All too Common
You have questions. How do you get your answers? The methods and the tools used to help get those answers to business questions will vary per organization. For those without established BI solutions; using desktop database query and spreadsheet tools are...all too common. And...If there is a BI tool in place, usage and its longevity are dependent on its capabilities, costs to maintain it and ease of use for both development staff and business users. Decreased BI tool adoption, due to rising costs, lack of functionality and complexity may increase dependencies on technical resources and other home grown solutions to get answers. IT departments have numerous responsibilities. Running queries and creating reports may be ancillary, which can result in information not getting out in a timely manner, questions going unanswered and decisions being delayed. Therefore, the organization may not be leveraging its BI investment for what it was originally designed to do...empower business user to create actionable information.
(Read the similar experiences of Pentaho customer Kiva.org here at Marketwire: http://www.sys-con.com/node/1971384)
Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
The BI market is saturated with BI tools, from the well known proprietary vendors to the established commercial open source leaders and niche players. There are choices that include the "Cloud", on premise, hosted (SaaS) and even embedded. Let's face it and not complicate things...most, if not all, of the BI tools out there can do the same thing in some form or fashion. They are designed to access, optimize and visualize data that will aid in the answering of questions and tracking of business performance. Dashboards, Reporting and Analysis fall under a category I refer as "Content Delivery". These methods of delivering information are the foundation of a typical BI solution. They provide the most common means for tracking performance and identifying problems that need attention. But..did you know, there is usually some sort of prep work to be done, before that chart or traffic light is displayed on your screen or printed in that report. That prep work can range from simple ETL scripting to provisioning more robust Data Warehouse and Metadata Repositories.
Content Delivery should begin first with some sort of Data Integration. In my 15 years in the BI space I have not seen one customer or prospect challenge me on this. They all have "data" in multiple silos. They all have a "need" to access it, consolidate it, extrapolate it and make it available for analysis and reporting applications. Whether they use it already as second-hand data, loaded into an Enterprise Data Warehouse for historical purposes, or produce Operational Data Stores, they are using Data Integration. Whether they are writing code to access and move the data, using a proprietary utility or even some ETL tool, they are using Data Integration. It is important to realize that not all data needs to be "optimized" out of the gate, as it is not only the data that is important. It is how it will be used in the day to day activities supporting the questions that will be asked. This requires careful planning and consideration of the overall objectives that the BI tools will be supporting.
Well, How do I know what tools to use? - Stay Tuned
With so many tools available, how will you know what is right for the organization? Thorough investigation of the tools through RFIs, RFPs, self evaluation and POCs are a good start. However, make sure you are selecting tools based on the ability to solve your specific current AND future needs and not solely because it looks cool and provides only the "sex and sizzle" the executives are after. The typical need is always Reporting, Analysis, Dashboards. Little realize that there is a lot more to it than those three little words. In the next part of this article I will cover a few of the most common "BI Profiles" that are in almost every organization. In each profile I will cover the Pains, Symptoms and Impacts that plague organizations today as well as the solution strategies and limitations you should be aware of when looking at Pentaho.
Director of Enterprise Solutions