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Is there any alternative to the really expensive BI systems out there?

Bryan Frey's Profile

inexpensive business intelligence systemsHaving used Business Objects, I love the functionality, but the cost is prohibitive for many of us... and the maintenance (in terms of in-house talent to care for the system, write reports, maintain data structures, etc) is expensive and difficult. Are there BI systems that do the same or similar things but for less money? What about online/SaaS BI tools and other data mining techniques? Anything of interest in that space that might be easier to implement and afford?

Answers

Sam Wholley
Title: Consultant
Company: Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP
(Consultant, Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP) |

Bryan

BI is usually thought of as expensive, but the reality is that Excel 2010/SQL, SharePoint, SSRS (SQL Reporting Services), and Access 2010's publishing services can give you some real bang for your buck. However, there are limitations and entry costs: if you have internal people learn it, the entry costs are reduced. Else, you should look to consultants or contractors for scalability.

The thing with 'business intelligence' is that it really is not just reporting. It relies upon the level and quality of data you already have resident. The data supporting business decisions can usually be enhanced, but you will need time to collect any data you intend to regress or interpolate.

Host Analytics has a corporate performance management platform, and Adaptive Planning has a FP&A product as well. These, too, are going to depend on the atomicity and cleanliness of your data, but give you a scalable solution on products whose development paths are largely 'crowdsourced'.

This is a brief answer, but feel free to contact me at swholley at frankrimerman dot com to discuss.

Best

Sam

Noah Barr
Title: VP Finance/Operations
Company: Orion's Miond LLC
(VP Finance/Operations, Orion's Miond LLC) |

Obviously the IT investment is your decision.

With the capital cost, tell them the truth and watch them come down in price. I've gotten ERP proposals which we've negotiated down to 10-20% of their initial response(with limited scope change). Don't be shy telling them that you'd love to have them, but your $XXM size enterprise can only support 25% of that cost-- generally, companies will amaze you. Careful on support/maintenance/upgrade costs. Contract those in to avoid any surprises.

A skilled analyst can cut data up/combine data from any source. Having people with that skillset is vital for most businesses.

Dan Morgan
Title: Interim CFO
Company: CFO Tools
LinkedIn Profile
(Interim CFO, CFO Tools) |

Previous comments are spot on with regards to pricing and insuring 'clean' transactions and data. One product we are using is Qliktech, the UI is simple and te cost is much less than a full scale BI implementation.

Dan Watters
Title: Financial Analyst
Company: in-between
(Financial Analyst, in-between) |

To add to Sam's comments,

If you are looking for budget, do-it-yourself BI, take a look at Excel 2010. This newest version comes with some nice reporting features like Slicers and sparklines.

But the real game changer for 2010 is the free add-on, PowerPivot. PowerPivot combines the functionality of larger database applications with the familiarity of Excel and Excel-based formulas (there are some different ones from basic Excel). It also exponentially increases the amount of data that can be analyzed. Updating reports for new monthly data is also a breeze.

For example, you can create a PowerPivot report based on data from multiple tables without having to resort to a VLOOKUP first. PowerPivot can detect the relationship.

The advantages of going this route are:
- Analysts can work with the data directly. No need for developing special reports from IT.
- You do not need a dedicated PowerPivot report developer. Report changes and new reports can be developed by your own team.
- Reduced Capital Outlay. Excel Licenses + a SharePoint server (optional and not free).

If you go the SharePoint route, you gain the added benefit of the "one-truth" world that seems to be the big buzzword lately. Reports are also displayed as a web page, so not everyone would need an Excel 2010 license to review reports.

Definitely take the time to do a little research on PowerPivot. You're going to be hearing a lot more about it going forward.

Shmuel Goldberg
Title: Project Leader, FP&A
Company: New York Presbyterian Hospital
(Project Leader, FP&A, New York Presbyterian Hospital) |

TO echo Dan and Sam, Excel 2010 PowerPivot add-on is a powerful tool for data analytics and not capital intensive.
Shmuel

Doug Johnson
Title: Executive VP and COO/CFO
Company: Pentaho Corporation
(Executive VP and COO/CFO, Pentaho Corporation) |

Over the last five years, the open source movement has come to Business Intelligence. I am Executive VP and CFO for Pentaho, the leader in open source BI. Our Agile BI system is a full function BI suite with Data Integration and Data Mining as well as Reporting, Dashboards and Analysis. This suite competes against such commercial products as Hyperion (Oracle) and Cognos (IBM) for a fraction of the price. Go to www.pentaho.com to see it and download a free evaluation. This version is our Enterprise version which has enterprise class features and comes with customer support. You can also download the Community version for free but it requires a higher technical understanding to use it and does not come with customer support.

There are many alternatives to expensive BI but most require that you be comfortable with limited functionality. If you are looking for a good F,P&A platform, your best bet is Adaptive Planning. If you just want a reporting tool there are many that are available. However, if you are looking for a full function BI suite that allows you to combine data from multiple systems for reporting and analysis, including unstructured data like web logs, you should take a look at Pentaho's Agile BI.

Topic Expert
Brenda Morris
Title: Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chai..
Company: Boot Barn
(Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chair, Boot Barn) |

Bryan:
If you have a good system in place and integrity in the data implementing a tool that extracts the information and delivers decision making information to your users is a solid and cost effective plan. I implemented Host Analytics, a cloud solution, a couple of years ago for a half billion dollar organization with a great deal of complexity and it was well received. We used the financial reporting, planning and forecasting and analytics tools such as scorecards. Very easy to build and even easier to manage costs by adding users just as you needed them. Almost no IT costs in house, just the initial implementation and then all upgrades, etc are handled by them after the implementation. It reduced our close time and improved our planning immensely.
Good luck!

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