Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs) enjoy a growing marketplace for packaged, SMB-focused business intelligence (BI) solutions. From all-in-one solutions that you host on your own server to Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud-based solutions that you just sign up for, the options grow every day. The lessons that huge enterprises have learned from BI over the past decade are paying dividends for SMBs, as vendors leverage those lessons to create smaller, less-expensive, and easier-to-deploy BI solutions.
However, the advantage that giant enterprises have is that they’re building their BI solutions from scratch. They don’t need to worry about comparing features and vendors, because they’re paying to develop the whole darn thing (they do have to be smart shoppers for components like a database engine, but in terms of top-level features they’re in complete control). When an SMB goes shopping for a BI solution, being a smart comparison shopper is mandatory. With that in mind, here are the five key things you’ll need to pay attention to:
- Vendor Experience. When looking at a BI solution, see how experienced the vendor is with BI in general. A vendor that’s already making a living custom-building BI solutions for huge companies is going to have the experience necessary to create SMB-focused solutions. A vendor that’s never done BI before should be asked to demonstrate their bona fides.
- Performance. Look for a vendor that’s willing to recommend any hardware that you’ll need to host their solution, so that you’re running on a “supported” platform and can go to the vendor for help if your BI system doesn’t deliver the performance you need. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with the hardware vendor and BI vendor pointing fingers at each other. Also, ask the BI vendor to show you some existing production systems that are sized about the same as your proposed system, and show you how that system performs. Make them prove that they can handle your data.
- Output. The whole point of a BI system is output: Dashboards, scorecards, reports, and so on. Make sure you’ve got a robust built-in set of output mechanisms. It’s great when vendors offer “custom reporting,” but you should be able to start using a system effectively without having to immediately build a bunch of custom reports.
- Connectivity. A BI system has to pull business data from your existing systems, so make sure you know what systems that entails, and that a proposed BI solution can connect to them all. If the BI system can’t get to your data, then it’s useless.
- Mechanism. There are two primary ways of turning your business data into business intelligence: A disk-based data warehouse, which operates on less-than-real-time data, and in-memory analytics, which relies more on up-to-the-minute data. Both have value and a place in your business, and ideal BI solutions incorporate both. Make sure you know what you’re buying, and ask the vendor to explain how they turn data into facts.
With the right conversation between you and a BI vendor, you’ll definitely find the right one for your business.