Data & Intelligence

Probing Questions to Identify the Right BI Tools to Use

Recently, a colleague asked me if I had a list of solid probing questions about the state of business intelligence within an organization. Moreover, because I was at the time part of our IBM Business Analytics Practice, he wanted to know if I had questions that specifically related to the IBM stack. What he wanted to do was to use the question to understand the issues companies were facing in order to help construct appropriate solutions and bring the right tools to the table. 

I must say that I made a rookie mistake, after 25-years in the industry, and the product focus derailed me. I immediately started to ponder what questions could I ask about IBM Cognos versus SAP Business Objects versus Oracle Business Intelligence and got nowhere. I forgot that it does not matter if it is SPSS or SAS, or TM1 or Hyperion, they can all for the most part do the same things. What matters is what are you trying to achieve, and how do you want to achieve it.

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Here is my list of top-ten questions to ask. At this stage, I am not going to try to interpret the answers. If you can get honest answers, you should be in good position to evaluate which tools are right for you and not end up with shelf-ware and dissatisfied end-users. I am going to make one big assumption on which to move forward. You have or can get access to the data you need.

  1. What do you want to do with the data? Is it simple query and data retrieval? Do you need to visualize the data? Do you want to send out standard reports across the organization? Are you looking to explore the data and discover nuggets of information? Are you looking to do advanced statistical analysis and data mining?
  2. What can you not do today that you need or want to do? Are you facing specific issues that you need to address? Are you feeling you should be doing something because everyone else is doing it? Are you spending too much because you cannot access and interpret information? Are you missing revenue because you cannot see far enough into the future?
  3. What tools do you have and use today? Why are they not working for you? Are you stuck in Excel hell? Do you have a BI tool in place? Do you have many BI tools in place? Are they from the same vendor? Are they all integrated? Are they relatively new or have they been around for a while?
  4. Who will be responsible for support? Who will be building the reports and doing the analysis? Will end-users support themselves? Is there an IT department who will support things? Is there a team of developers and analysts? Will there be a need for outside help and support?
  5. Where and how do end-users expect to receive the results? Do they want it in Excel? Do they want a dashboard? Do they want a printed or emailed report? Do they want it on an iPad, iPhone, Android device, Blackberry, or Windows mobile device? Should it be sent to the shop floor? Should it be accessible from the Internet? In what language should they be presented?
  6. What kind of data needs to be analyzed and where does it come from?  Is it coming from a single application or many applications? Is it stored in a spreadsheet or Access database? Is it stored in a data warehouse or data mart? Is it stored in specialized structure like Essbase, Analysis Services, or Hana?
  7. How much data do you have? Is it a spreadsheet or two? Is it a few megabytes or gigabytes? Is it a terabyte or more stored on a data warehouse appliance like Netezza, Teradata, or Exadata? Is it “Big Data” that needs Hadoop and MapReduce?
  8. When do you need it? What is the timeline for implementation? Do you need it next week? Is it to support a specific initiative such as next year’s budget? Is it worthless if the deadline is missed?
  9. What is the budget? Does it have to be carved out of existing spend? Are there dedicated funds allocated? What is the scale of the budget? Can it sustain a number of dedicated resources? Can the costs be capitalized or will it all be operating expense?
  10. What is the technology landscape? Is one vendor preferred over others? Does it matter if it is Windows, or Unix, or Mainframe? Does it matter if it is custom code, open-source, or commercially available software?

If you can answer these questions, you should be in a good position to:

  1. Identify the most appropriate categories of tools
  2. Evaluate the vendor products to see if they meet your needs
  3. Ask for the right size budget

Good luck with your implementation!

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Thoughts on “Probing Questions to Identify the Right BI Tools to Use”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and guiding the thought process around the Analytics play.

    People like you make the internet such a treasure cove of information!


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