BI service providers: not all equal

Business Intelligence is not just about software – it is a long term strategy best carried out in partnership with experts.

May 9, 2013

Business Intelligence is not just about software – it is a long term strategy best carried out in partnership with experts. Sean Paine, Chief Operating Officer at EnterpriseWorx, explains how to choose the right BI partner.

It is a sad fact that every hot new technology trend brings with it a rush of fly by night businesses aiming to cash in on the latest trend. With business intelligence (BI) being top of mind for enterprises at the moment, this industry is likely to attract a series of newcomers and fly by nights too.

Selecting an implementation partner who can do justice to your BI strategy requires careful planning and assessment of the potential partner. A company that aims to drop a box and leave, will likely not deliver a solution that meets the business’ needs nor help the business maximise the returns from its BI investment.

When selecting a partner, it is important to look out for:

References
Look for a partner with a strong track record and lengthy experience in implementing BI solutions. The biggest cause for concern is that developing BI software and solutions is a messy business – things can and do go wrong in the process, and businesses need a partner who have not only learnt the lessons, but also know how to proactively address potential issues.

A partnership approach
Effective BI involves a long term relationship between the business and the service provider. Whilst the window for BI development has dramatically shortened from around 6 – 9 months, to typically 4 – 8 weeks, the implementation is not the end of the story. BI needs to constantly adapt in line with changing business strategy. Therefore, the BI solutions partner should work in partnership with the business to adapt and upgrade the BI strategy in line with business imperatives and changing needs. A good service provider should also understand the verticals the business is operating in.

Delivery focused with methodology
Many service providers don’t have a strong implementation methodology. Without clear methodology, the engagement risks are slowed by a long exploratory exercise instead of delivering quickly and effectively; with rapid time to value.

Investment in development
A good BI service provider invests in research and development partnerships in order to keep up the pace of change. They need to have plans in place to meet emerging trends and technologies.

Effective support systems
A service provider should be equipped to deliver all the necessary support and the levels of support should be clearly spelt out in the service level agreement. They should state response times, escalations and guaranteed uptime, among other things. It is worth noting that you get what you pay for. If the support is not included in the agreement, it will be charged for additionally.

Driving BI competence
BI is not only about reports and dashboards – the best BI service providers will help a company grow and mature its BI competency within the organisation. BI is not just about technology, it is a long-term programme to turn the business into one in which decisions are based on facts and all information is shared effectively using BI systems. A good BI service provider is equipped to assist the business in setting up a BI Competency Centre to help grow the BI programme at strategic level and help drive change within the business.

Skills transfer
A good service provider should equip the business with skills transfer where appropriate, to help shave off costs over the long term. The best BI service providers also invest in their own people, keeping their consultants up to date with regular training.

Relationship with the vendor
It is worth assessing the service provider’s relationship with the software vendor, as well as its levels of accreditation and partnership.

A BI service provider cannot address all of an organisation’s BI problems. Because BI is a process of building up and using intelligence, the organisation has to develop its own analytical culture that uses BI to help answer questions and underpin decisions. However, a good BI service provider can help fast track the process of becoming a more analytical and data-driven organisation. And in a competitive environment, businesses that are not data-driven will be left behind.