Key considerations for business intelligence platform consolidation

While most companies could benefit from consolidating or standardizing multiple business intelligence (BI) systems, political considerations are holding many back.

In a recent study by Boston-based Forrester Research, close to 80% of companies polled said they use three or more

business intelligence (BI) products. According to experts, it is important for organizations to consider consolidating BI systems, but this is not as easy as it sounds. There are many reasons why organizations choose not to consolidate, while doing so effectively is quite a challenge.

In this guide, learn how determine whether your organization is ready to consolidate business intelligence tools. Learn about the challenges that lie ahead during the consolidation process and how to plan for those roadblocks. Find tips for getting enterprise buy-in and working with end users on the consolidation project, and discover other best practices that will result in success.

 


Don't miss the other installments in this BI platform consolidation guide
* BI consolidation proves as much a political as technological process
* How to decide whether it is time for BI consolidation
* Tips for successfully consolidating business intelligence systems
* Implementing your BI consolidation program
* Making the business case for a BI consolidation project


BI consolidation proves as much a political as technological process
By Jeff Kelly, News Editor

Over the last several years, most business intelligence (BI) vendors have evolved their product lines from a collection of specialized tools to comprehensive software suites with a broad array of reporting and analytic capabilities.

SAP BusinessObjects' BI suite, BusinessObjects XI, for example, offers query, reporting, dashboarding and search capabilities, among others, in one package. The same goes for BI suites from IBM Cognos, Oracle and Information Builders.

It stands to reason, then, that most companies could benefit – in the form of volume discounts, reduced overhead, and simplified training – by consolidating or standardizing their BI tools and software to one or two vendors. According to a recent Forrester Research survey, however, most companies have not taken that step.

The survey states that just under half of companies polled said they use between three and five BI products throughout the enterprise. Another 10% reported deploying between six and nine BI products, and around 15% said they use an astounding 10 or more BI tools enterprise-wide. Just over 20% boasted using just one or two BI products.

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 So how have we reached this point? A history of departmental and workgroup BI deployments and the addition of new BI tools and software via mergers and acquisitions are largely to blame, according to analysts. Cultural and cost concerns, meanwhile, are preventing most companies from doing anything about it.

Because most BI tools -- at least until recently -- performed only specialized functions, most organizations needed multiple tools to meet their varied reporting and analytic needs, according to Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester.

Department heads and workgroup leaders took it upon themselves to find and deploy BI tools for specific tasks with no enterprise-wide BI strategy in mind. "That's why we have lots of siloed BI implementations," Evelson said, with finance departments using Hyperion software, for example, and sales departments working off Sybase.

Wayne Eckerson, director of services and research at The Data Warehousing Institute, agrees, adding: "From an enterprise perspective, once you start to add up all these individual and departmental and workgroup decisions, you do have an uncoordinated BI strategy, and mergers and acquisitions certainly compound that."

Times have changed, though, with comprehensive BI suites available from all the major vendors. Most companies still haven't implemented BI standardization projects, however, and the biggest reason may be political rather than technical, Evelson said.

BI standardization, almost by definition, requires companies to remove any number of current BI tools. That may not sit well with many end users, particularly power users, who have grown attached to their BI tools of choice.

Convincing them to give up their current BI tools for the sake of standardization is often not an easy sell, Evelson said. It requires a "cultural" change at most organizations.

Eckerson, for one, thinks that in some cases it may not even be worth involving power users in a standardization effort in the first place. "Power users, I have found … you really can't enforce standardization there. You really want to arm them with the best and most powerful tools that they're comfortable working with."

Sometimes, companies reconsider undertaking BI standardization efforts because of the potentially high up-front costs associated with ripping out current BI tools, purchasing and expanding licenses for new ones, and retraining workers to use them. But they shouldn't, according to Eckerson.

"In times like these, there's usually an imperative from above to save money, streamline operations and simplify the number of suppliers," he said. "And a short-term bump in migration costs is outweighed by the long-term savings."

Both analysts stressed, however, that even a successful BI standardization effort will not fix the underlying data quality and data governance problems that afflict most organizations.

Nor, except at very small companies, will one BI tool be sufficient to meet all reporting and analytic needs, even in today's marketplace.

"The rule of thumb is you should standardize on tools for given purposes," Eckerson said. "Once you have multiple tools to support the same purpose or the same type of functionality, that's when you really start to have problems."

He recommends that companies consider standardizing BI tools in each of four general categories: query reporting and analysis; online analytical processing (OLAP); data mining; and scorecards and dashboarding.

"Even if you do it right, you're still going to have a handful of different tools," Eckerson said. "For the general user, the casual user, though, it really pays to have a standardized set of reports being run off a standard platform."


Don't miss the other installments in this BI platform consolidation guide
* BI consolidation proves as much a political as technological process
* How to decide whether it is time for BI consolidation
* Tips for successfully consolidating business intelligence systems
* Implementing your BI consolidation program
* Making the business case for a BI consolidation project


 

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