By François Ross
Business intelligence (or whatever we call it now) is a critical component in consuming information for decision-making. There is no doubt that the technology landscape, deployment strategy, and tool selection have become far more complicated in the last couple of years. The “one size fits all” and platform normalization have become challenging as the volume of data as well as the need for analytics never stops increasing. It is more important than ever to approach information delivery projects with a holistic view. As I revisit some of the larger client implementations I’ve been involved with, I notice that most of the deployments delivered to date have evolved reactively and almost tactically. Enterprises are waking up to a deluge of opportunities to collect and analyze data on every aspect of their business, but bigger, faster, and more complicated data doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity for the end users. Focus on the front-end visualization, governance, as well as the underlying data analytics and infrastructure are now equally critical in order to avoid pitfalls.
Historically, the largest “Enterprise BI” (the ‘Traditionals’) platforms have consolidated and performed slow growth, mainly organically within the clients that invested in it. But recently over the past 5 years, some vendors (the “Departmentals”) took a shortcut by leveraging some of the modern in-memory capability and gave ‘data to the users’, therefore bypassing the governed infrastructure built by the traditional information delivery. The shortcut created a positive disruption and explosion on how the business consumes the data – wait…didn’t I read that when MS Excel was first released in 1987? – but also created a series of impact and derived challenges for the enterprise driven by data accuracy and consistency.
I thought I’d pictured some of the key differences between the “Traditionals” and “Departmentals” platforms. I intend this to stay non-biased, therefore list some vendors in each:
The Traditionals: Microstrategy, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Information Builders
The Departmentals: Microsoft PowerBI, Tableau, Qlik, SiSense, Looker
I also separated my perspective in five separate areas that have become predominant with modern BI:
1.Time to value: The Departmentals have focused on a “land and expand” deployment strategy, attracting the business users with self-service data connectivity, exploration and visualization capabilities. Departmentals empower users with “do it yourself” with minimum IT support, all in a very short time. This can be challenging especially in highly regulated organizations and exposes risks from a data accuracy, scalability, and governance standpoints. However, “Bi-modal BI” (see bimodal BI explained ) is slowly being adopted by even large organizations, which will help with adopting the Departmentals at a larger scale.
On the other end, the Traditionals caught up and now also offers similar visualization and self-service capabilities, built upon the Traditionals’ foundational elements – enterprise metadata, governance, and security. This topology could present longer implementations and time to value, especially if implemented from the ground up, but will also ensure a much more scalable and reliable platform (analogy: building a house versus buying a pre-fab).
2. Data exploration: This has been the main attractive focus of the Departmentals. Data exploration definitely appeals to the “data citizens.” i.e. glorified business analysts, as they can now do what they’ve been doing in Excel, such as ‘load data and go’, with far more modern features, visual power and better user experience.
The Traditionals handle exploration by offering the business to capture a slice of the governed data and allowing them to adapt and prepare it to their use case. This way the core information still resides centrally and the ‘exploration assets’ stay trackable and secured.
3.User Experience: Overall, the Departmentals are simple to use and present a single intuitive interface to the user, with minimal training required, still using a “desktop” approach with being able to publish to a cloud or centralized server for sharing and collaborating.
The Traditionals expanded their technologies over time, and now offer multiple interfaces to address capability needs and user personas. Not every user defines self-service the same way, so you may see an interface optimized for accessing reports different than one for exploring. Interfaces can be secured to ensure access is granted to the right group of users.
4.Visualization and “big data” capability: Definitely perceived as one of the strengths of the Departmentals, as they constantly upgrade with the “next best viz” or “next sizzling chart” to provide insight on the most complex data analysis, as well as keeping up with the latest emerging data sources. However, and again, some of the Traditionals have caught up and now also offer similar presentations and connectors, with the capability to upload and customize new emerging visualizations.
5.Did I forget Enterprise Reporting? It’s a fact: we still need reporting. Although most of the ERP and financial system vendors have matured in being able to provide reports, these vendors actually have decreased in flexibility to align to their cloud strategy, opting for standardization of the core ERP reports. This has created a growing need for multi-domain and multi-source reporting that the Traditionals have been brought in for in the first place. They can handle complex and secured distribution mechanisms, such as bursting, as well as secure access to automated reports. Finally, their constantly evolving reporting interface allows fast creation of pixel-perfect, formatted multi-page reports, something the Departmentals may have overlooked as it didn’t sound like fun…
In summary, there are more capabilities that could be listed to help compare platforms. But the above points make the key criteria that come across when evaluating. Coexistence is possible and not uncommon, but if you have to standardize, consider the following:
- Departmentals offer a “land and expand,” rapid and agile deployment focused on self-service, while deploying enterprise-wide may require more creativity and externally implemented components to address governance, security and large-scale deployment automation.
- Traditionals require a more design-focused deployment, with the key elements of an enterprise BI solution, leveraging those elements to support self-service data exploration and visualization capabilities.
By considering and potentially applying those principles, you may end up with the ideal deployment strategy and adoption.