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Selecting BI Tools? Don't Straddle the Middle

The biggest mistake that I see companies make when purchasing BI tools is straddling the middle. In their quest to standardize on a single BI tool for reporting and analysis to achieve cost-savings and supplier simplification, they fail to meet the needs of any users. Typically, the tool is too powerful for casual users and not powerful enough for power users. Consequently, everybody loses and the BI program doesn’t get traction within the user community.

A Tool for Every Occasion. Although organizations need to standardize their BI architectures, it’s important to purchase multiple tools to meet the needs of different types of users. This is especially true for power users—business analysts, super users (ad hoc report developers), analytical modelers, and IT report developers—who perform a variety of tasks that involve true ad hoc access to data. Would you hire a carpenter to build an addition on your house if he only had a hammer in his toolbox? No, you would want a carpenter with a tool for every task to make his work more precise and efficient. The same is true for power users. The more tools the better.

Governance Needed. What’s more important to standardize than tools is the reports that power users publish for general consumption. This process needs to be controlled by a BI governance team that manages the list of “certified” reports used for corporate and departmental decision making. Although power users should be empowered to perform ad hoc analyses where data and reports do not exist, they should not be allowed to willy nilly create standardized, scheduled reports without approval from a BI governance team or report advisory board.

Ironically, the BI advisory board should be comprised of a cross-functional group of power users who have a vested interest in promoted business intelligence throughout the organization. Power users wield considerable influence in the successful outcomes of BI program. Getting them on your side by appointing them to BI advisory boards and empowering them with the tools they need is a key element in achieving BI success.

The Key to Standardization. After reading the above, you might think I’m against standardizing BI tools. I am not. Most organizations today are establishing standard toolsets for reporting, dashboarding, and advanced analytics. And today’s BI vendors offer robust suites of tools for every occasion so it’s easier than ever to standardize on a single vendor, if not a single toolset. Yet, most BI suites have weak spots and may not be as integrated as advertised. Most companies still pursue a best of breed strategy, often standardizing on toolsets from different vendors.

The point is that although tools standards are important, they pale in comparison to the need for standards to govern data and scheduled, interactive reports. Unfortunately, most BI governance programs focus on tools at the expense of delivering consistent information. So don’t get hung up on how many BI tools exist in your organization—especially when it comes to power users—more tools may actually be a sign of strength than weakness.


Posted by Wayne Eckerson on August 14, 2009


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