It’s been a long time (in this business, anyway) since the very first business intelligence (BI) solutions turned up, enabling big organizations to perform data analysis, generating reports with primitive dashboards for company execs. Since then, the BI space has become agile, operational, self-service, social, and even reactive.
When I started to prepare a BI buyer guide, I had to reconsider why any individual or organization would want to acquire, change, or upgrade a BI solution.
BI has become disruptive. But it’s also necessary. Despite its almost-too-fast evolution, invasion of new markets, and overturning of the way organizations manage their business, BI is now a basic component of the complete information cycle, in any type of organization.
But is BI really democratic, the way it was promised it would be? Is it as widely used within your organization as expected? Has BI accomplished all the goals it was meant to achieve? Certainly BI has gained broad respect, and it’s been widely adopted within all levels and types of businesses.
TEC is publishing its 2011 Business Intelligence Buyer’s Guide later this month. For organizations on a quasi-mystical quest for a magic BI bullet, this guide will help ground you. No matter how small, medium, or large you are, BI really is for almost everyone.
Selecting the Right BI Solution
Selecting a BI solution, like any other type of software, is no easy task. At TEC, we know that the software selection process requires a very precise methodology and a well-defined set of requirements, conditions, and priorities. But we also realize that the level of complexity might vary depending on the size and type of your organization. Nowadays, BI tools have become flexible enough to offer specific solutions for almost any type of organization, from small and medium-size companies with diverse needs and limited budgets to really enormous corporations that can afford dedicated and state-of-the-art BI applications. Where do you fit in?
BI for Large Organizations
For corporations that need powerful analytics and data movement—data integration, data warehousing, and more—there are full-fledged BI suites that extend the reach of common BI functionalities and incorporate high-end technologies to include real-time data handling, embedded business process management, new technologies for team collaboration, and mobile features. Also, large enterprises are often global; their systems may require localization, and other administrative concerns need to be taken into account. Considering a BI solution for a big corporation is a big deal.
BI for SMBs
Software vendors recognize small to medium businesses (SMBs) as an important market segment and are designing applications to cover their specific needs. Vendors have concentrated some of the relevant tools commonly found in traditional corporate BI suites, and are fairly accommodating with regard to pricing and licensing options. This type of solution generally includes analysis and reporting services, data movement capabilities such as extraction and transformation, as well as more proactive technologies (e.g., business performance tools).
As for other types of business software applications, an increasing number of organizations are moving to the cloud. Cloud computing and specifically software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI offerings are currently center stage in the BI space. SMBs in particular, but increasingly also larger companies, are moving to SaaS BI products to avoid the costs and challenges of deploying complex BI solutions. There are still some issues to resolve with SaaS BI, and the offerings will change as new opportunities are explored, but these types of solutions are helping make BI solutions accessible to everyone.
Is BI a Good Fit for You?
Absolutely. Nowadays, there are a lot of exceptional tools for performing BI tasks in all types of organizations. BI can be found in large companies consolidating big volumes of data from several sources; it enables data mashups and encourages dashboards and scorecards and self-service data analysis. And you’ll find BI in small organizations too, embedded in traditional front-office tools such as spreadsheets, helping small teams of business users solve their analytical problems.
BI applications are also being reinforced with capabilities to work with real-time data, and with mobile features. So BI can give you a company snapshot from any perspective—tactical, strategic, and even operational. And these apps work alongside other business software, such as business process systems and content management systems, to provide analysis services to more areas of the organization.
Has BI software reached its pinnacle? Of course not. Many areas of BI are evolving. Some may change names or shift focus, or experience fluctuations in popularity. Social media, mobile technologies, and cloud computing are just a small sample of the trends that are influencing the way we do BI. BI can only get better.
A BI buyer’s guide might not solve all your selection problems, but it will give you a solid point of reference, so you’ll know what you need to consider when selecting a BI solution. We hope you’ll find TEC’s 2011 BI Buyer’s Guide a valuable resource.
Stay tuned. TEC’s 2011 BI Buyer’s Guide is coming soon.
I welcome your thoughts—please leave a comment below, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
With specific reference to SMBs - and i quote “and are fairly accommodating with regard to pricing and licensing options.”
The real costs involved with a BI roll out is the integration process, this is where ‘traditional’ big shop integrators have scared off SMBs in the mid-market. Unless the BI vendor offers an ‘out-of-the-box’ integration layer to a back office system (ERP), then these costs will still be incurred. So saving on licencing and tools will soon been offset significantly by the integration costs. Your thoughts?
Is Business Intelligence more about the how executives manage their business information rather than whether they should have one?
If you talk to any senior manager they will all say they understand their business BUT most don’t know how the underlying information that delivers their monthly financial or KPI information is maintained and managed.
I am sure that if you speak to anyone in any business forum they will have a story to tell about the latest and greatest spreadsheet model they or their department has just designed and used. This is regardless of which BI tool they are using. In fact Hyperion and Cognos encourage the user to export the report into a spreadsheet so that they can “Further enhance the information”
So my question is how do get people to realise that they are using too many spreadsheets as part of their “BI” solution?
What is the ideal number and then once you quantify that number is there is a clear road sign as to embrace additional “BI” tools?
