Choosing a Business Intelligence Tool - Does it Really Matter?

Posted by Larry Hill  I  August 6, 12

So you already have your database and/or data-warehouse in place, and you're collecting data. Now you are ready to tackle the Business Intelligence (BI) questions that your manangement needs answered in order to see a real ROI of the system you have just implemented.

So what tool should you use, and does it matter?

The true value of any BI system, whether off-the-shelf or custom-built, is delivered through two main outcomes. First, the system needs to provide the essential functionality to enable end-users to easily and effectively perform their duties. The second, and often more important function, is to provide access to meaningful reports that will empower management to make better informed business decisions. This is why, when building a custom system,
organizations need to consider both the application functionality and reporting capabilities as equally important when deciding on a tool to implement.

For most Business Intelligence tools, the cost and time involved in implementing is prohibitive and often raises additional questions:

  1. Is the reporting tool really relevant when deploying a complete BI solution?
  2. Which type of reporting tool should I choose when deploying a BI system?
  3. Will the tool satisfy all my users needs?
  4. Do we have people with the skills needed to learn and utilize the tool?

So, as you are starting to learn, choosing a reporting tool is not as easy as it may seem.

Most organizations feel that once you have the BI basics (ie..data warehouse, data flow, and analysis services) in place, the reporting tool is considered a lessor priority and thus has less relevance when it comes to information delivery.   It can be argued that the tool does not really matter. But, personally I don't agree with this notion one bit.  Far too many times in my experience I have seen a project fail or run into many roadblocks/hurdles because the reporting tool was not considered as important as the other BI components.

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When trying to decide on a reporting tool there are two major things to consider:

The first being the internal / external regulations and compliance needs that your company follows during the creation and publishing of reports.  With this in mind you should choose a solution that can meet and or exceed the required reporting standards for your organization (i.e. the banking industry uses the IFRS (International Financial reporting standards).)

The second issue to consider is the type of reports that need to be generated for the organization:

  • Management Reports (Strategic): used to visualize business performance, strategy, and marketing data
  • Business Reports (Analytical): periodical reports used for sales, customers, delivery, etc.
  • Operational Reports: used for reviewing stock, expense, and accounts payable data, etc.

The types of reports needed have a lot of influence when you are considering a reporting tool because it directly relates to the number of users that will be using the reporting tool. It’s important to try to establish a list of pros and cons of all your reporting needs based on the depth (or type) of reports you will be generating.

While not a "major consideration" when selecting a Business Intelligence tool, the application interface of the tool should be evaluated while working with actual reports. The BI tool is the presentation layer of the entire system which is why I feel that more attention should be paid to this subject.   After all, this is what your users will be looking at when making business critical decisions. Thus, if users are not given something that is functional, and most importantly professional-looking, what good is the report really going to be?  Looks aren't everything, but man they sure do count for a lot to a user. The combination of colors, forms, frames and the data itself, if done right, and put together in a professional manner, will fit your corporate image and help the decision making process easy for the user.

Another minor consideration is that in todays climate, the need to empower users has become a common requirement, as users become more technical and data savvy.   These users want to drill down, interact and play with data on their own to answer ad-hoc questions without having to ask a report developer to create a whole new report that may or may not be used all the time.  The corporate philosophy plays a big role in this in that many organizations still rely heavlily on paper reporting, while other organizations utilize dashboarding, and still others rely on a combination of solutions.

I would also be remiss if I did not touch on the fact that BI relies on data collected from other systems, so the quality of the data is very important to BI.  The intelligence provided by BI has to be trusted enough to be acted upon.  There are many data quality software tools that can be used to improve the quality of data that comes into the BI or CPM system.  But there is more to data quality than just tools.  Data quality should be built into processes so that data is correctly captured and stored, that errors are not introduced in other processes that use the data, and that the data is integrated, i.e., brought together from different systems so that the information that it provides can be compared and contrasted to provide the intelligence that every organization needs and demands.

All of these major and minor points should be taken into account when deciding on a Business Intelligence tool. At the end of the day consider the reporting capabilities that are important to you and prioritize them jointly with your users. Keep in mind that a poor choice means that you may need to add other BI solutions in the future, and no one wants that headache.

Interested in talking with Techport Thirteen, and how we can help you with your reporting needs? Call or click us today.

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