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Selecting the Right BI Toolset

As anyone who has looked into implementing a business intelligence solution knows, there are many options from which you can choose. There are big-name products, niche products, end-user focused tools, IT focused tools, data discovery and visualisation tools, predictive analytic tools, and much more.


With such variety and variance of opinion on what is best, right, provides good value and so forth, how do you go about deciding what tool, or tools, you should use for your BI implementation?

As simple as it may sound, the ideal BI tool depends on your needs. Many BI tool vendors will position themselves as an ideal fit for nearly any need you have. There are some very persuasive sales people out there in BI-Land who can do a good job explaining why you should choose their tool.

To paraphrase an old adage: “If you don’t know where you’re going, there is no wrong path.” From a BI perspective this translates to: “If you don’t know what you want, there is no wrong tool,” and its corollary: “If you don’t know what you want, it is easy to be swayed by the cool features the different vendors will show you.”

We’ve all been warned many times not to “judge a book by its cover”. However, selecting a BI tool based on the demo is doing exactly that: judging it by its cover.  So how do you go about selecting the right toolset?

As I mentioned, select the tool based on your needs. There are a number of criteria to consider. The following list is not intended to be all-encompassing but should give you some areas to ponder.

  • Who will be using the tool and how will they be using it?
  • Is this intended to provide self-service BI? (end-user tool)
  • Is this needed to develop complex dashboards or analytic applications? (IT-based tool)
  • What data source(s) will the system be using? Will the application support ALL the data sources?
  • What kind of content is needed? Fixed format reports? Dashboards? Self-service? 
  • How will content be delivered? Push? Pull?
  • Is mobile delivery desired or needed and does it support all mobile platforms?
  • Is there a need to customise the behaviour of the application such that when you click on a given item, you can specify exactly what happens?
  • Is there a need to write back to a database?
  • Is there an online community of users who can provide knowledge and help?

Remember, if you have not clarified your needs and ranked them in regard to importance, you are putting yourself at the mercy of the sales people. There are lots of very cool things that can be done with various BI products but if a given product’s key “cool” feature is not on your important items list, it probably shouldn’t be considered.

Depending on the depth and breadth of needs you have, it may be necessary to select more than one product to meet those needs. Keep an open mind in regard to how to best meet your needs.

Remember, YOU are the one buying the BI solution. YOU are in control (or should be), not the vendor. 

As with anything, knowledge is power. Knowing and documenting your needs gives you the power you need to make the right decision on the tool, or tools, you need to have a successful BI implementation.


Posted by: Mark Worthen, Senior Consultant, Enterprise Applications | 08 August 2013

Tags: Business Intelligence, BI

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