If the answer is No; your company doesn’t have to worry about producing too many spreadsheets by Finance/Sales/Operational employees then there are other business risks. Risks such as Spreadsheet formula errors, incorrect assumption, sensitive information being emailed to unauthorised staff and external people (e.g Wages, financial results and customer emails and credit card details) and corruption of data. These and other issues must reduce productivity or a company worse case lead to financial penalties and loss of business!
If the answer is Yes; then surely 100,000 spreadsheet per person per year regardless of the size of the company is too many.
The next question is what tools are there to monitor the information stored? More importantly rank each of these spreadsheets in order of importance or risk to the organisation!
Only with the correct risk assessment criteria can you do a proper cost/benefit analysis against other “BI” solutions with a view to reducing your spreadsheetoverload risk!
Microsoft also introduced a BI categorization of Organization, Team and Personnal BI. The last 2 have ground in organizations of any size, and basically mean a more agile + self-service approach for answering an immediate, ad-hoc BI question. To have these addressed by the ‘formal’ BI channel, often takes too much time to be business agile. By enabling managers with self-service-BI capabilities, they can do it themself. In the Microsoft (market)vision, PowerPivot is an important tool concept to support SelfService BI.
I enjoy reading your article.
Business Intelligence is applicable to both Large Organizations and SMB. However, BI is more suitable for SMB than Large Scale Organizations due to the current limitation of the underpinning technology for capturing majority of the organizational memory especially tacit knowledge. You may agree with me that tacit knowledge has an exponential growth rate and thus higher rate of growth in Large organizations thatn SMB. Here is quote from an article I read that summarises it all.
Quoating from an article by Jerry Kurtyka
The Limits of Business Intelligence: An Organizational Learning Approach.
“…show that the BI suite is a kind of compressed version or model of the overall business reality that is its subject and that its explanatory and predictive value is mitigated by the nebulous and dynamic structure of that world, including the occupational biases and mental models of BI users. At the level of organizational knowledge, the majority of such knowledge does not lend itself to representation as data and structured information. It exists as institutional memory both above and below the level of what a BI suite can model and interpret. This does not diminish the importance of BI as a tool to aid organizational learning and guidance, but it does position BI as a technology that is limited by what it can model of the business environment.”
First of all, please accept my apologies for a very delay response, I had a crazy couple of weeks :S
Second, thank you for your (quite) interesting responses, here is my take and please feel free to maintain the discussion.
I do believe that today we have a fair number of solutions that will reduce the costs related to deployment and training. Enabling SMBs to have the opportunity to take advantage of more flexible but “easy to use” applications with their reduced budgets. Other interesting option is what some companies like IBM with Cognos Express and Microsoft are doing to expand the reach of Excel to perform more powerful task related to BI, which es really serving as a way to democratize the use of BI apps. The problem I thin is to make people aware and train them to use these tools accordingly. Thoughts?
Very interesting comment. To add and try to give more food for thought. BI still has a way to go in order to close the cycle between information analysis and the final decision making process.
There is a very interesting article on the matter:
Information analysis and Risk assessments are extremely important, but individually are just part of the solution. Collaboration -and this is not only from a software point of view- is extremely necessary to help complete the circle. Another is to establish solid BI frameworks no matter the tool we might have.
Of course, ideal is one thing and many times reality smashes us in the face. :)
Agree, specially with Powerpivot, Microsoft has an interesting approach to BI. Taking also advantage of their dominant front office tools. But there are other tools well suited for SMBs, capable of offering self-service and data mashup capabilities (QlikTech, Edge BO and Cognos Express) to mention just a few.
This is a very interesting view. Historically big organizations were the ones implementing the first BI solutions due to many factors: budget as the more important :)
Still, I consider that the general BI landscape has changed significantly over these years. Don’t get me wrong the article has still a lot of validity. But you might want to consider that the BI landscape has changed a lot during the recent years. The adoption of many new features like real-time analysis capabilities are helping organizations to expand their possibilities in the data analysis field.
In this regard. Timo Elliot wrote an interesting piece on how BI is changing:
Strategic decision making is difficult, and of course tacit knowledge is important. But this shouldn’t be a stopper to improve the decision making model of our organization. Don’t you think?
Thank you again and feel free to continue the discussion.
What a good door opener. Let’s not get too hung up on theory and simply answer the question. YES is the answer. Business Intelligence is granular not holistic thus we are all practioners of BI on a daily basis because we make decisions. For us to do so at work means that we no longer are ‘end users’ but ‘decision makers’. What has finally made me happy is the ability to compare Apples and Pears using agile analytical software. It is for everyone that is affectionately called a ‘knowledge worker’ and these people should adopt BI into their daily work routine else ask what are they doing there! The best news is that BI need not be expenses and at last can demonstrate a return on investment. We like the BI that we sell and our customers are on the whole, delighted.
This is a good topic, though i feel you should have made references to this Specific Software (or list) related to the business in question and give their features(Not all features, only general feature e.g. Profit Graphs - just general features not the actual menu features), so that you accommodate us the developers and resellers. The whole topic above seems to take care of close people who know what is happening around their own field. Images of what you are talking about will help new people get what you are talking about in a nutshell. I know you might give me links to where i can get this information …more about BI… But there are a lot of people who don’t have time to follow links and links until you disappear somewhere inside…The idea here is nutshell and almost at least 80% of information is available on ONE page.