What to consider when buying a busines intelligence solution
What to consider when buying a BI solution
Considering an investment in Business Intelligence, or any enterprise software? One estimate by Gartner suggests that 75% of IT projects fail to meet objectives; have you thought about the unique requirements of your project that need to be addressed in order to avoid failure?
Over the past 15 years I’ve been involved in many BI projects. I’ve seen the gamut of procurement and evaluation processes, from the fast and single decision-maker purchase, through to complex and formal Request For Tender (RFT) with large government departments and many months (or years!) in the making.
Far short of a comprehensive guide, this post is designed to get you thinking about your unique circumstances that may need to be considered as part of your BI investment decision.
Get agreement on your project objectives and define measures of success during the initial phase of the project. Each of the following recommendations will be easier and faster once everyone is aligned on objectives and desired outcomes. Be prepared that your desired solution may change once you have shared your requirements with vendors. As an example, we recently helped a customer to get to the core of data consistency issues without the need to implement a data warehouse, saving thousands of investment dollars and achieving results early, by many months! Their original thinking was too narrowly focused on an architecture that was not optimal for their situation.
Establish your Evaluation Team. It is rare that a single person in your organisation will have all the skills and knowledge to make a complex investment decision like this in isolation. Establishing your Evaluation Team is a key step to success, as you are setting the foundation for a thorough and expedient evaluation as well as the basis for the resulting implementation. Consider the size and diversity of the team, against the backdrop of your project objectives. The more people involved, the harder it will be to schedule key events and will require more time to reach consensus. Too few people involved and you run the risk of weak selection criteria, or insufficient experience to make a qualified decision on key criteria.
Define the roles of IT and business, and decision-making responsibilities. Subscription and cloud-based software have changed the way in which software can make its way into an organisation, in that business users can easily circumnavigate IT to get access to software. IT’s involvement, however, is important: a BI implementation can fail without access to the right data in a timely manner. Ensure that you have sufficient representation from IT to deal with data access, security and other technical considerations. Each organisation will be different, but figure out how you will reach consensus when the issues are technical in nature.
Determine your top 3 business issues that should be resolved during the Technical Evaluation. For example, if the issue is that business users require better access to information to support decision-making, particularly where the environment is dynamic, then you will want to have business users touching the product (presentations will be insufficient). The better vendors will be able to address your requirements and deliver a prototype in a very short timeframe (a few days). Capable products and responsive vendors will perform well when asked to deliver proof against real data in short timeframes.
Understand your organisation’s ability to support the implementation. Do you have BI development capability? Strong data management skills? Or are you looking for a rapid implementation and self-service tool for your business users? Any implementation is a partnership, so it’s important that you are clear on your commitment, the commitment of the vendor, and that you understand the implementation model for a particular piece of software. Many customers opt for a more agile implementation approach, which requires the same or more planning and a higher level of trust between the vendor and customer, than a traditional fixed price, waterfall type project. Identify and document potential areas of risk and steps to mitigate each risk if needed.
Be prepared to support the ongoing maintenance and administration of the technology. This is a common area for underinvestment. Plan for documentation updates, training of new users and retraining of existing users. Expect that people will leave and you need to train replacements. Bring your vendor in after every major release to perform a best practice review, and be prepared to act on recommendations.
Evaluate the vendor’s commitment to you from a software maintenance and commercial perspective. Are all updates, new versions, fixes and patches included in your annual maintenance and support agreement? Ask to see legal agreements early on in the process – can the vendor provide them quickly, and are they simple and easy to read?
These are just some of the challenges you should consider when procuring software for your organisation. Getting to your objectives early, and holding people accountable to delivering against those objectives is critical. What has been your experience with BI implementations? What else would you add to this list?