The business intelligence (BI) market is insanely crowded. I recently illustrated this to some new employees by putting together a PowerPoint slide of vendors in the BI space; just to make a point of how competitive the space truly is. It shocked me how quickly I was able to fill the page with companies offering BI in some shape or form. If I were so inclined, I could have filled at least 3 more pages with logos.
If you’re looking to replace an existing business intelligence system with a new offering, or are looking for a fresh start, you’re probably getting overwhelmed with options. There’s a well documented phenomenon known as Option Paralysis, where if an individual is given too many choices they will freeze and make no choice at all. Any delays in choosing a vendor is going to cost you time and money and might even lead to you losing your entire budget for the project. To help you more efficiently evaluate all your options, here are four quick evaluation tips to help you when trying to weed through all the choices.
Listen to your peers
You must listen to real users while you evaluate! Have you ever gone to Amazon to buy something (let’s use a lawnmower for example)? Before purchasing a lawnmower, would seek out industry analysts to try to get their opinions of how they feel about the lawnmower along with various buzzwords and terms that you should be focused on when evaluating? Based on what I’m seeing in the BI industry, you’d probably be hit with a barrage of terms like this that wouldn’t solve any real problem and probably cause you more confusion than you had in the first place.
What you’re more likely to do, is go to Amazon and scroll down to the bottom to look at user reviews from real users of the product. You're probably going to pick a lawnmower that performs best based on what other people think.
Why not do the same with your business intelligence software? The following are lists of different third-party review sites that we recommend. These sites are backed by real users and not paid analysts. Many of these review sites also verify the users making reviews, so you can know that every review is valid, and the feedback isn’t fabricated. These sites are great channels that you can visit to simply learn about a product and make an informed decision:
Consider the needs of your users
You’re like to have three different types of users in any business intelligence deployment:
- Non-technical business users who just want to come in and consume content.
- Power users who want to build and consume content.
- Developers who are comfortable writing scripts, making connections to databases and wish to customize every part of the application
Not every BI tool is created to service each type of user. If you pick a self-service oriented tool, you might be meeting the needs for a business user but not your technical users. There's a lot of vendors out there that are very one-dimensional by targeting only one type of user, so you need to make sure the tool is aligned to what you want to do.
A business intelligence tool like Dundas BI has an adaptable experience depending on the users you have. You can provide your business users a simple interface where they can just come in and consume content, whereas you may want the self-service user to have data presented for them that’s been set up by a developer. Of course, developers still need the power to go in and do whatever they want. In this next diagram, you can see how Dundas BI combines both the traditional IT-led approach to development and a modern self-service style.
Overall platform flexibility
Something you're going to find is that every single vendor you speak with is going to say that their BI tool is flexible and customizable. Make sure you dig in seriously on this point because many projects fail because companies choose tools based on what seems easiest to use rather than making sure they’re able to meet all their technical requirements. Would you rather a tool that can build a dashboard in 10 minutes but can’t go extend beyond its basic functionality? Or would you prefer a tool that takes 1 day to build a dashboard and has more customization than you’ll ever need? Don’t forget, you’ll only building that dashboard once! Tools that are more flexible and can be customized to a greater extent can take a bit longer to get accustomed to, but with them, you’re not going to hit a wall 6-months into a project and be back to square one.
Dundas BI takes customization and flexibility to such a ridiculous level that it’s hard to describe without seeing it. Just the visualization properties alone were so plentiful that our developers had to go and develop a second quick access property panel to make it easier to find the simple ones! Other forms of advanced customization like API support, custom data connections, custom formulas and scripting capabilities are well worth considering when evaluating BI vendors.
Support and culture
What kind of support are you getting from large vendors where to them, you’re just a number? If you have a problem, they are going to throw you over to their forums and say, “have fun, buy more of our product”. Before deciding on a BI vendor, you should 100% test out the level of support and responsiveness they provide. When you are evaluating, see who is most genuinely interested in helping you solve your problems, not just in taking your credit card number! There is a big difference between someone in sales being willing to talk to you because they think that they can sell you, and a company taking a consultative approach to help you. Implementing a business intelligence solution is tough, but it doesn’t have to me. Make sure when evaluating you look for companies who are willing to help you, every step of the way.
Dundas BI offers a client enablement service where we invest in your success above and beyond the typical tech-support that you’d expect.
Good luck out there!
About the Author
Jeff Hainsworth is a Senior Solutions Architect at Dundas Data Visualization with over a decade and a half of experience in Business Intelligence. He has a passion for building, coding and everything visual – you know, shiny things! Check out "Off the Charts... with Jeff", his platform for great content on all things analytics, data visualizations, dashboards, and business intelligence. There’s something for everyone!More Content by Jeff Hainsworth