When we evaluate which business intelligence tool to use, the first determination is the Buy vs. Build decision. We can use the following table to compare the two approaches.
|Functionality / Features
|Tailored for the exact needs
|Reliance on third-party
Clearly, both approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages, and it is often wise to consider each of the components individually. For example, it is clearly not viable to write a relational database from scratch. Therefore, we may have a case where the hardware and the database are bought, but other tools are built from within. In general, deciding which approach to go is dependent on the following criteria:
- User technical skills
- Available budget
Because each tool in the business intelligence arena has different functionalities, the criteria for the "Buy vs. Build" decision is different for each type. We will get into a more detailed discussion for each tool later.
Should we decide to purchase an existing third-party business intelligence tool, we must then decide which one to buy. Often, there are a number of choices to pick from, some are well known, and some others not as well-known, but in many cases, an established tool may not be the best fit. For example, if we require a lot of customization, a less well-known tool may make sense, as the vendor is often more willing to work with the client to customize the tool.
In addition to tool functionalities, which we will discuss in the following sections, there are several considerations that we should take into account when considering tool vendors in general:
Tool Vendor's Stability: More than anything else, this is probably the most important measure. In my opinion, this is even more important than the current functionalities that the tool itself provide, for the simple reason that if the company is going to be around for a while, it will be able to make enhancements to its business intelligence tool. On the other hand, if the company is likely to be out of business in six months, then it doesn't matter that it has the state-of-the-art features, because sooner or later these features will be out-of-date.
Some of the ways to tell about company's stability are:
- What type of office space is it occupying? Is it wasting money by renting the most expensive office space in the area just so that it can be noticed? Or is it plugging all its money back into R&D so that the product can be improved?
- The background of senior management. The company might be new, but if it has seasoned veterans from major companies like IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft, to name a few, it is more likely to be successful because top management has seen how it's done right.
Support: What type of support is offered? It is industry standard for vendors to charge an annual support fee that is 15-20% of the software product license. Will any software issues be handled promptly?
Professional Services: This includes consulting and education. What type of consulting proposal does the vendor give? Is the personnel requirements and consulting rates reasonable? Is the vendor going to put in someone fresh out of college and charge $200/hr for that person? It might be wise to speak with members of the consulting team before signing on the dotted line. On the education front, what type of training is available? And how much is the consulting team willing to do knowledge transfer? Does the consulting team purposely hold off information so that either 1) you will need to send more people to vendor's education classes, or 2) you will need to hire additional consulting to make any changes to the system.