Smarter BI for SMBs


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Smarter BI for SMBs

  1. 1. Small to midsize companies can tap flexible, affordable, easy-to-use reporting and analytics tools to improve their real-time decision-making. Tech Dossier BI Just Got SMBs Smarter for
  2. 2. Microsoft says copies of SQL Server 2008 that are run on a virtual machine can only be transferred from server to server every 90 days. Running copies of the virtual machines can be moved across licensed servers at any time, according to Microsoft’s SQL Server 2008 Licensing Overview. Such restrictions inevitably will wind up triggering licensing events and thus add hidden costs to the management of SQL Server environments. And unexpected expenses, such as increased licensing fees, can put an SMB’s BI deployment in jeopardy. With budgets so tight, this is an unac- ceptable outcome. “IT budgets have been pressured like every other budget, and staffing is con- strained,” says Blair Wheadon, director of product management in the Volume Business Unit at SAP. “While business intelligence is a requirement today to be competitive, deployments are going to have to be small, focused and fit for purpose in order to satisfy the ROI goal.” Seemingly Out of Reach Organizations that are on a growth tra- jectory don’t question the importance of business intelligence and realize it can be the remedy for flawed decision- making based on inaccurate information gathering. After all, they’ve seen their competitors extract significant value from having the ability to generate detailed reports on every aspect of their business, including human resources, sales, finance and operations. A 2009 Aberdeen Group report, titled “BI for the SMB,” found that small and midsize businesses were under certain pressures that were driving them to adopt business intelligence tools. Just over half, 51%, of respondents to Ab- erdeen’s survey cited a need to improve the speed of access to relevant busi- 2 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs W hen it comes down to it, the benefits of business intelligence (BI) are too great to ignore. Timely, reliable, workable infor- mation not only improves business per- formance and helps companies capture lucrative market opportunities before competitors even know they exist, it also helps businesses understand, analyze and predict what’s occurring in the orga- nization. All this, along with a 360-degree view of the organization at any time — in real time — are more than good reasons to implement BI tools. However, some upstart enterprises have shied away from traditional BI tools because of the cost and complexity. Others who have dove in have found that their peers were right to fear tradi- tional BI and have suffered protracted deployment cycles or have abandoned their projects altogether. The enormity of such software and services threaten to consume much of the limited time of business users and IT. Yet the business intelligence they afford is essential for companies to remain competitive. They need complete visibility into operations so they can make clearer, faster and smarter decisions. Add to this conundrum that although some vendors claim that business intel- ligence is a free feature of one product, users oftentimes have to buy another product to get the full functionality. For instance, Microsoft users have to pay for SQL Server and SharePoint Server to access the full dashboard capabilities that are inherent to BI. Even the actual licensing can be murky. While many small and midsize businesses, or SMBs, are eagerly adopting virtualiza- tion as a way to get more out of their server investments, some vendors restrict their BI offerings in a virtual environment. For example, each virtual processor used by SQL Server in a virtual machine must be licensed. So if users of SQL Server Standard Edition or Workgroup Edition want to beef up their BI application, they must acquire an additional license for the newly added virtual processor. There are also limitations on moving virtual machines among servers.
