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A Reponse to a Blogger's Post on the Challenges of BI Software

Friday, November 18, 2011

I was emailed this link to a blog post on Software Advice that commented on business intelligence software failings. Here’s the link to the original post. Before I discuss the failings he points out, it’s important to comment on his definition of business intelligence (BI). The writer defines BI as “ a term that refers to software tools for extracting, analyzing and displaying business data such as sales, marketing, inventory and cost .” I have to strongly disagree with that definition. BI software is exactly that – software to help garner business intelligence. To interchange BI with data extraction, analysis, and display software is misleading. BI is turning data into knowledge to make informed decisions. Software applications are tools to support that goal.

With this in mind, let’s get back to his points on where BI software fails.

To summarize, the poster felt the following:

  • Data integration / consolidation can’t be handled by most BI tools
  • BI tools are too complicated
  • Most BI tools do not provide alerts to correct current problems nor do they provide predictive analysis to address potential future problems
  • Most BI tools are expensive

There are other points, but I wanted to address these ones. As a person who has used multiple types of BI tools and who speaks with industry experts and vendor representatives, I think it’s a bold statement to say that most BI tools suffer in these areas. Here are my responses to his points:

  • Any BI company that claims to provide a BI tool without having the ability to integrate and consolidate data would be out of business very quickly. In addition, there are several good tools (I have personally used SQL Server Analysis Services and SQL Server Integration Services) out there that do this well. As long as the BI tool can at least integrate / consume from these types of tools, it’s a win. From my experience, most if not all legitimate BI vendor provide this functionality or integrate with other tools that do.
  • BI tools are too complicated or are they? As stated in point 1, it depends on the audience. Business users and most information workers are not going to developing ETL processes or working with SQL queries. That’s never going to happen. If it does, then we’ve evolved beyond current business intelligence tools, anyways. I’ve always said, let the IT guys do their thing and prep data for analysis. I expect tools that analyze and present the data to be easy-to-use. I’ve personally used a few of these products (check out my videos on dashboard software offerings). With a little training, information workers can definitely be self-sufficient as long as the data has been prepped or easy to access.
  • I can’t comment too much on this as I’ve never implemented a BI project that required alerts; however, I can say that most large players claim to provide an alerting system and / or predictive analytics. Klipfolio, Dundas Dashboard, Microsoft SQL Server, and SAS come to mind. I’m sure there are many more.
  • Classic business problem. I can’t change how people think but this is how I view points on price point. It’s not about how much it costs; it’s about the return on investment (ROI) it has. Whether it’s an increase in revenue or a cost savings, that’s how the purchasing decision should be made for the BI Tool. If the BI tool meets the business requirements and it expects to have a positive ROI, who cares how much it costs? Of course, not every small business has deep pockets. However, there are many vendors that have an offering specifically for the SMB market.

I want to be clear that I don’t disagree with the challenges presented; these are definitely challenges in business intelligence. I disagree that most vendors are not addressing them in one fashion or another.  They are and each vendor does it in their own way. It just takes time to find the right tool for your business intelligence requirements and budget.

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