BI – To standardize or not to standardize

I read an interesting article the other day quoting from a recent Gartner report (The Consumerization of BI Drives Greater Adoption) which suggested that organizations should take a portfolio approach to Business Intelligence (BI) rather than take a standardization approach.

This is very much in line with recent marketing pushes I have heard about from some of the niche BI vendors who are advocating concepts like “opportunistic” or “end-user driven” BI. These concepts suggest that the value of BI is too great to be hamstrung by your existing BI infrastructure and advise you to choose tools for specific tasks to allow your end-users to get on with things on their own, regardless of how these tools fit into your existing BI landscape.

As always, the best course lies somewhere in between. The benefits realized over the past 10 years from the move to BI standardization (e.g. higher data quality, single version of the truth, lower cost of ownership, …) should not be given up lightly, but at the same time a slavish insistence on only ever sourcing from one BI vendor would be an equally big mistake.

Of course, all this depends on what you mean by standardization.

One of the benefits of standardizing your BI on one of the larger vendors’ platforms is that you can extend the capabilities of the platform using tools from the inevitable ecosystem of partner offerings which grow-up around the platform. In many ways this gives the best of both worlds, everything is based on a robust enterprise class foundation but you have the option of extending with innovative offerings from smaller vendors without fragmenting into BI silos.

As a dedicated SAP BusinessObjects solution partner, we at Antivia obviously believe strongly in the BI ecosystem model and one of our most important goals is to help SAP BusinessObjects customers stay on their core platform as long as possible, before they are forced to add incompatible BI tools to their portfolio.

Given this, I guess that it is inevitable that some of the messages which the niche BI vendors use to attack SAP BusinessObjects, such as “build dashboards in hours or days not weeks or months” are precisely the same value propositions we offer through XWIS albeit through an extension to the SAP BusinessObjects technology rather than a replacement of it.

Not surprisingly the new version of XWIS makes further strides in this area. Two key XWIS 3.0 features, AutoSync and Data Merge address two of the key areas where smaller vendors tend to attack Xcelsius:

  1. Data Merge and Spreadsheet Reader allow corporate data from SAP BusinessObjects to be combined with other non-BusinessObjects data. For example: to support tactical BI projects with a short shelf-life or to support forecasting where budgets, actuals and forecasts are all held in different places (Watch a short Data Merge and Spreadsheet Reader video )
  2. AutoSync provides automatic data and navigation synchronization across dashboard components. This gives a huge productivity boost to Xcelsius developers reducing development and maintenance time. (Watch a short AutoSync video)

And, there will be more to come in the future as we continue our drive to help SAP BusinessObjects customers get the best possible return from their BI investment.

Having said all that, no matter how rich the ecosystem around any BI platform is, there will be times when you need to add a new, disconnected tool to your BI portfolio to meet a specific requirement. At such times, just make sure you are addressing a real requirement and that there is no way to extend your existing platform to meet it.

So, whilst I agree with the Gartner report that in a very strict sense “the concept of a single enterprise BI product standard is flawed”, I would also say that a high degree of standardization around a single BI platform remains by far the best approach or put simply: “standardize on the ecosystem and add specialist tools with care”.

One thought on “BI – To standardize or not to standardize

  1. Giles Farrow

    Typically the main problem experienced with multiple BI tools, is separate teams build their own silos. Data is disconnected, inconsistent and often wrong – lacks one version of the truth.

    Multiple BI tools also create problems for users, they have to learn how to use multiple tools. It is much easier for users to go to one place and have the information delivered without having to choose first what software to use. Inevitably they will run into situations where some data is one app and needs to be merged with some other data. So they will have to work in their own (isolated) environment, typically Excel.

    The third issue is cost. Multiple software vendors will add to license costs and TCO.

    A big headache for IT departments.

    Using data warehouses / marts and master data management can address the data issue. But there will always be different types of BI tools needed by different types of user, requirements varying for sophistication, data volumes, mobility, integration…

    The way that Antivia extends the functionality and usability of Xcelsius is an excellent solution, helping reduce the number of BI tools needed. But for most companies, Gartner is right: the consumerisation of software means companies will use multiple BI tools. IT departments will just hope they can keep the list down to a manageable few.

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