Beyond differences in functionality among vendors, there are also trade-offs in deployment costs as well. For example, open-source vendors and smaller vendors, such as Information Builders and LogiXML, continue to offer worthy tools that should be assessed for extranet deployments with thousands of report consumers.
If mobility is key to your BI strategy, then MicroStrategy has been the most aggressive in building out those capabilities. Dashboards continue to be a battle ground for innovation and significant differences in capabilities.
Meanwhile, lines of business and departments care little about the strategic view of BI standards. They have business problems that need solving faster than central IT can address them. They continue to grapple with the ongoing challenge of making sense of their data. In some cases they struggle simply to access data without IT as the gate keeper.
Enter visual discovery and in-memory tools such as QlikView QlikTech, Tableau Software, or TIBCO Spotfire. Should these easy-to-use tools replace the BI standard or supplement them? Or should IT squash departmental efforts to dabble with what may be nothing more than the latest fad?
What about BI search tools like Endeca, or specialty mobile vendors like RoamBI and PushBI? Many of these smaller vendors have also had major new releases, becoming more robust, flexible and enterprise-grade. All these developments give rise to departments lobbying IT to support new tools.
In trying to answer these questions, I find myself drawing analogies to cooking. A Swiss Army knife, like a BI platform standard, may be less expensive than a full set of kitchen cutlery -- and it has a smaller footprint. But when I'm chopping celery for stuffing, I want the dedicated French chopping knife. If I'm frosting a cake, I want a non-serrated spreader.
The problem with BI and analytics is that we don't quite understand the nuances of the different ways that BI tools work and the distinct ways that they empower users. Soft claims such as "easier to use" or "more flexible," may be valid, but they fall flat in a board room when you are asking for funding and even flatter when you are asking for official IT support.
The bottom line is that larger companies need an arsenal of BI capabilities. BI standardization is good when you are trying to rationalize overlapping, redundant capabilities. It's a bad strategy when companies assume a one-size-fits-all approach and fail to consider how technology and user requirements change. In the extreme, colored pencils and paper were once standard "BI tools."
As the pace and competitiveness of business has accelerated, users need new capabilities that yield faster insights and time to value. That means periodically reassessing and expanding your BI tool portfolio.
Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, an independent analyst firm that offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.