BI Scorecard: Administration - InformationWeek

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5/18/2004
03:05 PM
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BI Scorecard: Administration

Glamorous they are not, but strong administrative features merit close analysis as you evaluate BI suites. Our Scorecard series continues.

To date in this series, I've looked at many of the end-user features of BI suites that help users create powerful reports and analyze data to discover business opportunities. Administrative features might not garner the interest of the business users, yet they are equally important. The best deployments consider both end-user requirements and administrative issues of BI tools. Without considering both, companies can end up with either a tool that might look nice but requires significant IT resources to maintain or a system nobody uses.

Security

I confess: I hate BI security. It's not that I don't see the need for it; it's that I loathe keeping track of yet one more user ID and password! Nothing kills the success of a BI implementation quicker than when a BI user happily accesses a slick dashboard only to be plagued with "incorrect password" error messages when trying to refresh it. There's a lesson here: You can spend a significant amount of time selecting a BI tool, but if you don't spend an adequate amount of time planning security, the tool will be blamed for both breaches and login errors.

Security can be broken into two phases. The first is authentication — the validation of a user name and password. The second is authorization — what someone is allowed to access after authentication. The use of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) services promises to minimize the problem of multiple user IDs and passwords. In theory, a company will have one directory server with all employee usernames and passwords. All company systems — whether network, BI, or ERP — use the directory server for authentication. Time to change your password? It's changed in one place, for all corporate systems. New employee? It's added in one place, providing instantaneous access to everything the new hire needs to be productive from day one. Sound too good to be true? Probably. But we're getting there.

Currently, there's no clear standard for directory services. Sun's iPlanet, Microsoft Active Directory, and Novell's eDirectory are some of the leaders. BI vendors may support some or all of these. Microsoft Reporting Services, for example, supports only its own Active Directory out of the box. (Note: Microsoft claims it supports third-party directories through its APIs, but this capability isn't documented.) Business Objects only recently added LDAP support in version 6.1 (released September 2003).


TABLE 1 Scorecard comparing administration capabilities in several BI suites.

For both historical and practical reasons, most BI tools continue to have their own authentication mechanisms. If your company hasn't yet implemented a directory server, you need these mechanisms. If you do have a directory server, however, you want the BI tool to authenticate against it. For this reason, I haven't scored the item "Optional Proprietary Authentication" in Table 1: How you perceive this aspect is completely dependent upon how far along your company is in implementing a directory server.

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