  3. 3. 3 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs ness data as a reason for deploying BI. Other top drivers included the need to gain visibility into key business process- es and being able to distribute analytical capability to more nontechnical users. The outcome of BI, Aberdeen says, is visibility into the business and avoiding the pitfalls of not knowing what you don’t know, making better use of organization- al resources and managing costs better. “Smart SMBs have to be able to look ahead three to four years to anticipate growth. BI is what can help them be strategic about meeting immediate targets and their long-term vision,” Wheadon says. Incredible value can be found from aggre- gating data from multiple systems, result- ing in what is referred to as mash-ups, he adds. “You can suddenly gain insight into critical issues such as why operations are failing and orders are being sent out late or wrong,” Wheadon says. Keep It Simple As noted earlier, there are numerous rea- sons, including licensing, why traditional BI tools can befuddle even the savviest of small, midsize, and large businesses. Another critical issue plaguing today’s BI solutions is complexity. If the software requires too much IT inter- vention, not only will the deployment take longer, but users will also shy away from adoption. The less friendly the interface, the less likely SMBs, in particular, will have a high acceptance rate. Also, if the BI tool is so intricate that it requires ongoing and lengthy training sessions, then that will also chew into the potential ROI. Growing enterprises have so few resources that they might bench BI rather than suffer a significant loss in productivity. Some businesses have tried to develop their own BI tools but have quickly found that approach to be overwhelming. A BI Deployment Basics for SMBs Here are eight tips to ensure that your business intelligence software deploy- ment hits its mark. 1Create a cross-functional team. Select representatives from each group that will be using the reporting and analytics tools, such as accounting, sales and marketing. “Make sure that the people you choose are influencers who currently generate or request reports, as they’ll be most inter- ested in the project’s success,” says Brian Bischof, an independent consultant and creator of the Web site. 2 Prioritize your reports. Given the choice, most employees will opt to run more rather than fewer reports. This could result in an immedi- ate drain on your server, database and network resources. Instead, Bischof recommends setting a limit for each department so it can determine which reports are most important. 3 Clean up your data. The reports you generate from BI solutions products will be useful only if the information is “clean.” So organiza- tions should take the time to review their table structures and data definitions before fully deploying the product. Look to see that fields are equal and that duplicates and out-of-date information are scrubbed. 4 Educate users on the project. Chances are that up until now, a handful of employees have been charged to create spreadsheet reports. They might feel uneasy about a new tool that can automate some of their responsibilities. Bischof recommends taking time to explain to these employ- ees that the use of BI solutions tools will free them from mundane tasks to be more strategic. 5 Centralize your reports. BI solutions tools provide a unique opportunity for organizations to consolidate their reporting efforts and inevitably save time and money. There will be less duplication, heightened ac- curacy and increased visibility if you generate and store reports from a central location. Users will be able to quickly access reports and make decisions based on the same information, which inherently will improve outcomes. 6Target training. Gather either your cross-functional team or a set of super-users to test-drive your BI application and study how they carry out their workflow. Bischof encourages businesses to take this opportunity to match the tools to the users. Some users might require access to a dedicated BI server, while others will need only log-ons for the browser-based tools. Tailor training sessions to these requirements. For instance, you don’t want to send casual business users to an all-day, off-site seminar when a simple, two- hour in-house session would get them up to speed. 7 Develop a feedback loop. As you delve into your BI deployment, you’ll want to open the communication lines to receive feedback from your influencers and casual users. You can give them access to your team via a Web link, solicit comments through e-mail or have regular face-to-face meetings that gauge the acceptance of the new tools. 8 Deploy your project in phases. It’s critical to start slowly with reporting and analytics tools, Bischof says. Users need time to get used to the interface, and project leaders need the chance to monitor the accuracy of initial reports. Beginning with a small percentage of reports will help make the spreadsheet conversion and fine-tuning processes more manageable and create a more solid foundation for success.
