BI Scorecard: Evaluating the Suites One Functional Area at a Time - InformationWeek
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BI Scorecard: Evaluating the Suites One Functional Area at a Time

Our new series focuses on BI feature differences that matter most in your product selection.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Intelligent Enterprise's special product review series by independent expert Cindi Howson. This review series takes a close look at features and functions critical in your business intelligence (BI) product evaluation. In the course of this series, Howson will offer a comparative evaluation of a selection of major BI products.

Of course, there are more BI products important to evaluate than are addressed in this product review series. In recent issues, Intelligent Enterprise has published reviews and analyses of a number of them, as well as articles and product guides at our Web Community, For access to these, please consult this listing of relevant articles from 2003 and 2004. As you consider which products fit best with your organization's BI strategy, be sure to take advantage of the full breadth of our BI coverage — to which Howson's series now becomes a major addition.

In upcoming issues and on the Web, look for reviews of some of the products not addressed specifically in the product comparisons in this series. Intelligent Enterprise endeavors to bring readers information about as wide a spectrum of credible technology alternatives as we can. We look forward to hearing from you about other products, or perhaps other features and functions, which you feel we should cover to give the fullest possible dimension to BI product selection.

David Stodder

Business intelligence (BI) attracted a lot attention in 2003. Vendor acquisition and product innovation invigorated a maturing market. Although sexy scorecards have always whetted the appetite of data-rich but information-poor managers, it was tried-and-true reporting that fueled the most heated discussions in 2003.

Cognos, with its world product launch of ReportNet, broadcast the event live from New York. Business Objects released Enterprise 6 and later acquired Crystal; Hyperion acquired Brio. MicroStrategy released 7.5, with long-awaited production reporting. Add heavyweight Microsoft to the mix with its just-released Reporting Services, and it certainly leaves companies wondering if they've invested in the right BI tools.

Despite all this innovation and excitement, the road to BI product selection and standardization is still a treacherous one, with few people understanding what features are different among the products and how those differences affect usability, manageability, cost, and ultimately, success. When people buy a car, they understand features such as "miles per gallon" well. (If I buy that cool Hummer, I understand the effects on pollution, gas costs, and number of times standing at the pump in the snow.) But, when selecting and standardizing on a BI tool, features such as "banded reports" or "multipass SQL" mean different things to different people, depending on whether they're users, BI experts, or vendors.

This seven-part "BI Scorecard" series is designed to help you understand the features and product differences from seven major functional areas that will most affect the success of your deployment.

None of the scorecards rank the criteria, as the importance of each feature will vary depending on your company's own capabilities, goals, and infrastructure. (See Table 1.) Instead, the scorecards provide indicators for areas in which the products differ. If you are doing an initial prototype, be sure to dig deeper into the weaker areas (color coded red) to avoid hitting limitations. If you are standardizing and deploying, leverage the product's strengths (color coded green) for a more successful implementation.

Table 1 Scorecard comparing query capabilities of several BI suites.

Focus on Query Features

This first part of the series looks at query features: how you get the data out of the data warehouse or operational system. An organization must first answer a few strategic questions before determining which criteria are more important:

  • Who will author most reports: business power users or IT developers? The answer may be "both." However, the features important to each user group are drastically different, forcing you either to select multiple tools (although perhaps from the same vendor) or to require one segment of users to sacrifice functionality.
  • Will the Web be a report-authoring environment or primarily a delivery mechanism? Many BI products that were initially built for the desktop still have functionality differences between their Web counterparts, although that gap is getting narrower with each vendor release.

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