Best Practices for Business Intelligence Tool Selection

Originally published 21 March 2006

In my article, Spending Trends Demonstrate Value of Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, we discussed how an internal survey of our pharmaceutical clients reaffirmed an identified trend of increased spending in business intelligence and data warehousing. Now a survey published March 6, 2006, in InformationWeek reiterates that message: executives are spending larger portions of the IT budgets on business intelligence. In the pharmaceutical industry, our clients have attributed that spending increase to: delivering consistent, accurate and trusted views of integrated Drug Discovery and Development data to key stakeholders; and addressing shortcomings within deployed business intelligence and data warehousing environments.

In this article, the focus is on the remaining area of impending investment: the selection of business intelligence tools. This process can be expensive, overwhelming at times, and the risk can be extremely high – especially when time lines slip, budgets overrun and the needs of stakeholders and expectations of executive management are not met. This article outlines a streamlined process with a proven set of best practices – gleaned from years of lessons learned – that mitigate business risk and reduce the time, cost and effort involved in selecting a business intelligence tool.

Best Practices for Business Intelligence Tool Selection

  1. Select a Business Champion
    Select a highly visible and well-respected business champion who understands the value of investing in business intelligence technology and is empowered to choose business professionals across the enterprise to work with the information technology organization during the selection process.

  2. Define and Classify Business, Functional and Technical Requirements
    Conduct facilitated sessions to define the business, functional and technical requirements that will objectively guide decision making during the selection process. Requirements must be classified in one of three ways:

    • Essential: unable to achieve strategic and operational objectives without it;
    • Important: makes large contribution to strategic and operational objectives; and
    • Desired.

      Typical business intelligence tool requirements may include:

      Ease of use
      Overall look and feel
      Help menus, context help, online tutorials
      Ad hoc query creation
      Ad hoc queries to be saved or modified
      Export reports to other formats
      Publish reports to destinations
      Dimensional drill-down
      Drill-through to detail from summary
      Statistical calculations
      Report from stored procedures, views
      Generates efficient SQL for chosen database
      Ability to view and modify generated SQL
      Ability to create tables
      Ability to join multiple tables
      Ability to create complex formulas
      Supports database security
      Restricts access to reports
      Capability to monitor performance
      Ability to customize generated SQL
      Ability to limit rows queried
      Able to set maximum query time limit

  3. Leverage Gartner, Forrester, The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) and Ventana Research
    Use sources such as Gartner, Forrester, TDWI and Ventana Research to provide guidance on the vendors who are challengers, visionaries and leaders within the business intelligence spectrum and whose products are capable of meeting your defined business, functional and technical requirements from a macro level. The research will also provide insight on features and functions, strengths and limitations, and past vendor performance. The most successful vendors are ones who understand when their products have matured and follow up with new ones to maintain growth and success. Lastly, make sure each vendor’s supported technical framework – Web browser, client platform, server platform, Web servers, LDAP, OLAP servers, server databases – can be seamlessly integrated into your current and strategic information technology architecture.

  4. Assess Vendor Capabilities
    Assess each vendor’s market share and growth, financial strength and technical support. It is important to note that focusing solely on product functionality could leave your company at a strategic disadvantage. Nevertheless, revenue, net income and license fees from the previous four to six fiscal quarters are your best measurements for assessing the health of a vendor. In addition, a D&B financial stress class assessment will validate the financial stability of a vendor for the next 12 to 18 months.

  5. Prepare Preliminary Vendor Cost Model
    Prepare a “preliminary” cost model for each vendor and the respective product(s) covering licensing, first year technical support and maintenance, training, hardware (client and server requirements), anticipated system administration and consulting. Licensing costs can be estimated by determining the number of targeted users and then classifying them in one of four ways:

    Administrator: Adds, changes and deletes user accounts; creates and manages security profiles; creates and manages metadata; maintains out-of-the-box portal; monitors performance and utilization; and manages configuration.