  4. 4. 4 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs With each new data source, they have to re-code, re-test and re-deploy their soft- ware. IT and developers have been unable to keep up with the increased demand to add data to report on and analyze. Even off-the-shelf packages have caused setbacks because they require several tools to do a single job – for example, Microsoft’s requirement that businesses purchase SQL Server and SharePoint. They also don’t always scale well. Although most businesses enjoy some type of growth in users and data over their lifetime, traditional BI software often does not accommodate this likeli- hood. Instead, users must abandon the tools they spent so long deploying and start over with enterprise-level tools, which are more costly and complex. that enables growing organizations to run reports and analyze data from a number of databases without overbur- dening IT. A modular and sophisticated set of reporting and analytics tools empowers users to create their own, customized reports and, if necessary, offer business partners and customers secure access to them. Any organization can securely share, schedule and deliver interactive reports over the Web, via e-mail or through Microsoft Office documents with Crystal solutions’ easy-to-use components. Users can also turn data contained in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets into presentation-worthy, interactive visual charts and dashboards. A new addition to the SAP Crystal solutions family, Design Reports Embed Reports & Visualizations Design Dashboards & Visualizations Model What-if Scenarios Share Reports & Dashboards View & Explore Reports Access Multiple Data Sources SAP Crystal Reports SAP Crystal Reports Server SAP Crystal Reports Server, OEM Edition SAP Crystal Reports Runtime Server License SAP Crystal Reports Visual Design, Package SAP Crystal Reports Viewer SAP Crystal Reports, ver- sion for Visual Studio .NET SAP Crystal Reports, Version for Eclipse SAP Crystal Dashboard Design SAP Crystal Presentation Design BI On Demand Compare SAP Crystal Solutions 4 4 4 4 4 44 4 4 4 44 4 4 44 4 4 4 4 4 4 44 44 4 44 44 44 4 44 44 444 4 44 These obstacles create more headaches for growing companies to manage and, unfortunately, can result in wasted time and money. The Way BI Should Be Reporting and analytics don’t have to be difficult or less than optimal for small and midsize businesses. SAP Crystal solutions provides the antidote to the problems mentioned above. “Businesses should be able to start with the size tool that’s right for them and add on as they grow,” Wheadon says. SAP Crystal solutions is an affordable and scalable software product portfolio
  5. 5. 5 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs SAP Crystal Reports Viewer lets anyone view a SAP Crystal Report for free. SAP Crystal Dashboard Design transforms complex data into a compre- hensive dashboard. Users can create these dashboards from Microsoft Excel or a live data source and export them to a familiar format, such as Microsoft Office or Adobe PDF files. SAP Crystal solutions is compliant with Microsoft’s products so that businesses don’t have to rip and replace their current infrastructure. They also can combine data to create business-critical reports without having to do heavyweight inte- gration. “They can perform lightweight data mash-ups that produce revenue- generating results,” Wheadon says. Licensing is also much simpler with SAP Crystal solutions, as it is tailored to be virtualization-friendly. Instead of penal- izing businesses for using more virtual processing power, SAP has a concurrent licensing program that is more flexible and allows users to access the system as needed. While many business intelligence products are server-centric, SAP Crystal solutions offers a mix of server, Web and desktop components that give busi- nesses a choice of how best to address their users’ needs. For example, reports are centralized on a server so that orga- nizations, large and small, can prevent duplication and can carry out logging and auditing for security and compli- ance. At the same time, SAP Interactive Analysis is a lightweight, easy-to-install desktop tool that acts as a complement to dashboards and allows IT to offer knowledge workers enterprise-class analytics without having to roll out and manage a complex product suite. Perhaps most important, SAP Crystal so- lutions is built upon the same technology foundation as SAP’s enterprise offerings, so when businesses are ready to transi- tion to that class of product, they will be able to transfer whatever work they’ve already done. “All the content that you’ve created — dashboards, reports, etc. — SAP Interactive Analysis, gives any business user an analytical query tool to answer unanticipated questions in a self-service environment. The difference: Instead of BI being a feature of SAP Crystal solutions, it is the core competency of the whole product portfolio. Every aspect of the software lineup is designed especially for re- porting and analytics so that growing organizations can enjoy a highly efficient, cost-effective approach to business intel- ligence. Such organizations can deliver increasing amounts of data in a manage- able and relevant format. Because many businesses are familiar with Microsoft Excel, SAP Crystal solu- tions has been designed with a similar look and feel. Users will recognize and be comfortable in the environment, which will guarantee optimal adoption rates. The solution also has been developed to be self-service so that IT has minimal involvement. The SAP Crystal solutions family fea- tures products that enable businesses to design reports, visualize data, analyze data, and manage and share reports and dashboards. SAP Crystal Reports and SAP Crystal Reports Server work in tandem so that users can create, customize, schedule and share inter- active reports from industry-standard data sources such as Excel, XML, Web Services and SQL Server. Reports can be delivered to users or business partners and customers via the Web, e-mail, PDF or in Microsoft Office documents. This user-level control eliminates a lot of the intervention typically required by IT. “While business intelligence is a requirement today to be competitive, deployments are going to have to be small, focused, and fit for purpose in order to satisfy the ROI goal.” — Blair Wheadon, SAP The SAP Crystal Presentation Design is business-user friendly, and it changes static Excel-based spread- sheets into exciting, intuitive, interactive charts and engaging what-if scenarios. SAP Interactive Analysis is the brand-new component that supplies businesses with analytics in an easy- to-use manner. Users can now do on- the-fly queries and what-if scenarios to gain the same type of insight as their larger competitors.
