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The Data Strategy Adviser:
What to Look for in a Business Intelligence Partner

online columnist Lou Agosta     Column published in DMReview.com
January 19, 2006
  By Lou Agosta

Your business is hurtling through a universe of complex data about customer, products, suppliers, regulators, competitors and markets. It's an on demand-world, and customer, supplier, vendor, regulatory and competitive demands are coming at you at a breathtaking pace. Data and complexity are growing, time is being compressed by today's "got to have it now" economy. Look for a business intelligence partner that is able to connect the dots between business value and technology in delivering an ever-expanding universe of:

Value. Savvy enterprises know information has an essential role in growing top-line value and reducing the cost of every product, service and customer touchpoint but have trouble reconciling different islands of information. Your business intelligence partner should provide the patterns to connect the dots between measurable business results and a consistent, unified view of customer, products and other essential dimensions of your business yielding rich results that leverage your data assets. Some promise a single version of the truth, but it turns out to be less current than yesterday's news.

Simplicity. Your enterprise understands that the operating information utility has been made more complex by the veritable Tower of Babel of conflicting and overlapping technologies that have roiled the computing landscape. Your business intelligence partner should connect the dots between a simple portal-like, front-end user interface for easy desktop maintenance through a smart middle layer enabling information integration to a computing backend with the world's most powerful servers and state of the art parallel database.

Performance. Your enterprise is trying to improve its performance everyday with faster answers to questions from customers, managers and top decision-makers. Your partner should demonstrate unbiased, industry leading benchmarks on multiterabyte volume points executing thousands and thousands of inquiries per hour on the most powerful infrastructure. Go to www.tpc.org to see industry leading benchmarks from the audited, unbiased Transaction Processing Performance Council.

Total Cost of Ownership. Giving away the razor and charging an extra mark up for the razor blades is a proven revenue model, but is it the one you unwittingly want to employ in your data center by buying proprietary technology? You understand that true economy requires low setup costs combined with a low cost of ongoing operations. Your business intelligence partner should keep your costs low at the start and predictably low going forward by employing an open technology architecture that allows loose coupling and tight coherence between parts of the system.

Integration. The technology infrastructure that runs your business was not necessarily created in a top-down, logical sequence, but (like most other companies) in reaction to the business opportunity or crisis of the day. You want a business intelligence partner whose technology, processes and people act as a wide-angle lens giving you the perspective to gather diverse silos of data within the same broad horizon. This enables a coherent information supply chain in which information is integrated because you understand the meaning of the different data sources. The result is the ability to connect the dots between which customers are coming over from the competition (or defecting) and a consistent, unified view of customer master data. Similar logic is applied to products, suppliers, employees and other essential dimensions of your business, enabling dramatic cost reductions and incremental top-line revenue.

Innovation and investment protection. Businesses understand that innovations in business practices and technology have the potential to create "game changing" opportunities in the market. Look for a business intelligence vendor that provides breakthrough innovations in server technology and data warehousing software which mean you can now solve business problems in customer profiling and recommendations, cross and up selling, inventory reduction and mastering market dynamics in real time that were not within reach only a few years ago. Not only do you get more dollars, you get them faster as you set the pace of business for yourself and your competition. While the future is by definition uncertain, seek a company with the resources, stability and management commitment not just to follow trends but to create them, too. This adds up to investment protection and a reduced risk of surprises due to the shifting fortunes of information technology.

Sanity check. Silver bullets are hard to find. Competition is intense, and companies are seeking any edge. The claims of the competition to be different, unique and deliver infinite results without effort, are enticing. But if it sounds to good to be true, it is. Some vendors of on-demand business intelligence promise a single view of the business only to come up short when the view isn't current. They can get the data in, but can't get it out and end up with data in jail. Sustained real-time updates as well as access is a requirement. Some promise performance, but without simplicity. Others, innovation, but without investment protection. One even promises technology that is indistinguishable from magic. Yeah, right. They all fail the sanity test. You should demand a business intelligence vendor that delivers business value based on simplicity, performance, lowest total cost of ownership, integration, innovation, investment protection. Other "nice to haves" include industry know how, working smarter and an open roadmap with a low risk profile in the market. Let me know which one you think that is.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Achitecture.

Lou Agosta, Ph.D., is a business intelligence strategist with IBM WorldWide Business Intelligence Solutions focusing on competitive dynamics. He is a former industry analyst with Giga Information Group and has served many years in the trenches as a database administrator. His book The Essential Guide to Data Warehousing is published by Prentice Hall. Please send comments and questions to Lou in care of LAgosta@acm.org.

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