    Power User: Creates, schedules, publishes and distributes “board-room quality” reports; creates standard report templates with parameters, calculations, filtering conditions; and provides first-tier support for user and report viewer constituency.

    Creates, schedules and runs “lightly formatted” reports; subscribes, modifies, schedules and runs standard reports. Also, views published reports and will possess limited publishing capability.

    Report Viewer:
    Views published reports.

  6. Establish a First Pass Vendor Shortlist
    Establish a “first pass” shortlist consisting of three to four vendors by taking into consideration the accumulated research covering functionality, architecture and technology, supported platforms, cost, financial strength, technical support, vendor expertise, etc. It is critical that this shortlist be achieved without contacting any business intelligence vendor directly.

  7. Schedule Tailored Vendor Presentations
    Leverage the “first pass” shortlist to schedule three-hour “tailored” presentations with each vendor. This presentation will facilitate the validation of accumulated research, and the assessment of product functionality and capabilities against the defined business, functional and technical requirements. A recommended tailored presentation agenda includes:

    15 minutes: Vendor overview
    30 minutes: Validate / refine accumulated research
    90 minutes: Demonstrate product functionality and capability against specified requirements
    20 minutes: Additional features and functions (vendor “wow factor”)
    25 minutes: Questions and answers / next steps

    This approach maximizes productivity and controls the flow of critical vendor and product information in order to make an informed decision on a “best fit.” Furthermore, it drives the establishment of a “second pass” shortlist (i.e., final two vendors).

    Install the Second Pass Vendor Shortlist Business Intelligence Products
    Coordinate with the vendors on the “second pass” shortlist to have their respective business intelligence products installed in your environment and to deliver a small prototype using your predefined specifications.

    This best practices approach ensures the verification of product functionality against defined requirements in a controlled environment (e.g., testing scenarios); allows the vendor to showcase additional features and functions (vendor “wow factor”); provides further insight for planning business intelligence development, deployment, support and training strategies; and enables a “micro” product comparison analysis on key decision criteria such as features and functions (scalability; performance management and tuning; speed of deployment; metadata management; reusability / interoperability; bursting; etc.).

    Business intelligence vendors will invest time, effort and money into head-to-head competitions when a methodical, experience-based approach is governing product selection.

    Make an Informed Business Decision
    Although these best practices are just a subset of a more comprehensive library for business intelligence tool selection, they are the main ones to streamline this process. It is not uncommon to find prospective clients who have embarked on the selection process with no methodical, experience-based approach for guidance. After several months, they are no further along than when they started.

    Do these best practices really work? They certainly do! Case in point: one of the global business services giants had spent more than 16 weeks trying to evaluate seven business intelligence tools for one of their divisions. Their evaluation had left them thoroughly confused, especially when trying to differentiate one product from the next. No decision was forthcoming. Time lines had already slipped considerably, and executive management was questioning the capabilities of the team to achieve the task at hand.

    By following the best practices outlined in this article, this business services organization was able to make an informed business decision on selecting their business intelligence tool – in less than eight weeks! These proven processes and techniques have consistently helped organizations mitigate the business risk and reduced the time, effort and costs for selection by as much as 40 percent. Moreover, they have facilitated a business intelligence tool selection in as little as six weeks!
  • Tim FureyTim Furey

    Tim, former Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for CSI, was responsible for ensuring the most appropriate business intelligence, data management and data warehousing solutions were delivered to CSI’s Global 2000 clients. These innovative solutions were designed, developed and enhanced through Tim's leadership of CSI's Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) and Centers of Excellence. Tim has 24 years of experience implementing business strategies and strategic solutions for the pharmaceutical segment and other industries. Furey has architected large-scale Drug Development Data Warehouses aimed at reengineering the development process for bringing new, safer drugs to market sooner. For more information on this article, please contact CSI at

    Editor's note: More pharmaceutical articles, resources, news and events are available in the Business Intelligence Network's Pharmaceutical Channel. Be sure to visit today!



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