Sunday, October 24, 2010

Choosing a BI Vendor - Making the Short List

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.


  1. Elad,

    Where can I learn more / See a demo or test your application?

  2. Bill,

    Everything can be found at

    You can download the free trial here:

    You can request a free live guidance here:

  3. What is the difference between your product and PowerPivot?

  4. Hi 'Anonymous',

    There are quite a few. Here's a sample:

    1. Our product (Prism) does not require as much hardware as PowerPivot does to handle large data sets

    2. Prism has much more data integration capabilities than PowerPivot

    3. Prism allows advanced multidimensional analysis without coding or OLAP

    4. Prism makes it much easier for workgroups to work together on the same data and does not require replicas of the data to be placed on each computer in order for multiple users to work on it

    5. Prism does not require SharePoint and SQL Server 2008 R2 for sharing

    But like I always say, the best way to compare is to do it yourself. You can download a trial here:


  5. Great criteria. Based on this criteria, the BI products sold by Information Builders seem to satisfy these requirements. An organically developed BI tool (WebFOCUS) that also integrates with an organically developed integration suite (iWay software) that can access any data anywhere in the enterprise. It can access operational and/or staged data. It can easily scale without requiring significant hardware investments as the number of users grow. If it is used to develop self service applictions, the TCO falls as each user accesses the application.

    Not many BI vendors can make that claim.

  6. Thanks for your comment.

    I have to say, however, that my experience with Information Builders software, they cannot make this claim either :-)


  7. I'd be interested to hear about your experience with Information Builders products. We use it to access both legacy operational data and information in our data warehouse. We use their ETL product to populate the data warehouse. We allow users that need up to the minute information to access they legacy data while everyone else accesses the warehouse. We originally had 200 users and have recently expanded this to 5000 users. This was done with a self service application which meant little to no training for the users and further reducing the TCO for our company.

    One business unit purchase another BI tool solely because they won the 'beauty contest'. Once we got it in house, we realized we needed a hardware upgrade and professional services to roll out the app. This was because they underestimated the resources needed to roll this out to more users. We gave them access to our WebFOCUS application and they are happy.

    I agree with your point about finding a complete solution, not just pretty visualization. The WebFOCUS Proof of Concept using our data proved it could deliver the kind of content needed for our organization with far less training than the other vendor. The other Proof of Concept had more sizzle but did not return the answer sets needed to help us make businees decisions.

  8. I will give you that IB provide a complete solutions, as do IBM, SAP and others.

    I am not a fan of IB products, much to the same extent that I am not fan of IBM or SAP products. I envision BI far more flexible, dynamic and agile. These companies are too old, they use old design patterns that rely on ancient technology.

    And don't get me started about the cost of implementing one of those monsters. :)

  9. Touche'! I like the decision we made with our BI vendor choice. I wish you much success with your product. There is enough demand, room and need for everyone.

    I look forward to coming back and reading your blog as I have found it informative.


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