A “Few” thoughts on evaluating Business Intelligence vendors

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I have a confession to make.  I am a huge fan of Stephen Few.  You won't see me write huge fan” very often.  If you don't subscribe to his feeds, I'd recommend it.  There is a tremendous correlation between what we strive to achieve in data visualisation and what Stephen considers most relevant.  I recently came across a post of his dating back to January 2010 where he lists what he believes are key considerations when choosing your BI vendor.

His list:

  • Does the vendor have deep expertise in the domains that its products support? Does it exhibit this expertise, not only in its products, but in its communications as well, including marketing materials and sales presentations?
  • Does the vendor invest in the development of features and functions in its products that actually work and are actually needed by more than a few users?
  • Does the vendor exhibit a commitment to designing products to be as easy as possible to use?
  • Does the vendor develop products that nudge users in beneficial directions (that is, in directions that actually produce results that effectively serve their needs)?
  • Has the vendor defined its potential users clearly enough and gotten to know them well enough to develop the product in relevant ways?
  • Does the vendor refrain from making marketing claims that are false or otherwise misleading?
  • Does the vendor know how to tell the story of what its product does, how it works, and why it's good? If it doesn't, this is a sign that it doesn't have a clear story to direct its efforts into a coherent product.
  • Does the vendor make it easy for potential buyers to evaluate its products?
  • Does the vendor help its users develop the conceptual skills (not just skills in using the software) that are necessary to use its products productively? For example, if it produces data analysis software, does it offer instruction in the principles and practices of analysis?
  • Does the vendor take the time to develop user documentation that is really helpful, with clear explanations and meaningful examples?
  • Does the vendor's support mechanism (phone support, etc.) demonstrate that it genuinely wants to solve your problems rather than only provide the minimum support that customers will find tolerable?”

Its not provided as a comprehensive list but a generic set of considerations.  As I often find myself saying when Stephen heads off on a rant or exposition, I couldn't agree more.

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