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4/5/2004
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BI on a Budget

Budget constraints are a fact of life. Yet, business intelligence (BI) is an essential capability for meeting strategic and operational objectives. Here's how to get what you need without breaking the bank.

All organizations, large, medium, and small, are interested in "BI on a budget." At one end of the spectrum, there are companies desperate to shoehorn a $10 million business intelligence (BI) effort into a $3 million budget. This situation may be due to executives oblivious the scale of the effort, or extreme caution after previous BI failures. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are small to midsized businesses (SMBs) that simply can't afford to spend $1 million on a BI environment. That doesn't mean that those companies don't have complex BI problems to solve.

Whether you're a large organization trying to squeeze into a tight BI budget or an SMB with complex BI problems and limited resources, you must find a way to stretch budget dollars while delivering successful BI solutions. This article will examine some architectural strategies that will maximize your budget dollars while affording powerful BI solutions.

Against the Grain

The best architecture for delivering BI on a budget is probably not the one being pitched by the vendors you've invited to present. Of course, if you tell them that the product doesn't address your requirements, they'll recommend a list of requirements common for companies such as yours that, by coincidence, match features of their product. If you tell them that the product features are more than you need, the vendor will enlighten you about the current limitations of your BI architecture. If you tell them the product costs too much, they'll tell you that the return on investment is a far more important measure than the initial cost. Put simply: Vendors believe that the only BI solution is the one that contains their product.

But before you write that check, first ask yourself two important questions:

  • Is the product overkill? Big-name products are great if you exploit all the features and functionality they offer. If not, they mutate into bloated tools that are inefficient and painfully expensive to implement and maintain.
  • Are you attracted to the product because it's cheap? Cheap is good, but it must address your needs. When you tell executives that the extract, transform, and load (ETL) tool you've selected saved the company a bundle of money, they'll congratulate you. But don't come back to them a few months later with a request for more programmers because you need to write a lot of code to support your ETL needs. The first thing the executives are going to ask: Didn't you buy an ETL tool to do this work?

Purchasing the right amount of technology is core to a successful BI on a budget. Frequently, companies purchase products out of convenience (price) or perceived guarantee of success (overkill). But often, that traditional, big-name product combination isn't the most cost-effective. Unfortunately, the alternative of inexpensive solutions, by themselves, may create more work.

So, what are the best alternatives? In the following sections, I will illustrate some nontraditional product combinations that exemplify the BI on a budget approach. They are real solutions in themselves; however, they should also stimulate your own research into nontraditional combinations that address your needs while matching your budget.

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