  6. 6. the easy-to-use tool to expand its reach. For example, the company included critical information such as notification of late shipments and short shipments in sales order reports. In addition, it launched an Executive Information Por- tal via SAP Crystal Reports Server that contains key executive management reports. SAP Crystal Reports Server also proactively scans corporate data for areas that require decisions and action. Now, rather than a siloed approach to decision-making, users are challenged to think about how their decisions impact the company as a whole. This change has led to increased profitability, reduced and redeployed head count, and overall organizational effectiveness. For longtime user TIB Bank, in Home- stead, Fla., SAP Crystal Reports provides a simple way to create and update hundreds of reports per month. These include custom reports that are created primarily for internal, state and federal audits that are conducted regularly with- in the banking institution. SAP Crystal Reports Server acts as a central hub where reports can be securely man- aged. Reports, which are culled from the bank’s other systems and databases, are scheduled automatically, so IT does not have to manage the process and users can easily access the information when they need it. These are just a few examples of how the SAP Crystal solutions portfolio of products has paved the way for businesses to be competitive in their markets. Affordability, ease of use and flexibility make SAP Crystal solutions the best option for growing organiza- tions looking to succeed with business intelligence. For more information about the SAP Crystal solutions portfolio: The Clear Path to Business Intelligence:Optimize Decisions with SAP Crystal Solutions can all be imported into our enterprise products so you get the most from your investment,” Wheadon says. In fact, organizations enjoy a lower total cost of ownership and increase flexibility because, unlike traditional products, SAP Crystal solutions combines report- ing and dashboarding on a single server. SAP Crystal solutions is also unique because organizations can purchase the various components when they need them instead of having to commit to an overpriced monolithic package. SAP Crystal Solutions in Action For over 15 years, SAP Crystal Reports software has helped business users and IT departments from around the world achieve richer insight and greater productivity. With millions of active users and deployments in organizations of all sizes and across all industries, SAP Crys- tal Reports is widely recognized as the de facto standard for reporting today. Already, many small and midsize organizations have benefitted from the simplicity and sophistication of SAP Crystal solutions. Growing companies from various industries have gained a new understanding of their business processes and have been able to im- prove them and increase revenue. Case in point: The city of Kent, Wash- ington expected to expand the number of residents needing its services from 88,000 to 120,000 and could not rely on its legacy custom reporting tool. The growing organization wanted a reporting and analytics tool that allowed business users to easily create reports and then automatically and securely distribute them to staff. For instance, they gener- ated status reports, inspection reports, usage reports, fee reports and permit reports. Users needed to be able to set up, schedule and deliver them to managers, inspectors, firefighters police, customer service, maintenance and other workers via e-mail, printer or FTP. They also wanted a tool that would allow them to send reports to outside agencies over e-mail or FTP. With SAP Crystal Reports Server, the city was able to successfully achieve these goals and provide a stable, scal- able solution that stores all reports in a centralized location. There is less duplication, and everyone is using the most current version of a report to make critical decisions. At Twin City Foods, Inc., a private-label frozen vegetable packing company, nearly all information was paper-based, so there was no real-time visibility into operations. Decisions were isolated and lacked a big-picture aspect. The company wanted to make its data actionable, so they introduced SAP Crystal Reports. To start, Twin City Foods mimicked its existing reports, but soon became comfortable enough with 6 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs t Watch video!
  7. 7. Additional Reading on BI and SMBs: Lessons from the Big Guys 5 BI Potholes to Bypass By Julia King 7 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs Business intelligence might be a maturing technology, but it’s far from hassle-free. Tedious technology issues, including the need for comprehensive data cleansing and integrating incompatible computer systems, are still a big part of nearly all BI projects. But it’s the planning, return on investment and people issues that users continue to count among their biggest BI problem areas. Here, five IT executives map out their strategies for navigating around user resistance and resentment, creating quick ROI wins and managing overenthusiastic vendors. 

