Slideshow SMBs: How to Select BI Software

  • July 26 2012, 9:17am EDT

There are many considerations when trying to identify the right business intelligence solution for any small-to-medium sized business. The five areas identified in this slide show provide a good starting point for SMBs evaluating a variety of solution choices.

1. Refine the Vendor Definitions

The term self-service is very popular today. Generally, traditional BI offerings target users familiar with data manipulation, statistical models, the creation of customized calculations and the origins of data locations. The goal of self-service BI is to expand BI use and bring analytics to all users within the organization, without having to rely on IT for delivery and development. Therefore, many of the BI solutions targeting SMBs are easier to interact with than traditional offerings. The challenge is identifying which solutions have the ease of use and self-service capabilities that match employee skill sets. Vendors may say they offer self-service BI, but that doesn’t mean much if the level of self-service isn’t easy or interactive enough for business users to access.

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2. Understanding Pricing and Licensing Fees

Subscription models will differ based on number of users, amount of data stored and number of data sources. Many SMBs like the idea of having BI as a fixed cost. Depending on the model chosen, fixed costs can grow exorbitantly due to capturing higher data volumes, expansion of use or the application of more complex analytics. Looking at the way additional data sources, end users and expansion of use will affect costs over time may lead you to select a BI offering that is more expensive initially but has more potential to scale. The market is transitioning away from traditional licensing models that block organizations from expanding end user involvement without increasing costs.

3. Consider Integration of Disparate Data Sources

Some industry research suggests that 80 percent of BI efforts are placed on data integration activities. Each vendor has different ways of loading, cleansing and maintaining data sources. In addition, certain vendors have connectors to integrate a wider variety of information. Understanding how this works in advance will help plan for the effort involved relative to developer and solution provider involvement and what sources are supported natively. In addition, this knowledge can help narrow the playing field by identifying which solution offerings will be the quickest to develop.

4. Get the Cloud/SaaS Details

The promise of fixed costs, less upfront costs and easier maintenance makes SaaS appealing to many SMBs. When looking at the long-term costs and expansion of use, the picture changes. In many cases, long-term expenditures end up being larger than with traditional implementations and costing structures. Even though subscription models are becoming more popular, their costs over time will probably be greater than spending higher fees to implement a BI offering up front and spending the 20 percent (on average) on support and maintenance fees. Software as a service on its own is becoming more popular, but businesses need to make sure they can access and remove their data if they choose to change platforms. Also, organizations should identify what challenges exist with having their data hosted externally versus developing their own data warehouse.

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5. Look at the Best of Breed Availability

Dashboards are becoming the popular way to access metrics and analyses. They are seen as an easy way to interact with data. The reality is that dashboards only represent one component of business intelligence. Organizations need to identify their needs and what tools they can use to access and interact with the relevant data. This requires an understanding of the benefits of reporting, multidimensional analysis and data warehousing options. In some cases, the best option may be a piecemeal approach that requires separate BI components, in others, companies should look at full BI offerings, such as those provided by some of the larger vendors.

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These tips first appeared in an extensive article by Wise Analytics President and Founder Lyndsay Wise, which can be read here For a video discussion on SMB open source possibilities for BI with Lyndsay and Editorial Director Jim Ericson, click here. All images used with permission from ThinkStock.