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How to Look for a BI System

Before you start hunting for the right BI tool, you need to determine what you need to do with the system. Gather your thoughts and answers to the following questions so that you can easily narrow the field to a system that will fit your company’s needs.

  1. What are your principle needs for a BI system? Is it sharing operational data? Is it high volume number crunching? Is it automated reporting? The fact is, it could be none or all of these and many, many more to boot.

    The best approach here is to meet with the primary stakeholders of the system and ask for their input. The feedback may be surprising, and will certainly be enlightening. From these meetings you can create a prioritized checklist of what you need and want in the system. This becomes the core of your product search and your RFQs (Requests For Quote).


  2. Where is your data and where do you want it to stay? This is a very important point to consider. If your data is already in the cloud, you may want to choose a software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI tool which may have a pre-built affinity for interconnection with other cloud tools (warning: this is not always the case – check with all providers). If your data is stored entirely in-house or you want it to be in-house (because of security and compliance concerns), then you may lean toward an on-premise BI solution. In the early stages of your search, consider both options – you may find some of your assumptions about cost and security risk are not wholly accurate.

    Separate from cloud vs. in-house, you need to track down every system you will want feeding your BI system. This is important for you and your solution providers to know as it will directly effect system complexity and integration cost. You may want to consider a data warehouse system that will facilitate collection and normalization of data from disparate systems. If you go with a data warehouse it will increase cost, complexity and timeline, but may be necessary in order to get you to a fully functioning BI platform.


  3. How will the system be used and who will be using it? BI systems are often charged “by the seat” – in other words, by the number of users. Therefore, you need to know how many people will be using the BI system in advance so that you can correctly calculate the costs. Also, you need to know how these employees will be using the system. For example, do they need to access the information via mobile devices or only while in the office? There may be different fees for different levels of access. You will also need to know this for initial system configuration.


  4. What analytics and reporting features do you need? The temptation is to fall for the BI system with all the bells and whistles, but sometimes all you need are the bells (or the whistles, but not both). You don’t want a system that will make narrowing down the information you need difficult. Stop and think about what precisely it is you absolutely must get from your BI system and make those the must-have features.

    Also, do you need a lot of canned reports? Do you need a powerful report-builder? Do you need advanced statistical analysis? There can be many advanced needs like these. Do your homework. Check out sites of leading BI platforms and just review their data sheets asking yourself, “would we need that?”


  5. What is your cost limit and how will you pay? Do not answer this cost question according to what you want to spend since, of course, no company wants to spend anything. Instead, consider what you need first, and then do a thorough job of vetting and RFQ-ing. Never fall in love with one and only one system as that’s a sure way to end up paying premium pricing. Most BI tools provide a fairly common set of core capabilities and thus you should be able to come up with multiple systems worth investigating.

    How you pay can sometimes be as important as what you pay. Systems range from monthly subscriptions to enterprise licenses, with varying degrees of services, maintenance and add-ons. Thus, you may pay a lot up front or be spreading out payments over time. Most have a strong preference for one or the other, and you should know your budget and payment schedule capabilities for this system before you fall in love.

The answers to all five of these questions will narrow your field of potential vendors to a manageable number and set you up for a successful selection process.