How to select a Business Intelligence solution

There’s a lot of screaming. But ironically, I can’t hear a thing. One hoarsely hollered proclamation is indistinguishable from the next – a featureless wall of deafening noise.

With all the vendor hype in the Business Intelligence (BI) space, all the promises and promotions, it’s easy to walk away bamboozled, believing that everyone offers the same thing – they just shout about it in slightly different ways.

Despite any understandable contradictory first impressions, this is not true.

There are two completely different, but equally important, aspects to BI analytics and reporting programs:

  • Analysis and data exploration:  Analysis and data exploration lets business analysts search for insightful and actionable patterns and relationships in organizational data sets that can be used to develop operational reports or business strategy.
  • Exception reporting / operational reporting:  Exception, or operational reporting, delivers KPIs and important business metrics to end-users on a daily basis via personalized dashboards. It’s aimed at non-technical businessmen and women (that’s most of us), allowing you to stay informed, and take action to address emerging business issues relevant to your job title.

And my point?

Many BI vendors do not offer both capabilities. So knowing what you want to be able to do with your corporate data is crucial.

Data analysis and exploration is hugely powerful, and has the ability to monetize your data, transforming it into definable business goals and opportunities. The results and capabilities are immensely impressive and form the selling point of most BI tools. But, usability of this feature is restricted to the true tech-heads – it takes considerable skill to take advantage of its full potential.

Once a BI tool has been successfully set-up, exception reporting is the feature most widely used throughout an organization.

Selecting a BI solution to fit your needs

So which do you need? Analysis and data exploration; or exception reporting?

While answering this question will help you clarify your analytics and reporting needs, we think a true BI tool should deliver both.

It makes sense. Business people want accurate, discerning, timely and relevant business information – but don’t care how they get it. However, to transform complex data into usable business goals, objectives and measures it (you guessed it) has to be analyzed.

So, ultimately you need both data analysis and exception reporting features. But don’t look for the ‘best’ BI tool out there. Look for the ‘best fit’ – the one that best suits your needs.

What do you want to achieve through implementing a BI program?

To help achieve this, you need to do some homework. It’s too easy to fall into the alluring trap – the idea that by implementing a BI solution, all your problems will be solved, your profits will sky-rocket and you will be crown the undisputable and irremovable king of your industry and laden with congratulatory gift-baskets from your envious competitors.

BI can only solve the achievable. And most importantly, a BI tool is only as good as the questions asked of it and the data it can access, to perform analysis and generate reports.

It is paramount that you understand what your business goals are and how you hope a BI tool can help you achieve them.

To ensure the success of your BI project you must:

  1. Define your business requirements
  2. Define your user requirements
  3. Understand your technical infrastructure

Know what you’re looking for: develop a BI vendor checklist

Now that you’ve established why you need a BI tool and what you want it to achieve, it’s time to assess individual BI vendor suitability.

You should develop three checklists. These checklists should assess:

  1. The vendor
  • Proof of concept (demos and free trails)
  • Support services
  • Flexibility
  • Customization

     2.  The vendor’s BI platform

  • Reliability
  • Scalability
  • Ease of deployment
  • Ability to integrate with existing infrastructure
  • Ability to adapt to suit your changing reporting needs without daunting time and financial constraints
  • Interactivity and flexibility
  • Customization
  • Speed of report delivery
  • Ease of use
  • Value for money

     3.  The functionality of the vendor’s BI tool

  • Robust data security
  • Exception and alerts
  • Dashboards
  • Data analysis and exploration (reporting writing)
  • Meta-data layer
  • Scheduling and broadcasting
  • Mobile BI
  • Discussion and data annotation

Additionally, provide prospective BI vendors with your list of business, end-user and infrastructure requirements. Also, give a specific example that clearly demonstrates how you want to be able to use and apply your BI solution.

Challenge a BI vendor to work collaboratively

Throw-down a challenge. Ensure the BI vendor is committed to working collaboratively with its clients to tailor its BI solution to their specific goals, needs and reporting environment.

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