Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Seeing Through BI Vendor BS


mustacheyouaquestionSounds provocative coming from a BI vendor, right?

arcplan is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so it's safe to say we've seen it all. We've competed for business against every mega vendor and every niche BI vendor out there and we've seen companies get burned by vendors who promise more than they can deliver. Of course it hurts to lose a deal, but since our passion is helping companies get better insights and make better decisions, it's doubly awful to see companies get duped.

So what can you do to ensure you'll get what's promised from BI vendor?

1) Ask a lot of questions.
The evaluation process is your time to ask questions of the BI vendors on your shortlist. You'll be able to do this on discovery calls and during demos, and of course if you choose to go through an RFP process, you can demand answers to every esoteric question you can dream of.

Ask about the requirements specific to your business processes. Initial questions we've been asked include:

  • Does arcplan allow export to Excel? (Yes, users can export to Excel as well as PowerPoint and PDF. With our Excel add-in, users can also work in Excel while remaining connected to the data source.)
  • Does arcplan offer write-back? (Yes, write-back is standard and is based on the security rights you've set up in your systems.)
  • How easy is it to learn arcplan? (Like any product there's a learning curve, but arcplan is intuitive for users and simple for developers with our drag-and-drop, programming-free interface.)

Here are some additional questions to consider asking.

Once you get deeper into the process and have a better understanding of your requirements, you can send your vendor a spreadsheet of features to tick off if that makes it easier to compare one product's features against another. Be sure to ask about the support you'll receive after implementation – the resources a vendor has available for self-service and managed support (phone and email technical support, on-site support, online forums, etc.) can be a deciding factor for many organizations. No one should be left hanging after implementation.

2) Expect questions.
Pay attention to the vendors' questions as well. The questions your vendor asks you indicate how much they care about helping you. I know it sounds a little touchy-feely, but the evaluation process happens on both ends. Your vendor should want to make sure they truly can solve your business problems and provide you with concrete ROI. Expect the obvious questions about your infrastructure, how your reporting process works now and how you'd like to see it change. Hope your vendor asks about the goals you're trying to achieve, how they can provide business value, and how they can make you successful.

3) Check references.
Ask for customer references so you can verify all the great things the vendors have told you. On reference calls, you can probe for information about:

  • How smoothly implementation went
  • Whether or not the solution was delivered on time and on budget
  • How knowledgeable and helpful the professional services team was
  • How long it took to learn the ins and outs of the solution
  • How quickly issues are resolved by the support team
  • How the product has met the customers' goals

The time to check customer references is once you've narrowed your shortlist down to 1 or 2 vendors. BI vendors are protective of their customers and often have policies that push reference calls toward the end of the sales process for the protection of their customer base. We don't want to take up too much of our customers' time with reference calls, and I'm sure you'd appreciate the same courtesy once you become an arcplan customer.

4) Demand proof.
If a BI vendor is confident that their solution is a match for your business' needs, they'll be confident in telling and showing you why they're the perfect solution, so demand to see some proof. Especially with a custom solution like arcplan which is built to your specific requirements, it's important to ask to see a proof of concept (POC) – or at the very least, a custom demo with your data. Custom BI vendors like us usually offer a POC and there are many reasons why: it's a low-risk, low-price way to ensure that you'll get what you want, it may speed up implementation since there's something in place to start with, and you may even be able to apply the investment toward the project if we're your vendor of choice.

Business intelligence software can be a big investment and you want to be sure choose the right vendor. A POC ensures this by letting you experience the solution before you buy. At arcplan, it only takes a few days and you'll get a prototype laid out according to your requirements that you can use internally for analysis and comparison against your current process and competitive products.

The point is – let your BI vendor tell and show you how they'll improve your process. Ask questions until you're satisfied, take stock of the questions you're asked by vendors, speak to customers, and invest in a POC with your data. If all goes well, you'll end up with BI software that generates tangible benefits for your company, and your vendor will have another success story to write.


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