How to Buy a BI Solution

There are a number of steps to completing a successful BI purchase and implementation:

Don't get hung-up on the technology too early. It's about understanding the business problem and having the right people and processes.

Buying a BI solution is a complex undertaking, not just because of the large number of options available, but also because there are many different kinds of products, designed to do very different things. But the technology is not even the most important thing. All of the experts we interviewed for this guide were unanimous: Don't start with the technology!

Photo of Wayne Eckerson - BI consultant and Expert“Successful BI implementations are not just about tools, but are about people and processes. Focusing too soon on tool selection is not going to provide the best result. A BI project is not a one-shot thing, but is a journey that takes time and patience.”
Wayne Eckerson, BI consultant and Expert
Photo of John Onder - Principal CBIG Consulting“It's rarely about the technology. It's more around people and processes and scoping and managing projects properly. It's very important to start with the business and work backwards.”
John Onder, Principal CBIG Consulting
Photo of Barry Devlin - BI Consultant, Author, Speaker“The important thing to remember is that it's usually not about tools, and is more likely to be about organizational maturity and the ability to get decisions made and get things done. Many organizations I encounter are somewhat internally dysfunctional and this ability to get things done is weak or even non-existent.”
Barry Devlin, BI Consultant, Author, Speaker
Photo of Lyndsay Wise - BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics“It's about more than just the technology. You can implement a solution but if people can't take action or use the product to make progress in their job, then they don't use it and the project fails due to lack of adoption.”
Lyndsay Wise, BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics

If people and processes are more important than the technology, what kind of people and processes should be put in place? The following sections discuss the important of nominating an executive-level project sponsor and functional business leaders and the role of IT. However, there are some key success factors that are common to all successful BI projects. For example:

  • Create a business plan outlining the business problems to be solved and the expected benefits
  • Derived from the business plan, build a simple step action plan and outline each step clearly
  • Build a project team with all the appropriate stakeholders from business and IT
  • Establish clear success criteria

Find an executive sponsor

Perhaps the most important first step is to secure executive sponsorship with enough clout in the organization to telegraph the seriousness with which the organization is approaching the project. This is the most important overall factor.

Photo of Wayne Eckerson - BI consultant and Expert“Very often, organizations don't invest in the right people with the right knowledge and experience to know how to fit everything together. You need a very strong program manager, but also people who understand how to work cross functionally. Having the right sponsorship from the business side is essential.”
Wayne Eckerson, BI consultant and Expert
Photo of John Onder - Principal CBIG Consulting“To succeed, BI projects need a strong leader who is knowledgeable about both technology and business and can straddle both worlds, translating between the two. Since the ultimate goal is to achieve significant business value, it's usually better to have a technically-oriented business executive lead the team.”
John Onder, Principal CBIG Consulting

Business should lead, IT should play a consultative role

Procuring a BI solution is a business decision. Only the business really understands the problems to be solved and the value that new technology can bring to the organization. Buying BI technology should never an IT-only decision and this is something that needs to made very clear from the start.

Photo of Barry Devlin - BI Consultant, Author, Speaker“I draw a distinction between who should drive and who is usually driving when I get there! There is no question that a major project should always be driven by a high level executive on the business side; Either a CEO, or some direct report, who can take a cross-enterprise view. The reality is that IT is often reluctantly in the driving seat, and trying to get out of it as fast as they can. I try to transition leadership from IT and get the business people to step up to their responsibilities. IT is a co-owner in a process like this, but should not drive.”
Barry Devlin, BI Consultant, Author, Speaker
Photo of John Onder - Principal CBIG Consulting“BI projects should be driven by business. If they are driven by IT, there will be significant struggles Speed of delivery is critically important. Often things will go on for far too long. A good idea is a hybrid agile approach where you mock things up and show the businesses how data can solve their problems… It's really very important to do this kind of rapid prototyping. The applications side of things is owned by business. The IT group is the curator and keeper of the data.”
John Onder, Principal CBIG Consulting
Photo of Lyndsay Wise - BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics“Business users might want something not realizing that it will take six to nine months to implement rather than if they had chosen something else. IT usually prefers to choose something that fits into the already existing technology stack and tends to be less interested in business requirements.”
Lyndsay Wise, BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics

Focus on ease-of-use

BI tools can be notoriously difficult to use and it's important to understand the range of user types that will be using the software. The largest number of users are likely to be relatively non-technical executives, operations staff or salespeople who need the ability to monitor metrics, analyze anomalies and drill down to see details. A far smaller number will be technical users like data analysts or even highly-trained data scientists and modelers who really want to be able to explore large data sets. It's important to understand the abilities of your users and to not overestimate the abilities of the largest part of the user population.

Photo of Lyndsay Wise - BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics“[Organizations struggle and fail] because the technology is often hard to use, and they have not done proper due diligence around the products they have invested in. But also organizations struggle because they are so tied to the technology investments they have already made. They don't want to rip and replace what they already have. They are tying to upgrade what they are already using and get the performance that they need. Sometimes they need something newer which is more flexible.”
Lyndsay Wise, BI Industry Analyst, President Wise Analytics

Start small and get a quick win

It's critically important not to try to boil the ocean, but tackle a small bounded product and show some quick results. For example if executives from different departments cannot agree on sales numbers because they have different definitions of “product” and are working from different spreadsheets, agree to track a couple of metrics to help solve that problem. Early success of this kind is the best way to build confidence in the program and ensure continued buy-in.

Photo of Wayne Eckerson - BI consultant and Expert“It's critical to get a quick win. Find a project of significant value to the business and deliver it quickly. Once the business gains confidence in the technical team, it will eagerly invest in additional projects. With momentum, the technical team can then lay the foundation for an enterprise-wide program.”
Wayne Eckerson, BI consultant and Expert
Photo of John Onder - Principal CBIG Consulting“Speed of delivery is critically important. Often things will go on for far too long. A good idea is a hybrid agile approach where you mock things up and show the businesses how data can solve their problems. Then they understand the concept of guided analytics. It's really very important to do this kind of rapid prototyping.”
John Onder, Principal CBIG Consulting