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As a large number of Business Intelligence initiatives have provided sub standard results, it is necessary to ask yourself a few questions to ensure you are selecting the correct solution.

Is it designed for the business or IT ?

Lot of solutions look great in the demo but fail in real life because only those features are shown in the demo which are the strong points of the solution. When used in real life by the business users, it provides very limited results and requires a tedious learning curve. It requires the users to face the complicacies of the technical world. The solution should have the complicacies taken care of in it’s engine and should be intuitive for the ease of use.  Ask for an evaluation copy, compare it to other solutions and let the users pass their verdict of how closely it meets their expectations.

Does it have self-service analytics or only canned analytics and reporting ability ?

While digging into transactional data is important but it helps only the operational staff. The ability to explore and analyze the data from different angles is extremely important to realize what is going on in the business and what should be done to address issues or improve it. This requires not only consolidation of data from multiple sources but also a front end which can present the data on the same screen with ease and provide the ability to drill, slice and dice at the speed of thought. Canned analytics work the way they were built, not the way you would want. If a thought came to your mind to explore the data in a certain way and you have to ask your IT to build the screen for you then you are limiting yourself in your ability to research and analyze as the wait time for every such scenarios would act as a deterrent.  The solution should have the ability for you to pick and choose any data set and explore it from any angle.  This can be achieved only when the solution allows to drill, slice and dice every way possible, not just the way the solution was built or the way it was shown in the demo. Self-service is more important than canned solutions.

Is the solution integrated properly ?

A properly built Data Warehouse is the foundation of a BI system. Extracting data from multiple systems and consolidating it in one platform is the key to obtain insights into the enterprise wide activity and consumer behavior. Consolidated data will let you see all things together and will let you connect the dots together while fragmented data provides insight that goes only as far as an area. Lot of systems have an Enterprise Data Warehouse built but not integrated in a way that will let you connect one area of the business with another. A partial integration defeats the purpose of consolidation.

Does the provider have subject matter expertise ?

With the huge shortage of skilled labor in IT, does the provider still have people who know the subject well enough to support it post installation or the people who made the solution moved on? A known fact of the IT world is that finding resources is easy but finding the right ones is not.  It is important that the existing resources should be technically savvy enough on the subject without which you would just be paying for their name, not for the results. Give them a couple of challenging problems to solve and see if they provide a solution or a workaround. A commonly used phrase in IT – ‘I think this will work for now’ is used by majority of techies and project managers resulting in building an inferior solution which works partially and demands a revamp some time later.

How do you assure yourself of the success ?

People who are subject matter experts and who have done it with a record of success will be confident of the quality of their work. A good firm will usually provide some level of guarantee. It is also a good idea to check their track record. How many of their customers gave them a second project? The first project is always earned by the marketing efforts but the second project is earned only because of the quality of work provided in the first project. The success of the work depends on the consultants, not on the consulting company.  Though all of them say that they work in a team and have other resources to back them up but in most cases, there are hardly any skills to back them up when required. It’s better to check the records than to believe the words.