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BI Platform Switch Considerations

by Mike Druta

Sep 30, 2014

Your organization is moving forward but your BI solution is stuck in the past, no longer fulfilling your data needs. It's time to reassess your business intelligence platform. Should you invest more in this application? Bring in a new vendor? Restructure IT? Start with a total assessment of your current bi strategy. This will help you to identify those areas that need improvement, helping you to develop a sound go forward strategy that better aligns with your growth expectations. Keep in mind throughout this process that every organization goes through a time of reassessment- often more than once throughout your Bi development. It is indicative that you are doing the right thing. You have surpassed your current capabilities. As an organization, you have moved farther down the BI curve, incorporating new data into your business processes and seeing a need for advanced analytics. Congratulations!...Now what exactly do you do?

Background:

Consider the following scenario: You are required to build a BI application to be used by various departments in your organization. The application consists of a number of dashboards of high density but average complexity visualizations, with user interactivity features like in-place drill-down and drill-through to detail reports. There are very specific requirements for how parameters are carried over throughout the application and how users access the various screens and reports based on their credentials. The application also features portal-type features such as the ability to show/hide data widgets, and saving frequently used reports and/or query parameters.

At the time you are contemplating this project, you already have a big platform installation most likely covering some of your operational reporting needs, and possibly some dashboard-like screens designed in late 90’s by people who are no longer with the company. Users at all levels are complaining about not getting what they need from the current solution. They have seen some of the alternatives at a previous job or through vendor demos, and they want it. You also have quite a few talented people in your BI department and they really need some excitement in their lives.

If this sounds familiar, let’s consider your options from a vendor agnostic point of view. In most cases the three main options are: upgrading your existing platform, implementing a new platform, or going the custom development route.

Implementation Considerations

Business Drivers

At a minimum, the decision to select one of these options will be driven by a combination of the following factors:

  • Alignment to Requirements
    • To what extent can the analytics requirements be met?
    • How closely can the user experience follow the requirements?
    • Will the performance be acceptable?
    •  Can all the environment constraints be met (security, standards, regulations)?
  • Production Costs
    • What are the costs associated with acquiring necessary hardware and software?
    • What are the Development costs (analysis, back-end and UI development, project management)?
  • Time to Go Live
    • How long from the project start to deployment to production?
  • Maintenance Costs
    • What is the level of ongoing support, training, and licensing costs?
    • What type of skills are needed to maintain the solution?
  • Future Extensibility
    • How difficult will it be to add more functionality?
    • Can the solution adapt easily to changes in how business is conducted?
    • Is there a perceived need for ad-hoc reporting and self-service analytics?
    • Can the solution be easily deployed on mobile devices?

At this point, the formula should be relatively simple: Add your business specific drivers; establish a relative weight for each one of these factors from a business standpoint has; calculate a balanced score for each option; rank options them by score; select the one with the highest score.

Pros & Cons

Re-think and Re-factor Your Existing Implementation
  • Pros
    • Your existing platform may have evolved considerably since you installed it for the first time. Current implementation flaws may prevent you from making the best use of it. Upgrading and expanding may be a less disruptive process and it may not require extra hardware or resources with a new set of skills. There may be cost savings in software licensing as well.
    • Second shortest amount to Go Live
  • Cons
    • There may be a perceived dissatisfaction and skepticism associated with the existing implementation; users may simply be too jaded with its current flaws to really give it another chance.
Select a New BI Platform 
  • Pros
    • Starting fresh with a best in class solution may be the fastest and surest way to meeting the requirements. A new relationship with a motivated vendor will ensure that you get a highest level of support, and possibly the best price.
    • The new platform should already contain a significant amount of best in class functionality (predictive analytics, in-memory cubes, advanced visualizations etc.) which may not be required today but will be available for future requirements.
  • Cons
    • Switching BI tools and the change management, training, and organizational change associated with it may prove costly.
    • Hardware costs required for hosting a new platform can be significant.
Develop a Custom Solution
  • Pros
    • Highest potential for alignment with requirements
    • Greatest adaptability to the existing environment
    • Potential for lower hardware and software costs
  • Cons
    • Longest time to Go Live
    • Most amount of custom code
    • Some risks associated with not selecting a tried-and-tested technology platform, specifically designed for BI
    • Custom development may require niche skills and difficulty in resolving issues due to limited support options and relatively small user communities.

Additional Considerations

A few other factors may be considered before making a decision:

  • Irrespective of the option selected for the front end, a well-designed back-end is essential in order to fulfil the functionality and performance requirements of this project.
  • Estimating costs (hardware, software, development, maintenance) with any level of accuracy is very difficult without a formal vendor selection process.
  • You are not really marrying a BI platform or vendor. A combination of the options above may be the best choice. For example, building a custom portal sitting on top of your platform reporting and dashboarding engine. Or choosing a new big platform for most of your needs and a niche BI solution for specific requirements like self-service or visual data discovery.

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