There is no shortage of business intelligence vendors out there. They all claim to be powerful, easy-to-use, flexible and affordable. So how do you pick the one that is right for you?
In order to be able to choose the right BI vendor from the abundance out there, the best way is to follow high-level, yet restrictive, criteria and only then compare them on a feature-by-feature basis. Here are a few tips that will help you do that, as well as avoid common mistakes typically made when choosing a BI solution. This is the 21st century, and BI solutions are completely different than what you may be used to. If you follow these tips, you’ll end up with a very short list of vendors, and then it’ll just be a matter of choosing the one you feel most comfortable with in terms of specific features, pricing, support, etc:
Find a Complete Solution, Not Just Pretty Visualization.
The visualization of data is important, of course, but the biggest mistake you can make is judge the BI vendor based on the pretty dashboard samples they show you on their website or during a demo. Every BI vendor can do that because visualization software components are a dime a dozen. The real challenge is customizing these dashboards to your own needs and having them show your own data. This part usually takes most vendors months, and costs you bundles. If the BI vendor cannot get your own data to show the way you like it within just a few days, you could probably find a better one.
Beware of the Data Warehouse.
A data warehouse is a centralized database filled with all the business’s data, and for years it’s been making a ton of money for BI vendors and bringing nothing but grief to customers. Today’s BI technology does not require a data warehouse, even when there are multiple data sources involved, large amounts of data or multiple users querying the data. There are very specific scenarios where a data warehouse is a good idea, but they are most likely not relevant to you. If the vendor requires a data warehouse to proceed with implementation, it is most likely you should keep looking.
Beware of the OLAP Cube.
OLAP, which stands for Online Analytical Processing, is 20 year old technology designed to improve query performance over medium to large datasets. OLAP is also very lengthy and costly to implement, and there is really no need for it anymore. Today’s BI technology can handle even huge amounts of data without OLAP, at fractions of the time or cost. If the BI vendor requires OLAP to assure you acceptable query performance, you should probably move on.
Refuse to Make Significant Upfront Investments.
Many BI vendors will promise you the world, but will demand significant upfront investment in preparation projects, hardware and software before you even get to run a single report on your actual data. Do not agree to this, and demand to have at least one solid report or dashboard running over your own data before you commit to anything significant in advance. If the vendor is not willing to do so, it’s probably because they would have to spend weeks on development before they can reach that point. That typically means this vendor is either using very old technology or is simply trying to pull one over you.
Be wary of Vendors whose Business is Prof. Services.
Vendors who sell real home-grown BI software products (in contrast to OEMing someone else's software) do not like engaging in long professional services projects because it hurts their margins. That is why they prefer to create software that is easy enough to be used directly by the customer or through a third party (which usually lives off these professional services contracts). If you choose a BI vendor who makes most of his business off professional services (as opposed to software sales), you can pretty much be sure that they will take their time building your solution. These types of BI vendors also live off on-going maintenance services, so what you initially pay for the solution is actually only the beginning. Whenever possible, try to choose a BI vendor that focuses on selling BI software to the end customer, not to the professional services community.
Make the Vendor Prove it To You.
The most important thing is to make the vendor prove what they claim prior to investing too much money upfront. This proof must be in the form of reports, dashboards or analytics in real life scenarios, running on real data, used by the actual end users and within a reasonable amount of time. If a vendor is not willing to accommodate this simple request, you really should find one that does. Many vendors provide free trial versions, as well as utilize technology that speeds up implementation tremendously. If the one you're in contact with now doesn't, they shouldn't make your short list.