I don't think I can shoot the hostage?

Pop quiz Hotshot!!  Your organization is flying blind.  Either you don’t have a technology strategy around business intelligence, the one you have isn’t working, or it’s become outdated or unsupported by other critical systems in your organization.  You have all this information in databases, and you may even be spending a significant amount of resources in your organization on data warehousing, yet it isn’t making it to your users, either because the information isn’t available or it’s not telling a compelling story to your users.  Now after some careful planning, executive questioning, and CFO scowling your organization has committed to spending money on a new BI platform.  What do you do?  What dooo yoooouu doooo??

What are you asking me for?  I don’t know.  Oh sure, if I spent some time getting to know your organization I would have some ideas.  But even then there is no perfect answer.  There are a lot of great BI platforms that are out there and they all bring different things to the table. In a lot of our engagements we spend weeks or even months evaluating the people, process and technology environment to frame out those pros and cons and how they apply to their organization.  So in this blog I would like to provide what a few of those considerations are.  It’s no substitute for getting the advice of a good third party consulting company (call us, we’re in the book).  But even if you do hire a good consulting company putting some thought into these areas before they start their engagement will be a good head start and make their time (and your company’s money) produce more efficiently.

Executive Sponsorship

As I’ve mentioned before, when people ask the number one risk I they see in a potential project I frequently cite organizational challenges.  The most important element of this is executive sponsorship.  Executive sponsorship means a lot more than getting financial approval or a pre-written email sent by the project head that is sent from a C-Level officer.  It is knowing that the executive sponsor(s) will consistently look anyone from any level of the organization in the eye and consistently emphasize the company’s commitment to the project, support of the project leadership, and prioritization of the subject matter experts on how to balance this with other responsibilities.  Without this, the project has very little chance to succeed.

Hardware Considerations

One of the most limiting considerations in this process is the ability and willingness to invest financial and human capital in hardware.  If you are building a first BI solution you will almost certainly need new hardware.  But even if you have a robust existing solution in place that you are replacing or enhancing, it is most likely you are going to need to make a hardware investment.  If you have an existing system it is very likely you will need to run in parallel.  And if you reach your ultimate goal, which is most likely higher utilization of the solution in the company, more traffic will likely require additional hardware cost.  Also new technologies have different hardware requirements, especially if you are looking for the latest and greatest.  One way or another, it is difficult to plan a new BI solution without being prepared for new hardware cost, and it is best to know this going into the process to avoid wasting time and resources.

What Opinions Do Your Leaders Already Have About Certain Vendors

As you are looking at the BI market space and considering vendors (the Gartner Magic Quadrant is never a bad place to start) you would be surprised to know how many opinions your leadership (particularly your IT leadership) has about specific vendors.  For example, when I am discussing Microsoft with potential customers a lot of them believe that Microsoft does not play well with larger datasets and is unaware of the investments Microsoft has made in this space recently.  It can be a very good idea to identify these early.  It’s not your job to change these mindsets, let the vendors do it.  But you want your vendor to have the chance to address it, or you can spend several hours sitting in a pitch meeting from the vendor and have them dismissed as a possibility later because of a pre-conceived notion that the vendor never got to address.

How Does Your Audience Receive Information

You say you want BI for your iPhone but you haven’t answered an email after 5 o’clock since I’ve known you!

From my observations the major BI vendors are all strong in most of the fundamental BI areas, but if there is one place I believe their strengths vary, it’s in their delivery methods such as standard vs. ad-hoc reporting or desktop vs. web vs. mobile reporting.  So you will want to know ahead of time how your users prefer to receive information.  This question is a difficult one.  Probably the most difficult part about it is that you can’t rely on what people currently do, and you definitely can’t always go by what they say (as Morgan Freeman said in Bruce Almighty, ” since when does anyone have a clue about what they want? “).  People will say they want mobile, but if your culture is a very “9 to 5″ centralized culture then mobile really doesn’t add a lot of value.  They may say they want visual, but are their Power Point decks “wordy” or “graphy”?  Discuss this with your leadership and observe how the people in your organization take in data.  Numbers people will always be numbers people, and visual people will always be visual people, no matter what they tell you.

Look for future posts about the BI vendors that are out there, what they offer, what their viewpoints are on the future of BI, and what to look out for when implementing their products.