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Birst Review 82 of 95
Birst Review: "First product ever purchased where promise was fully delivered."
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Updated February 25, 2014

Birst Review: "First product ever purchased where promise was fully delivered."

Score 9 out of 101
Vetted Review
Review Source

Software Version
5.3
Modules Used
Birst Cloud, Birst Connect, Designer, Dashboards

Overall Satisfaction with Birst

across a division within a larger organization. External clients also utilize interactive dashboards and visualizations. We utilize Birst to present internal administrative and service metrics, external reach and effectiveness metrics and comparative metrics across our large syndication network.
  • Birst is best at implementing and validating data warehouse models. I have been able to prototype multiple models in under 4 hours of effort - this is really amazing. As a past user of a big-3 reporting stack, these same tasks would have taken days. It is also extremely easy to publish dashboard of reports for users to view and interact with.
  • Birst supports both our internal analytics needs related to usage as well as external partner metrics utilized by our customers to determine efficiency of our products within their websites.
  • Birst's interface can be slow at times. On dashboards, I regularly see 3-5 second load times BEFORE the data begins being loaded (interface load time for the Adobe Flex framework). In addition, I have had numerous occurrences where I have to back out of the report designer and come back in due to failed refresh of the design palette.
Business Objects, Microsoft, Pentaho, JasperReports, GoodData.

Birst provided the broadest set of functionality at the best cost of ownership. Ease of implementation and getting quickly up to speed provided the biggest cost savings vs the other packages. The keys to ease of use and speed were the integrated nature of the Birst Cloud platform; ETL, Authoring, Visualization and secured self-service. No servers to buy, no complex contracts for Professional services + support + licensing. Birst was very easy to work with in getting started up.
Birst has provided exactly what was promised and then some. I can honestly say this is the first commercial product I have acquired for my company where the benefits promised were all delivered. Birst has been a pleasure to work with as a partner, actively seeking out comments from my team.
What was promised was delivered. Amazing that point is so surprising, but as those of us who procure enterprise software know, salespeople can be very good at promising things that are "possible" but not necessarily workable. Birst delivered across every aspect; software, services and support.

Using Birst

25 - Product Management, Sales Operations, Client Solutions, Customer Service. We also have over 2500 external clients access Birst Dashboards integrated into our Client and Vendor Portals to gain insight into their content syndication effectiveness and reach.
5 - Engineers and Client Solutions specialists. With a strong understanding of traditional data modeling and stewardship as well as the uses and methods of big data analysis, our core team of Analytics Engineers create and publish interactive analyses utilizing Birst. A good understanding of traditional ETL, BI and visualization design are critical to success of the team.
  • Reporting and Analytics
  • Interactive Dashboards integrated within our applications
  • Publishing Interactive Analyses for consumption by our client base.
  • I am not sure if we have been that innovative vis a vis capabilities of a BI/Analytics package. I think we do some pretty amazing things joining big data sets to our standard BI model. We allow comparison of a particular manufacturers product reach vs an anonymized set of competitive information. In an interactive dashboard you can change the comparison from the general set to a named set of top competitors as well as filter and slice by many different attributes.
  • We are looking into Birst's predictive analytics capabilities and sampling structures to provide prescriptive services to our syndication network. Items like suggesting the best price for an item, or inventory demand planning, or which channel to spend marketing $. Basically utilizing our data and Birsts platform to create an e-commerce optimization info-store.
  • Utilizing the new Birst Visualizer, we will be opening up a limited set of our standard model for ad-hoc visualization (we have a large amount of data and need to limit the scope of what can be completed ad-hoc to live within very strict performance guidelines).

Evaluating Birst and Competitors

Microstrategy and TerraData
  • Price
  • Product Features
  • Product Usability
  • Positive Sales Experience with the Vendor
As with many, price and licensing became the most important. Not having to buy a license for every person who will look and interact with a dashboard was critical for us as we have an unknown and ever-growing number of users
I would definitely expand the data set with which I evaluated. Although Birst has been able to handle the increased data load - it has taken more work on our side to model, clean, archive and optimize our data. Our original implementation was under budget, but ongoing costs are above what I planned (although not by any economically meaningful amount)

Birst Implementation

Birst's implementation staff were beyond excellent. Their knowledge of BI/DW, good implementation methodology and ability to flexibly approach a set of business problems enabled us to quickly get up to speed.
  • Vendor implemented
  • Implemented in-house
I partnered with Birst to implement the system and our first report model.
Yes - the original phase (modeling) really occurred during the selection process. So we really had Model, Implement, Operate and Iterate phases. The last two are of course permanent processes and not actually part of a project plan per se.
Change management was a major issue with the implementation - Changes to technical processes were no problem, but changing mindsets to a position of analysis vs reporting was a big deal - and is still ongoing. Asking for a 200 page report when all you are really looking for are the top and bottom 10 performers requires explaining goals. Making changes to a report that multiple people use, to maximize reuse is a different challenge than in the regular software engineering world with a single codebase. Minimizing code fracturing requires a lot of planning to ensure modifications do not break only code/reports, but purpose and unknown insights as well (unknown to the developer, but well known to the end user)
  • esoteric functions that were not well documented - having to go to Birsts client solutions team for answers
  • report functions that were not well documented, leading to some unanticipated results in reports - having to go to support to gain understanding of why.

