One of the most challenging tasks when planning a new business intelligence project is the selection of the right tools to achieve the best possible return on investment. You will have many decisions to make depending on your company’s needs. This poses many questions such as: Will you need new servers? Will you need to host it in the cloud? Will ETL (Extract-Transform-Load) tools be needed to manipulate data or to combine multiple data sources? Will you need cube technology (usually dubbed OLAP)? What type of reporting tool will you need? All of these questions need to be answered carefully as they affect each other on your way forward.
A criteria-based approach should be used in selecting each software. This approach in evaluating software provides you with a quantitative measurement of quality before you commit to a specific tool. When evaluating business intelligence reporting and analytics software, the following 5 criteria are your top priority, but should not be the only criteria used: flexibility, security, learnability, mobility, and evolveability. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these areas.
Initially, you may think that your needs are basic. Most often, users just want the ability to connect to their data and manipulate it. This is true as a first phase of your project, but as your users start to interact with your data, users will ask for more sophisticated and specific capabilities. For example, your users may want complex reports with algorithms that can only be solved at the presentation layer. What about fully customizing what the reports look like? Can you add new data sources? Can you perform predictive analytics scenarios? Would you require write-back of data? The reporting and analytics software should be able to handle not only your immediate needs, but most potential needs that may arise in the near future.
Security is a two-sided topic in BI. The first one is: can you deliver the reports securely to users outside your network? As an example, the reporting solution should be able to be delivered over SSL encryption. The other side to security is what data can each user see? Can the reporting and analytics software inherit user or role-based security from the database? Also, does the application itself allow you to build additional security based on specific use cases?
This is often a point missed in many reporting application evaluations. How quickly can developers learn the tool to create analytical applications? Can users easily learn to interact with the final application? There are many aspects that can help answer these questions: Does the software have abundant documentation? Is there a developer and user community? Are there training classes offered?
Mobility has to do with the ability to display reports on not only your desktop, but on mobile devices as well. If the application can only render in Java for example, that means that you won’t be able to use it on iOS devices. Additionally, besides being able to render on mobile devices, can the reports adjust appropriately to the device’s screen and orientation. This is called responsive design in the world of web developers. You shouldn’t have to design the same report multiple times for each device.
This is also referred to as adaptive revolution. Business intelligence trends evolve pretty rapidly. In recent years, the industry has introduced many new concepts to the BI world including mobility as an example, largely due to the growth of mobile device use in the workplace and fueled by the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.
From a software standpoint, looking at past development and inquiring about future plans should be a good indicator if the software is lagging behind the industry or if it is able to keep up with trends.
Flexibility, security, learnability, mobility, and evolveability should certainly not be the only criteria used for evaluating BI reporting and analytics tools but from an arcplan point of view the 5 criteria mentioned above are a good start for a future-proof project. Based on your experience, what has been a key evaluation criteria for your evaluations?