 1. Setting User Expectations Too High. One of the earliest and easiest-to-hit potholes on the road to BI success is what Danny Siegel describes as the radical variance between BI software applications that are functionally rich and very pretty, and the reality of what can be accomplished with the data a company has to work with. People dig themselves a hole by demonstrating next-gen capabilities to a user com- munity that doesn’t even have the data to get into standard reporting, says Siegel, director of data warehousing and business intelligence at New York-based Pfizer Inc. Part of the problem lies in how vendors make their case to IT executives during the software selection process. Those presentations tend to be highly structured with as much visual appeal as possible, because they’re trying to sell business users, Siegel says. But the reality is that the true require- ments are not around what’s visually ap- pealing. They’re around getting complex reports turned into something that’s navigable, he adds. It’s block-and-tackle reporting that’s needed. Allowing a vendor to show end users a BI system that’s replete with color charts, graphs and tables is a near guar- antee of user dissatisfaction with the system that ultimately gets implement- ed. One way around that pothole, Siegel says, is to insist that vendors work with actual company data during all software demos. I give the vendor live data with all of its vagaries, inaccuracies and dirt, he says. Sure, we want a system to be visu- ally appealing, but we also want it to be meaningful. Piloting with your vendors is important because you’re showing your users what can [actually] be achieved. 2. Putting the Right Tools in the Wrong Hands. Front-line managers, rather than execu- tives, are most often responsible for worker productivity and daily sales. BI tools can help boost both. But too often, companies first give BI tools to executives, who then push down policy changes, observes Robert Fort, CIO at Virgin Entertainment Group Inc. in Los Angeles. Virgin, which operates 13 mega­stores at prime locations such as Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square, first started its BI project in its stores. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, Fort says, which is why the company provides its store managers with the most accurate and up-to-date sales information available. Store manag- ers access the BI system, known as Crescendo, via a Web-based portal. Traffic and sales information is pulled in every 15 minutes, Fort says. His group has developed software-based report templates so store managers can point and click their way through Crescendo to learn things like a store’s browser- to-buyer conversion rate, its average hourly sales rate and how those rates compare to other stores rates or even their own year-ago figures. We went back 18 weeks later and measured sales lift, Fort says, adding that 20% of the stores overall sales increase during that period was directly attributable to the BI system. We definitely have changed the culture in stores, Fort says. They’re held more accountable, and they operate more in real time. They can see trends in the middle of the day and correct them. The bottom line, he says, is this: If you put tools in the hands of people who clearly want to be making a dif- ference and make them user-friendly, they’ll run with it. 3. Dishing Up Data, Then Leaving Users to Figure Out How to Take Action. Successful BI is all about providing users with actionable information, not just data, says Jim Lollar, Ford Motor Co’s systems manager for global warranty operations. When the automaker launched its Web-based warranty portal five years ago, the goal was to give Ford’s 10,000 dealers worldwide the abil- ity to quickly identify their warranty problems and see how their costs for warranty repairs measured up against corporate parameters. Previously, they had received the information in a paper report known as the 126 Report. This tabular report showed how a dealer’s performance numbers compared with those of other dealers in their geo- graphic regions. Next, the automaker added six months of rolling data and applied statistical process controls to identify abnormal performance. Deal- ers could pull it down on demand from the Web, Lollar explains. The upshot: Dealers could see where they had problems and compare their performance against their peers. Prob- lem was, that didn’t really help them fix
  8. 8. problems or improve performance. Now, Collar’s group also provides dealers with various diagnostic ca- pabilities and how-to manuals, plus dashboard and drill-down capabilities that point to specific conditions that might be contributing to performance problems. Before, we never tried to help dealers with how to fix the problem. The report would have a variance number with a condition code beside it, and that’s all we gave them, says Lollar. The message was ‘Here you have a problem; figure it out’, he says. Now, we deliver diagnostic capabilities and how-to manuals. The system also lets dealers drill down to [more detailed] sections about repairs and costs. Lollar says the system has been an overwhelming success. Information is now delivered in 15 languages to dealers worldwide. And only a very, very small percentage of dealers get to an audit for performance reasons, he says. 4. Training BI Users at the Start of the Project, Then Never Again. Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, Ark., provides its administra- tive and clinical staffers with a self- service, Web-based portal for quickly finding specific information on patients, insurance reimbursements, staff pro- ductivity, admission trends and more. Virtually all operational data from every department from materials manage- ment to pharmaceuticals is accessible via the portal. That’s the good news. The challenge is that we’re all looking at the same picture, but everyone sees different things, says Morie Meh­you, assistant vice president, information management and decision support at the hospital, the fourth largest in Arkansas. Six years ago, when Jefferson first implemented the system, Mehyou says, the medical center came up with a glossary of definitions for key terms, such as patient. But over time and under varying conditions, such definitions can get murky and/or users can interpret them differently. We have accountants, nurse managers and supply managers all seeing different things in the same data, says Mehyou. For example, an administrator viewing the patient census data might conclude that a certain medical department should operate only 11.5 hours a day. But the medical department might disagree, counter- ing that administrators didn’t take into consideration mitigating factors such as the fact that nine of its 10 patients were very sick or that one staffer left early on that particular day. It’s a continuous education with defi- nitions. You have to always explain the intent and purpose [of all definitions], and if there are any caveats, they have to be apparent, says Mehyou. Every time we have a new manager, I take the time to bring them up to speed to have consistency in reports. It’s a language you have to start talking to people. Ever-changing government, medical and financial regulations also affect BI definitions. Every time we have a chal- lenge, we have to come up with another way to slice data and give another ex- planation of what that data is all about, Mehyou notes. 5. Going for the Quick Win and Not Planning for the Long Term. The District of Columbia’s Court Ser- vices and Offender Supervision Agency needed to centralize all of its mission- critical information so it could compare the performance of various departments and realign its public safety resources across the city’s eight wards. We had different versions of the truth floating around, says Calvin John- son, director of the agency’s office of research and evaluation. We had one type of report from finance, another from research and a third from opera- tions, which didn’t jibe well, especially because we’re in the business of public safety. As part of the upfront require- ments-gathering process, Johnson and his team asked users in different focus groups for their three most pressing needs. We didn’t make promises, but we asked, ‘Where are your three biggest pains?’ he recalls. All told, he gathered about 45 urgent requirements many of them re­dundant. When you boiled it all down, it came to five to seven things, Johnson says. His team delivered them all fast. We did not follow best practices, but we developed quick and clean reports that users could access via a portal on a regular basis. We ran these jobs every day and made the information accessi- ble. It was low-cost but big ROI, he says. You give them something they can use right away, Johnson advises. People don’t care about pretty. Develop some- thing, even if it’s minimal. Develop it, and let people see where you’re going. But at the same time, he says it’s critical to think long term, especially in terms of how the IT infrastructure will support BI several years in the future. Most BI systems undoubtedly will have grown to support features that were not in the original scope, Johnson says. At the D.C. agency, for example, GIS capabilities are now part of the BI project plan. A lot of the data we deal with is spatial where people live, where crimes take place, Johnson explains. Now, when a homicide takes place, a case worker can pull up a list of all previous offenders, based on the crime they’ve committed, in a 500-yard radius. Or when staffers are going to be in a certain area of the city, they can find the names and addresses of offenders in that area and conduct random home visits. This is the bottom line, says Johnson: You’ve got to develop an IT architecture not for where you are now, but for where you want to be five years from now. Reprinted from Computerworld n 8 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs
  9. 9. 9 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs Additional Reading on BI and SMBs: Best Practices What to look for in BI Products When selecting business intelligence products, it’s important to consider other factors in addition to specific product features—such as ease-of-use, ease-of-implementation and administra- tion, scalability, user interface options, and how well it integrates into your company’s existing and future platform environment. Among the most impor- tant of these are: n An integrated product suite with a range of capabilities that your company can deploy as needed. As your company grows, it should not outgrow the capabilities of its BI ven- dor. In addition, individual users may require different capabilities, and an integrated product suite provides the greatest deployment flexibility. n The scalability to handle an increased user base as your organization grows and usage increases. As your organi- zation gains experience with BI and its usefulness becomes evident, it’s quite likely that its usage will quickly spread. n Data quality functionality to ensure a trustworthy data foundation so that your company is analyzing accu- rate, consistent, and complete data. High-quality data is a requirement for high-quality decisions, and it avoids the problems associated with having “multiple versions of the truth.” n The ability to access and integrate a wide variety of disparate data sources. Although many companies initially run their analyses against in- dividual systems, the time will come when data from several sources will be needed to see the total picture, and a product suite that includes data integration technology and the ability to have the data appear as if it were located in a single source will allow you to easily accomplish