Business Intelligence tools are often likened to cars. “I have the Ferrari of BI tools” I heard once. At the time I thought, “So you paid a lot of money for a BI tool that no one can drive properly and it doesn’t tolerate common road conditions all that well like speed humps and supermarket car parks“.
With the consolidation of BI vendors, we are now seeing the mega-vendors revealing ‘new’ BI products made from various bits of old BI products. They are all written by different teams from different companies and often in different countries, connecting to different databases and with similar functionality. None of the bits designed to connect together with the others.
How does that look and what does it mean? I thought I would stay with the vehicle metaphor. Introducing the Snaefell.
The Snaefell is a car and motorbike combined. It looks unusual, it’s nice and red, and it’s apparently the best of two worlds: motorcycling and car driving. The motorcycle is a Laverda and the car is made from different parts of different cars. Put it together and there you go, perfection! Right? Or is it?
I can see the marketing for the Snaefell now “You can ride your bike on those beautiful country roads and take the kids and the picnic basket too! It’s real no-compromise motoring…. or motorcycling – take your pick!”
Ah, just when you could see yourself with the wind in your hair and the kids out of earshot, reality bites. The Snaefell is hard to drive, you can’t easily get it serviced because no-one knows how it works, and parts come from all over the world when they need replacing. It behaves in corners like nothing you’ve ever driven. No, really, nothing. Registration in most countries will be drag and it’s sort of wide. A bike fits in one lane, a car fits in one lane, mash them together and… well… I know they’d fit in two lanes. Will it fit in my garage?
The major BI vendors who have cobbled together systems from around the globe have the same problems, and while they’d love to invite you to share in those problems, you might not expect to be buying them with your organisation’s hard-earned cash.
- They are not easy to use. There are so many interfaces you will need to understand just to build one report! In BI we always strive for simplicity on the other side of complexity. These tools are more like even more complexity you can’t comprehend on the other side of complexity you understand and are trying to simplify. Trust me, post implementation, that irony will not be lost on you.
- Getting consultants for these BI tools is hard. Because they are a combination of many products, no-one is an expert in all. So you find yourself hiring 2 or 3 people who have particular skills in each module – just to create one report! As the tools have been mashed together, so have the ecosystems. Consultants and partners who were at their maximum using the toolsets they had, now have even more tools to learn to do many of the same things they have done in the past with their initial offerings. Sadly tool capability overlap post-acquisition is unavoidable. The more enterprising of these groups can’t wait to test out the newly acquired tools on your business so they can better understand how they work in the real world and maybe do a better job next time. The vendors couldn’t be more excited about this, because it means they can now sell you more tools.
- These BI tools have “that module that no consultant wants to go near” and that happens to be the one you bought and are having issues with. Vendors will often purchase organisations with tools AND people. People are great because the vendor’s billable consulting teams just exploded overnight. Having bought the tools though, those assets must sweat as well. Good bad or indifferent, we bought them, and we think you should too. Why, you ask? Well because we sell them, of course.
- Training is a hassle. End-user courses can take a week out of your life because you have to learn so many different tools! The great news for the training arms of these vendors is that more disparate software, means more cobbling together, means more complexity means more training needs. With these loosely coupled tools in your business, you truly are the gift that keeps on giving.
- The BI tool is integrated [by marketing] and some quick coding to loosely hang the front ends together. For the price of beautifully produced video testimonial with a script my 8 year old could parrot, it seems busy people can be lulled into the false sense of security that sees them trusting what they neither see nor understand. Isn’t that great?
- Bug fixing is really slow. “We value your call and will attend to it shortly”. Bugs rapidly become ricocheting bullets that seem to bounce around inside these vendors. Welcome to a real world example. A client had a problem with one of these loosely coupled “solutions” that we agreed to help out with. It was an odd problem that involved ineffective application of security as one tool (acquired by the vendor through acquisition not development), handed over to another. The small problem this created was that suddenly any user of the system had full access to all financial information held in the BI system. Perhaps not so small on reflection. Our initial enquiries were fruitless. The query bounced around locally and no-one had a clue. It wasn’t until we were referred to the only guy who could help us (in the Netherlands) who tried to assist. Why the Netherlands, you ask? Well obviously the tool that was at root cause had been written by a Dutch company. That company had been acquired by another company who had been acquired by another company who had been acquired by its current owner. Not joking – really. As the acquisitions took place this particular tool had joined a growing snowball of tools and it turns out the integration was flawed and critically. A long story slightly shorter, 3 months! It took 3 months to finally resolve the issue and even then the solution is more akin to a work around that you hope against hope will continue to work during changing circumstance. They never mention the pain you’re buying when they are selling you futures.
- Total cost of ownership is horrendous – do the 3 year TCO assuming your Business Intelligence needs will grow – because if you succeed, they will. It’s eye-opening.
- Understanding the licence program requires a doctorate in nuclear physics and some time with the Large Hadron Collider. Then you find you want more users and you have hit a limit for that particular bundle of product. You need to move to the enterprise version now and “No, that is not a upgrade but a new purchase, sir”, new development and a redeployment of new software. My personal favourite is when you decide to move your application up to more modern hardware. Same number of processors, but more modern and capable ones. For the right to do that, you will need to pay your software vendor money. No kidding. Sounds too complex? That’s ok. The auditors that the vendors keep on retainer will come to your site and work out how much you owe, even though you are getting nothing, zero, zip by way of additional business benefit from the vendor.
- Budgeting and forecasting is so poorly integrated into these systems it feels like a separate product. Oh, actually, it is. I’m sure we acquired something that does that stuff… oh yeah, we’ve got 3. They’re slightly different though so you should really buy them all, just to be safe.
- Mobile connectivity is another product with separate licensing (you expected that didn’t you?). With this kludge of acquired software, going mobile is a real headache. Simple solution, make a whole new product for people to buy, or better still, buy something else that already demo’s well…
- The Support Matrix for the various versions and types of operating systems, web browsers, Office clients fills a whiteboard. There’s just no escaping that these purchased applications are different products. Some are coded well, some are a nightmare. None were fundamentally designed to work with the others. Different products coded differently means different vectors and stages of development. Some support more modern counterparts in productivity tools, browsers and hardware; and some just don’t. To understand the optimum platform you either need to try and back-solve to a common denominator in platform and distribution methods, or, more commonly buy multiple hardware platforms to support each product and then stick with old versions of browsers and other tools to ensure uniform delivery methods. Sound complex? Well… it is, and its insane.
The Good News. There is an easier option. Easy to use, tightly coupled to Microsoft Office, resources are abundant, one application that’s simple and just works. Less than one day’s training. Unified, not integrated. One team of software developers. Inexpensive, simple licensing comes with budgeting and forecasting built-in. Fully mobile. Supports all browsers, all versions of Microsoft Office and all operating systems. CALUMO 11.9