Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

“Customization” – A Dirty Word in the BI Software World?


customization-dirty-wordI've heard two schools of thought on the subject of whether customization of BI software is a good or bad thing. The first says that customizing a solution essentially leaves you with custom code that requires hours of development, high-priced consultants, and difficulty upgrading in the future. The second says that all BI software is customized to a certain extent, so why not make it exactly what you need and turn your BI solution into a competitive advantage for your company?

You want and need BI software that's going to solve your problems, connect your data, give you visibility, and yield a decent ROI. Howard Dresner's 2012 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study revealed that users want a BI solution "that's going to help them right now…something that is very usable, very intuitive," and they don't want to "wait for lengthy projects that are expensive to conclude before they get any value." You may think the fastest route to this kind of intuitive solution is one that's out-of-the-box – or purports to be – even if it doesn't meet your business requirements 100%. It's the classic "build vs. buy" conundrum.

I have seen some buyers literally cringe at the word "customizable" because of its negative connotations. It's associated with off-putting outcomes like lengthy implementation times and high costs. But I'd like to debunk the myths about customizable BI solutions and offer some reasons why a configurable solution can actually work to your advantage.

Myth #1: Customization is limited to custom reports.
Customization goes way beyond custom reports that have the right data in the right places. A good BI solution takes into account all aspects of your data, including the architecture. Company data is often stored in silos and spread out across multiple applications. Your BI solution should be able to access your data wherever it resides, present it on a single dashboard or report – saving you the trouble of logging in to several applications, running multiple reports, and manually pulling together the information you need.

Going further, customizable BI solutions like arcplan enable "surface-level math," meaning you can manipulate data in the arcplan application itself so you present exactly what you need without having to reconfigure the data source. For example, you can enable arcplan to perform calculations that don't exist in the database. This can save weeks of time and IT resources. You can rearrange data to present the way you want it, not the way it's arranged in the database – for example, months of the year are often listed alphabetically in the database, but a customizable BI solution makes it possible to display the months chronologically. This isn't something most people think about until they deploy a BI app that lists April first on a chart.

Configurable solutions also offer various modes of delivery for your data. For instance, you may want a particular report or dashboard emailed to you on a recurring basis and delivered as a PowerPoint, Excel file, or PDF. This is simply a module that can be turned on and off in arcplan, with little additional work.

The bottom line is that customization means you can make your BI platform do anything to further the objective of making data access easier for the end user.

Myth #2: Customizable solutions are expensive and take forever to implement.
This is certainly not always the case. Vendors who offer customized solutions allow you to work within a price range depending on your needs and requirements. So if all you need is a simple reporting app with a handful of modifications that make the solution work for you, then your cost will be much lower than a complex app with all the bells and whistles. Some of the onus is on you though. I surveyed arcplan's Professional Services team and asked if a customer has clean data and a template with the information they want laid out, how long would it take to build, for example, a financial reporting application? The response was one week. Normally the timeline is a couple of weeks for such an app and the longest part is requirements gathering. If that is done in advance, the timeline can be compressed.

For more complex projects, smaller best-of-breed vendors like arcplan are going to have much faster implementation times than big guns like SAP and Oracle. In fact, in the world's largest survey of BI users – The BI Survey 12 – arcplan was ranked the #1 enterprise reporting vendor for Project Length. Despite our highly customizable development environment, our projects take on average just 4.6 months to implement. Our flexibility results in shorter project length as compared to vendors like Information Builders, Microsoft, SAP, IBM Cognos, Oracle, and MicroStrategy. This is something to keep in mind when evaluating vendors!

Additionally, many customizable features can simply be "turned on" and off. arcplan, for example, contains a number of modules for common items like navigation, calendars, bookmarking, and exporting. Enabling these features takes almost no time but can add a lot of functionality to your application.

Myth #3: Customizable solutions are hard to maintain and upgrade.
Perception is reality, I know, but I can assure you that customizable solutions don’t make changes to the "plumbing" or connectors to the data sources, so maintenance and upgrades should not be issues. Upgrading arcplan is seamless, requiring simple software downloads and license key regeneration. Many providers also offer live technical support and online communities so users can get help when they need it.

The truth is that all BI solutions need to be customized to some extent, but that shouldn't scare you. Your data is different than your competitors' and your analysis needs are different than the company down the block. Your BI solution may not be as unique as a snowflake, but it will likely have nuances unique to your organization – the way you structure your cost centers, your need for complex calculations outside the database, your choice of charts, your company's branding on reports. The right BI tool should facilitate these customizations without costing you an arm and a leg, taking 5 years off your life, and failing to deliver a solid return on investment. Use the idea of customization to your benefit, turning what could be thought of as a detriment into a competitive advantage.

More information - Customizable BI Software: 5 Things You Can Look Forward To

arcplanCustomers choose arcplan because our platform provides the broadest capabilities and greatest flexibility in the industry without the lengthy implementation times of other vendors. It enables you to build BI apps without compromising your business requirements.

That said, we do offer pre-configured solutions through partners for those who need simple reporting applications in a more out-of-the-box fashion.

Pete Flagella

About Pete Flagella

I'm the Sales Director for North America at arcplan. I'm based right outside of Dallas, TX. You can meet me at many of the events we attend in the US, like Collaborate, KScope, and the Financial Executives International Leadership Summit. In the meantime, connect with me on LinkedIn.