this. n Integration with your desktop soft- ware, in particular Microsoft Office. This will allow users to complement their BI with their familiar desktop tools and reduce your organization’s training requirements. n Support for multiple operating sys- tems, not just Windows, will allow your IT department to keep your fu- ture options open and not constrain your organization to a single operat- ing system. Linux is rapidly growing in importance, and your BI products should support it. Ease of initial installation and deploy- ment, as well as ease of adding ad- ditional users will not only make it easier to quickly add new users, but will increase the productivity of your IT department. n Powerful but easy-to-use administra- tion tools will allow your IT depart- ment to control “who can access what” and provide a level of security and privacy that’s simply not possible in a “spreadsheet-only” environment. Your data is an organizational asset that your BI products should help you protect, while allowing those that need to analyze it to do so effectively. n Robust report cataloging and distri- bution capabilities that allow autho- rized business users to receive their analyses on both an upon-request and periodic-subscription basis. The capability to alert users when certain events or value thresholds occur is also important. n The ability to deliver reports to a wide variety of desktop and mobile devices, with content formatted to match the capabilities of these devices. n Strong search capabilities that facilitate finding needed information and locating relevant analyses and reports. n Business users speak in business terms, and BI tools should allow them to continue to do so. A product suite with a semantic layer transparently isolates users from underlying techni- cal complexities and allows them to focus on their business issues, not technical software details. For users that need to know where data was sourced from and the underlying formulas (e.g., how are “gross profit” and “net profit” computed?), data lineage details should also be readily available. Reprinted from: SAP/ Business Objects: Business Intelligence: The Definitive Guide For Mid-Size Organizations n
  10. 10. 10 Tech dossier: BI Just Got Smarter for SMBs Additional Reading on BI and SMBs: Best Practices What to look for in BI Vendor When selecting a business intelligence vendor, it’s important to consider many factors—including vendor experience, reputation, and stability—as well as its professional services capabilities and the quality and strength of its partner- ships. Among the most important of these are: n Consider a vendor’s education and training capabilities. While many ven- dors offer on-site and in-house train- ing, a few have developed self-paced computer-based training that can assist new users in getting started or help experienced users quickly mas- ter advanced product capabilities. n Select a vendor with a proven track record and a history of successful growth—both in revenues and in capabilities. Solid growth and profit- ability indicates both astute manage- ment and product acceptance. It allows the vendor to better serve its customers and invest in the future. Choose a vendor that’s large enough to retain its independence. n A vendor with a history of acquiring complementary technology and suc- cessfully integrating it with its own is likely to be able to quickly react to new market demands and be able to supply the technology your company needs—both now and in the future. n Seek out a vendor with a history of vision and innovation. A vendor with a proven track record of innovation and industry leadership is likely not only to meet the current needs of its customers but also to anticipate and meet their future requirements as well. n As BI usage increases, it’s likely that your organization will deploy it against additional systems and ad- ditional databases. While a database vendor may offer its own proprietary BI technology, what happens when your organization decides to use an- other database? A major advantage of choosing a BI specialist as your BI vendor is its ability to work with a wide variety of data sources Consider the vendor’s product delivery options. While many vendors will only allow you to license their products to run on your company’s servers, others also provide “on-demand” or software as a service (SaaS) options—whereby the vendor hosts the software on its own servers, and organizations use it through their web browsers. The SaaS model can be especially appealing to small companies that wish to minimize upfront startup costs, while still having the ability to bring the software in-house at a future time when it would make economic sense. n A vendor with a large cadre of part- ners—both software vendors and consultants—will prove invaluable. One measure of “openness” is the number of other software products that a BI tool works with, and a ven- dor that actively encourages partner- ships is likely to have little problem integrating its technology with your current and future software environ- ments. Vendors with a strong base of consulting partners make it easier to find outside expertise should your organization have special requirements. n A vendor with a product set that provides your organization with a strong growth path and works in both operational systems and data warehousing environments will pro- vide maximum deployment flexibility. n Your organization will likely grow and expand. It may not be a giant today, but it could be one tomorrow. Choose a vendor that has a success- ful track record and extensive experi- ence with organizations of all sizes.• If you expect to someday operate on an international scale, a vendor with a multinational presence is highly desirable. Reprinted from: SAP/ Business Objects: Business Intelligence: The Definitive Guide For Mid-Size Organizations n