be run against current and previous organizational structures? Does the organizational hierarchy method used for reporting meet business expectations? How are changes to the organizational structure used for reporting maintained? How can more then one organizational structure be used for reporting?
  6. How is role and row level security incorporated into reporting? Can role level security be applied at a various points in the solution (e.g., report, report link, folder, or page level)? How does row level security restrict the data a user can view based on data constraints (e.g., dimension).
  7. How is business and technical meta data entered, captured, and maintained in the solution? What types of meta data can be reported on (e.g., operational statistics, usage statistics, business terms and definitions, etc.)?

If the solution is to be deployed by your firm on the Internet, see the DM Review September, October and November 2002 installments of the "Enterprise Architecture View" column for further considerations.

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