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4/21/2010
09:39 AM
Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
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BI Integration Fear Factors

Don't fall prey to business intelligence fear mongering. For every vendor threat, there is a far less-threatening reality.

The IE report highlighting the "Buyers Beware" message from Gartner is spot-on. Here are a few threats I've seen that increase buyer "fear factor" about BI technology integration, and a reality-check on these threats.

First, just in case you haven't read the write-up on the Gartner Summit, here is a pertinent précis:

Gartner reports that megavendors IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP now control two thirds of the business intelligence market and their marketshare is growing. Gartner analyst Rita Sallam cautioned buyers that although consolidated buying can make sense, particularly if you already have other elements from the same vendor, such as data integration or enterprise applications, but customers should define their BI strategies and needs first

So, here are some typical integration threats that come up during business intelligence technology assessment.Integrated Security

The Threat: If you don't use our full technology stack, you are depriving your users of single sign-on, and your administrators of the convenience of setting up security once and in one place.

The Reality: That's true. But the $64,000 question is: how important is it? If your Financial Planning and Supply Chain users are not in a single authorization database, can the users and administrators live with that? Chances are they can, in which case this threat reduces significantly in severity. And that's not to say that integrated security can absolutely NOT be achieved with different toolsets -- nearly all BI layers these days have programming interfaces that can be exploited to accomplish things like single sign-on. Get your technology experts to look at this issue in depth, and you might be surprised by the latitude you get.

Unified Look and Feel

The Threat: Using different reporting/presentation tools for different areas of the BI solution leads to inconsistencies in look-and-feel that can lead to user frustration and impact productivity.

The Reality: Only partly true. Both reactions -- user frustration and reduced productivity -- are true for some time. Then, users get used to the different interfaces and learn to use to use the tools productively, so this Fear Factor vanishes. Think of Microsoft Word and Excel -- they are very different in how they present even overlapping capabilities (e.g. creating a list or a table); once you get used to the tools, comfort levels and productivity rise quickly.

Incidentally, a related mini-threat is that much-used term, Portal. Use an integrated toolset, and you can find all your reports on a single portal (or whatever). True, but the same logic as above applies. Plus, the fact is that you could use other portal technologies for presentation - for example, using Microsoft SharePoint to publish reports created using other BI technologies.

Drill-Downs and Drill-Throughs

The Threat: Not using our integrated toolset will preclude you from the valuable ability to drill across to other reports and data sources.

The Reality: Not quite true. Disregarding any purist view out there regarding differences between drill-downs,drill-throughs and drill-acrosses, the ability to drill across from one report to another -- say, from a Vendor Performance report to the vendor details, or to a list of vendor invoices -- is essentially driven by your ability to invoke the report by sending parameters. I suspect that most reporting technologies support parameterized report invocation, so you aren't totally out of luck. In the worst case, this would reduce to having a link that invokes the child report without any parameters, and the user would have to re-enter the parameter values (in our example, say vendor id and date range). Inconvenient for sure, but nothing that users cannot live with. And all this takes is embedding the URL.

These are examples, but here's the point: Before letting such Fear Factors sway your decision, consider the following two things:

  • Is that a real requirement or merely a mirage? How critical is the requirement?
  • What workarounds are available?
Work with your business users and technical experts to uncover the "real truth," and it just might lead to some pleasant surprises regarding your BI technology options and uncover some cost savings.Don't fall prey to business intelligence fear mongering. For every vendor threat, there is a far less-threatening reality.

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