Software // Information Management
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8/2/2007
12:29 PM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Make Your BI Vendor Partnership a Priority

When you're buying BI as a point solution or departmental purchase, the idea of a customer-vendor partnership may not matter. When you're buying for the enterprise, it should. While BI software has become enterprise class, BI account management - for the most part - has not. A number of vendors recognize this and have efforts underway to improve the situation... but what can you as the customer do? Here's how to make partnering with the vendor a priority...

As BI becomes a mission-critical business application, it's increasingly important to partner with a BI vendor that understands your business and has a vested interest in ensuring your success. Why is it, then, that some BI vendors still have a hit-and-run sales approach?

As coincidence would have it, on a long plane journey from San Francisco back to New Jersey, I met a very important BI customer wedged in the middle seat next to me. It's a rare experience that a casual acquaintance shares my passion for this space, so I only too happily shared some research from my upcoming book and BIScorecard. As part of the BIScorecard strategic criteria, I include quality of customer account management and technical support.

This particular customer pays his BI vendor more than $400,000 in annual maintenance fees. Sounds like an important customer, right? Yet his last account rep lasted two weeks, and it has been years since anyone has taken much of an interest in their efforts - other than just to sell more software.So I asked, "does that mean customer account management isn't important to you?" He replied, "It's absolutely important. I don't want to pay my maintenance bill and am already thinking about what leverage I have at renewal time. But switching vendors at this point seems impossible."

While switching vendors could be an unfortunate consequence, the other is that this customer concedes they are not getting the full value out of the product that they could. Ditto for much of the industry, with BI being adopted by only 25 percent of employees, on average (according to results of an extensive survey detailed in the book, Successful Business Intelligence).

Part of the issue here is the way BI has changed. When you're buying BI as a point solution or departmental purchase, the idea of a customer-vendor partnership may not matter. When you're buying for the enterprise, it should. I would say that while BI software has become enterprise class, BI account management - for the most part - has not. A number of vendors recognize this and have efforts underway to improve the situation, but vendor acquisitions and fierce competition (with customer-facing personnel routinely dismissed or job hopping) make it a tough situation to turn around.

What can you as the customer do? As you buy, ramp up, or standardize on BI, make partnering with the vendor a priority:

▪ Engage your purchasing department in the process early on to develop service level agreements, including how often your account team will either visit with you or have regular conference calls. (Tip: ask your account team if they are measured on these aspects or if they are only measured on sales quotas).

▪ Understand the role of technical support and the degree to which the account representative is kept in the loop on critical problems.

▪ Express your frustrations to your vendor's senior management if you are already stuck in an "underperforming" situation, as my flight companion was.

▪ Recognize that others may be better partners in your BI success, whether it's user communities, other customers or a third-party consulting firm.

How important is partnering with the BI vendor to you? Is your vendor a partner, or only interested in a quick sale? Share your opinions in the comment box below (without naming specific vendors). If you have comments about specific vendors, please send via a confidential e-mail to cindihowson@biscorecard.com.

Sincerely, Cindi Howson, founder BIScorecard.When you're buying BI as a point solution or departmental purchase, the idea of a customer-vendor partnership may not matter. When you're buying for the enterprise, it should. While BI software has become enterprise class, BI account management - for the most part - has not. A number of vendors recognize this and have efforts underway to improve the situation... but what can you as the customer do? Here's how to make partnering with the vendor a priority...

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