Birst Training

  • Online training
  • In-person training
  • Self-taught
This was one of the best in person trainings I have attended. The instructors were very knowledgeable of the product and its functionality. They were easily able to translate training material to actual business problems faced by the attendees.
Although I found the online resources helpful, a lack of appropriate examples for certain tasks key to report creation and advanced modeling make the online training/documentation less than perfect. For an inexperienced BI professional, the online training would not enable a streamlined launch of the product.
BI is a complex topic. If you have experience with BI and data warehousing, this product is very easy to pick up and get going with. From scratch, and with only a couple hours of assistance I was able to pilot the system with a fairly complex data model. This included developing reports that utilized advanced functions that were fairly well explained in online training and documentation.

I would not recommend this approach to someone attempting to implement a full line BI system for multiple end users. Its one thing to work through learning a new system when you are the project champion, quite another when you are trying to implement for a broader user base.

Configuring Birst

its seems just about right.
when you create your model - ensure you utilize "scripted" sources for any source that will be utilized in a fact table or degenerated dimension. These become more difficult to modify if you source directly from a file/db connection.
Some - we have done small customizations to the interface - general interface is easy to customize. There are a couple of options I would like to be configurable that are not, but no real ramifications of these.
No - the product does not support adding custom code

Birst Support

As we have become more self sufficient, we normally only have to call support for some weird or big issue. These issues take longer to solve than i'd like. This is because support cannot fix them. So, not completely fair to the support team - who is knowledgeable about what they should be, but at the end of the day we are talking about the company's support of me, not a support agent team!
ProsCons
Quick Resolution
Good followup
Knowledgeable team
Problems get solved
Kept well informed
Immediate help available
Quick Initial Response
None
Yes - almost always - with exceptions for some complex issues that required engineering. Those may take a couple months.
after an upgrade, where I failed to follow my part of the upgrade instructions I was left with an inability to import data. I spent hours looking at my sources and processes. When I finally entered a ticket (on a saturday night), they called me back within minutes and walked me through what needed to be done. With the normal automated processing steps I have - I would have had a lot of manual work to fix the data up if I had missed a second cycle. Their prompt response and clear instructions let me get past that.

Using Birst

I would like to see additional usability put into the ETL scripting. Recently, Birst added a nice function reference inline to formula creation which has kept me from having to return to documentation so much. The same in ETL would be very beneficial. The interface problems related to the Flex framework are being addressed in a rewrite to HTML 5, but for now they are still a hindrance to a higher usability rating.
ProsCons
Like to use
Relatively simple
Easy to use
Well integrated
Consistent
Quick to learn
Convenient
Feel confident using
Familiar
None
  • creating dashboards with interactive functions
  • adding sources and data fields
  • administration of the system
  • user setup
  • modfying fields related to a "delete-key" source used to control ensuring duplicate data is not ingested for sources with only "natural" keys

Birst Reliability

Mostly this rating is due to Birsts lack of understanding of my model and data size even though we clearly discussed it. They started me out on a particular data backend and as my data grew had to convert to a more performant backend (that is standard for them). I should have been started on that. Birst does allow connections to Amazon Redshift, and if you deploy in house has connectivity to several columnar data stores.
There have been only a couple of brief outages under 30 minutes in the 6 months I have utilized the platform.
In a reporting and analytics package there are two distinct performance times to look at. First is the performance of calculating the report data and metrics. I would rate a 9 for this. However, the interface rendering is slow, rating a 7. Dashboards can take 3-5 seconds to load. This is probably not a problem for normal users, as the dashboard render is performed once. My application integrated the dashboard into a commercial product though, with hundreds of customers - so my demands are higher with a large number of end users.

Integrating Birst

very easy and well documented.
  • Internal and customer facing portals. Salesforce.com
The integration was clearly documented and worked as documented. A combination of GET/POST statements should make it easy for anyone to integrate to another website or database.
  • Zuora, a subscription billing system.
Zuora integration is on the roadmap for Q3/4 2014
  • File import/export
  • Single Signon
  • API (e.g. SOAP or REST)
  • ETL tools
none - it is very straightforward.

Relationship with Birst

amenable to my requests for access to the system during the sales process. I did not want a vendor lead POC. If I couldn't get in and use it and figure it out in a couple weeks - I knew it wouldn't be right for our organization
after a great implementation and wonderful support for the first 6 months - some more complex problems I encountered led to some time to repair metrics I was unhappy with. After a couple months I spoke with their exec team and was then given the attention and support I had come to expect.
I am not allowed to disclose the terms of our contract as we signed up as an OEM.
as with any vendor that is not one of the top 5 software/hardware companies in the world - push for what you want. If there is a feature you need and it's "on the roadmap", get it included in the contract/SOW. This is your time to ensure you get what you want at the price/terms you are willing to enter. They are professional sellers - are you a professional buyer?

Upgrading Birst

Yes - yes. follow the published steps and its all good.
  • enhancements to HTML5 dashboard
  • Birst Visualizer
  • Backend data processing enhancements