BI Experts: Best-of-Breed May Not Be the Best Solution

Best-of-breed solutions certainly can be appealing, but are integrated products a better approach for your organization?

Many organizations consider acquiring best-of-breed components and integrating them as an important tactic of their overall IT strategy. The rationale for this approach is that it should result in an overall IT environment that will be better than deploying all components from a single vendor.

While integrating disparate best-of-breed components may appear to be quite appealing, it also presents a set of potential problems when compared to a single-vendor solution. For example, the metadata used by one vendor might not be readily understood by another. Furthermore, when there is a problem it can (and often does) lead to issues when trying to determine where the fault lies and which vendor is responsible for resolving it.

To alleviate customer concerns, many vendors have established technology partnerships and certification procedures with other vendors that offer complementary products. Although this has helped reduce integration issues, it does not necessarily eliminate the vendor blame game. Vendor certification programs enable the certifying vendor to position itself as an industry leader and/or de facto standard. It also allows the certified vendor to earn additional credibility thanks to its certification.

In their desire to offer their own integrated solutions (and generate new revenue opportunities!), many BI vendors have built out their capabilities to offer multi-faceted BI platforms rather than relatively independent BI tools. These vendors expanded their functionality by incorporating new features (and sometimes new products) into their platforms. Although functionality was sometimes added through internal or organic development, it was frequently obtained through acquisitions.

However, when a vendor that partners with several vendors for complementary technology acquires one of its partners, it creates a situation whereby its other partners suddenly become competitors. It is not at all unusual to find that a vendor that previously recommended a company that it formerly partnered with would then downplay that company because it now offered products that competed with its own. For example, if a BI vendor acquires a data integration vendor, it would be unlikely for its other data integration partners to recommend the BI vendor to their customers; after all, what vendor wants to take the chance that the former BI partner would now try to displace the data integration vendor's technology with its own.

Although many integrated platforms consists of integrated software that run on a variety of hardware platforms, the popularity of appliances has lead several vendors to offer fully integrated hardware/software platforms. These include Teradata (which has historically offered an integrated hardware/software data warehouse platform), Oracle (which acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 and now offers a line of "Exa.." appliances), and IBM (whose acquisitions included data integration and business intelligence software vendors such as Ascential Software, Cognos, and SPSS, as well as appliance vendor Netezza).

Among the advantages they tout is that with a single vendor hardware/software solution a customer has only one vendor to call. If you are dealing with separate hardware and software vendors that offer a combined certified solution, consider a solution where one vendor serves as a single point of contact

I have observed a growing trend where organizations now determine which vendor offers the best product for the most important component of their overall data warehousing environment and, assuming the vendor's other components are "good enough," select that vendor's overall platform. For example, the most important BI component in the BI spectrum might be data mining or enterprise reporting. The vendor with the best product for that function will become the BI vendor of choice even if its other components (e.g., query, OLAP, etc.) are not necessarily the very best.

Although best-of-breed certainly can be appealing, it may not be the optimal solution for your organization. Consider the tradeoffs and evaluate your overall data warehouse architecture accordingly. Also consider cloud-based solutions where the cloud vendor bears the responsibility for acquisition, integration, maintenance, and support.

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