Don't Let BI Standardization Lead To Stagnation
Consolidation among business intelligence vendors has made product selection harder than ever. Nonetheless, successful companies periodically review their choice of BI tools.
Business Intelligence has gotten bigger, with everyone from executives to casual users having an opinion on the company's BI strategy. Is that a good thing?
I find myself having a number of conversations lately around how the new BI landscape shapes BI tool investments, both at the enterprise and departmental level. Maybe your company uses SAP for its ERP system, but IBM Cognos is your BI standard. Should you switch your BI standard to SAP?
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Microsoft recently released PowerPivot, which has all the familiarity of Excel, so perhaps that should be the company's new BI standard. Or maybe you are implementing Oracle's PeopleSoft and are wondering if the prebuilt analytic applications that require Oracle BI Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) would meet your needs?
Meanwhile, individual departments are clamoring for the central IT group to support easier-to-use and faster-to-deploy tools such as QlikTech QlikView and Tableau.
Vendor consolidation was supposed to make everyone's life easier, with fewer players to choose from and clear market leaders, but that hasn't been the case. Stakes are higher, with millions of dollars in BI investments in the balance and even more in missed decision opportunities; switching costs are high, and IT careers are on the line as choices are made to invest in particular vendors and skill sets.
Why all the debates and what should you do?
All four mega vendors (SAP, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft) have recently released major new versions of their products, forcing assessments of whether to upgrade or whether to switch. What is most beneficial and most cost effective really depends on the particular vendor and product.
Some upgrades are more painful than others. Any reassessments should also consider the success of your current deployment. I never recommend changing vendors for change's sake or for minor feature improvements. Vendors will continue to leap frog each other in particular areas, but their visions, execution, and philosophies are profoundly different.
The most successful companies continually monitor the effectiveness of their BI tool standards and reassess their portfolio every couple of years. According to BI Scorecard's 2009 Successful BI Survey, 57% of organizations now have a predominant BI standard. The key word here is predominant. I have never bought into an idea of an exclusive BI standard, yet it seems CIOs in particular want this simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach.
If you consider the six or seven modules that make up a BI suite, no single vendor is excellent in all modules. Smaller companies with less complex analytic requirements may be able to manage with a single-vendor solution, but the needs of larger enterprises are different.