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Choosing application types – the bottom line for decision makers
Business people must understand the deployment options

by Lyndsay WiseMonday, May 26, 2008

Business intelligence is in a state of change.  The options available to organizations are diversifying, leaving decision makers confused about their way forward and how their choices will affect their overall business intelligence environment as well as their dashboard design and deployments.  Decision makers are responsible for making technology and software selections without the benefit of foresight or being able to understand how their choices will affect their internal environment and their business decisions.

Although the main purpose of business intelligence is to enable decision makers to make better, more timely decisions, many vendors focus on the technical aspects of solutions when selling products.  What this means is that although applications are designed for financial planning, sales and marketing, and to identify overall performance trends and how to best maintain one’s competitive advantage, actual marketing generally focuses on a set of terms and ideas geared towards IT departments.  The logic behind this is that it is the IT department that will be supporting these solutions.  The inherent flaw is that it is not the IT department that drives organization-wide decision making or that directly drives revenue. Consequently, there are general differences in the way organizations perceive BI.  This means that many decision makers don’t see the benefits of using analytics or dashboards in their day-to-day activities until they are shown how they can be beneficial to the business. 

For business intelligence to really expand into the mainstream and move beyond super users, executives need to become the driving force behind evaluating software and choosing solutions.  The only way to do this is to demystify what is available, provide details on how different applications can be used as well as the benefits and challenges associated with each.  This article will explore deployment options to identify how each one works to give organizations the ability to identify whether or not newer deployment options will suit their needs.

Open Source

Just about any type of software can be found in open source format.  The general premise of open source is that it is free to download and use. The software is built with the input and general push of the end user community.  In general, the developer community drives the testing and development of the software, as opposed to traditional forms of software offerings which are developed and maintained by internal staff.  On the flip side, open source is very developer-oriented.  Due to the strong emphasis on community involvement, IT developers are the main participants and enthusiasts.  For organizations considering open source, internal resources should be available to manage and/or tweak designs.  Alternatively, there is the option to use the software and buy services from the vendor – i.e. support and/or consulting services depending on the options available and the specific offerings chosen.

The diversity of open source solutions extends to all areas of software both inside and outside of business intelligence.  Whether looking at a straight business intelligence solution such as JasperSoft or Pentaho, a data integration offering such as Talend or a performance management suite such as Actuate, actual software availability is very diverse.  This is partially due to the fact that the developer community drives growth and will actually develop their own applications if or when the vendors don’t follow suit.  The benefits to organizations with strong internal IT architecture and development capabilities should be obvious. With the general framework built and the ability to customize applications to suit an organization’s business and system requirements, organizations can develop their own solutions and use the developer community as well as service provider resources to target solutions to their business units and processes.  Also, in addition to free software, vendors offer their expertise and consulting services as well as support. 

Software as a Service

Having software hosted by a service provider is becoming more popular as solutions are perceived to be much easier to deploy and maintain because the vendor offering this service assumes a service provider role by managing the organization’s information and the organization’s access.  In a sense, the service provider acts as the IT department by being the intermediary in terms of data access.  Although data security seems to be an issue surrounding the downside of SaaS models, service providers can generally guarantee an organization’s secure access to data. 

Due to the strong focus and push towards solutions for mid-sized organizations, many tout SaaS models as the way to bring dashboards and general business intelligence offerings to organizations that may not have the internal structures available to build and maintain these systems.  Additionally, for organizations that don’t have the large budgets to pay for solutions and support, SaaS models can give them access to business intelligence in a way that can be efficiently managed from a business perspective.

Web-based

The concept of Web-based applications is broad.  Whether downloading software from the Web and installing it, or providing end users with portal access to enable collaboration and access to reporting and analytical tools, the Web has become a key component in deploying applications and accessing data.  Portals enable end users to access multiple reports, analysis tools, applications, and information across disparate data sources.  This means that end users can share information and interact with information in a way that is more familiar (i.e. through the Internet).

Overall overlaps

Each deployment option has different advantages and disadvantages and may be more suited to one environment as opposed to another.  What each has in common is the underlying importance of the Internet and using Web-based technologies to deploy and maintain solutions.  Even traditional software offerings are providing end users with free trials and limited user license editions to allow end users to explore their options by downloading software via the Web.

Open source software enables organizations to download software from the Internet and other vendors also follow suit by offering trial versions of their software offerings. SaaS-based solutions enable organizations to use the Internet as a portal to access their information and applications, and Web-based deployments can be seen as an interface between the two.  For instance, Web-based solutions are more diverse by enabling development and/or deployment on the Internet, giving organizations the flexibility to create and maintain business intelligence solutions for the organization.

Takeaways

The focus of business intelligence is generally technical, making it difficult for business units to decipher how technical aspects will complement their business requirements.  Understanding the general difference between deployment options offers a glimpse into the details required to make informed decisions that help organizations align their IT initiatives with their business focus.  By understanding the way each deployment option works, organizations can sift through the technical details and relate those to the business units in a way that helps intersect the two.

 

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