Thursday, January 20, 2011
I'm reading: Selecting the best Business Intelligence software / service provider for your BI needsTweet this !
Selecting the best Business Intelligence service-provider involves a very tedious analysis process, and this is one such decision where no client would like to go wrong. Millions of dollars gets invested when any BI project contract is awarded to any vendor, and however fool-proof your SOWs (Statement of Work) may be, if the BI service provider is not mature in the kind of service it has been selected to provide, this would mean that your bad time started at the very moment of selection !
Before I jump to the core of the subject, one thing that I would emphasize, any organization should not just bank upon advice of just any reputed technology consultant. There is a distinction between a BI consultant and a Technology consultant. There are many professionals who excel in one tool / technology and they extend their profile by adding the rest of the technologies to make their profile look complete. For example, I have come across professionals who are SSIS or SSAS or SSRS experts and they claim that they excel in Business Intelligence, as they are familiar with just the vocabulary of all the three. In my views, professionals who have worked in different roles like business analysis, data cleansing, systems integration, cross bi integration, data warehouse development, corporate reports planning, MID / DSS development, etc., adds a flavor of BI to one's profile. Having worked in SSIS / SSAS / SSRS and being an expert at any one of them can mean that they are ETL / Reporting / Cube development experts, but it does not mean that they are BI consultants / experts.
Below are some questions / checklist of actions that one should consider before selecting a BI service provider.
1) Check whether you really need to build your BI solution from scratch or you can use a PaaS / SaaS BI service provider. Study the advantages of SaaS as well as PaaS based BI solutions. A few whitepapers from TDWI can be a very easy reference manual to start.
2) If you decide that a PaaS / SaaS service provider is your choice, check the list of clients that it caters and analyze the nature of business of those clients. This can be seen like a kind of reputation check.
3) Key areas to check in a PaaS / SaaS BI provider are: Robustness of cloud facilities, Flexibility in availing customization, Billing plans, Security Compliance, Cloud Gateways, Ease of switching between in-premise and off-premise networks, and Systems Integration with production systems.
4) In case you decide to go with a BI software / services development vendor like Accenture, IBM, Atos, Capgemini, TCS, Infosys, Wipro or other such famous vendors, there are a different set of checkpoints to consider. Issue with selecting among these is that most of these vendors would provide similar propositions, similar architectures, similar billings and similar quality of work-force. So how do you select the best BI vendor?
5) In my views, if I was in charge of selecting the vendor, the first thing I would check is which architecture is going to keep my Total Cost of Ownership to a minimum in the long run. This can be a result of support staff requirements, enhancements to the solution over the period of time, upgrade in licensing, scaling of hardware to meet growing needs of performance etc.
6) How updated is the vendor with the current BI trends and how deep is the BI development experience is very important. Clients generally would like to build a solution which they think is the best for them, but they do not know for sure that it's the best. This is the reason they need to hire a professional BI software / services vendor, as the vendor is expected to be deeply experienced with BI software / services manufacturing and up-to-date with industry trends. Only an experienced BI vendor can advise a client from making mistakes, the rest would be yes-man to clients. Believe me, I have been part of meetings where Directors of BI practice are not aware that DatAllegro has been digested long before, and they suggest their Competency and CoE head to promote and recommend this to their clients !! Just think how catastrophic can this be to the client !!
7) One another point to get some insight about the BI maturity of an organization can be to check it's affiliation within the BI community. For example, if you are having a MS BI project and you want to check the BI strength / maturity, it is worthy to check if the technical / solution architect of the project has any whitepapers, publications, blogs, community projects on his name. Infosys, for example, has infosys blogs which I quite admire. Many other organizations have a huge manufacturing IT work force but no affiliation in the technical space. This does not mean that the entire organization is not technically competent, but it definitely increases the risk that the IT workforce that may be working for your project might be outdated with technology. Certifications like MCP, MCTS etc are of no value if they have not been put to practice.
8) Finally, one should check for what are the different innovative solution offerings that a vendor's CoE has to offer. An admirable BI practice would have a healthy CoE, and developing BI solutions offerings are an integral part of any such practice.
Market reputation, historical business relations and budgetary constraints are definitely the driving force to shortlist vendors. But after this boundary when you have a set of vendors still to choose from, above points might be of some help to get an insight in the capabilities and characteristics of a Business Intelligence software / service provider.