Nikhilesh Kumar Tiwari
According to a 2010 blog post by technology and market research company Forrester, a typical Business Intelligence tool costs USD 1,50,000 and Extract, Transform and Load data management costs about the same. Services, hardware and implementation generally scale up to five times the software cost. Hence, after investing more than a million dollars, most businesses realise that the solution they have purchased is not really future-ready.
As the business expands, the number of users increases, data grows, databases change, more software is incorporated and new technology adopted, and it is observed that a BI solution is unable to incorporate future expectations. Of course, most BI software are more or less generic in nature, with features such as report, dashboard, ad-hoc, cache, security, etc. What all these tools lack, however, is future-ready architecture. This either results in business needs being compromised or dropped, or the use of best of breed solutions or development of their own solution or outsourcing. The result is wastage of money and time in search of a new BI tool, technical resources, implementation of the solution or usage of a best of breed solutions.
If you are able to connect with this situation, you may need to relook your BI tool or BI implementation. Why should a business user adjust his requirements when, ideally, it should be the other way around? Also, the expectations from a BI tool keep increasing and since generally the tools are not able to live up to the growing expectations, they expire. This throws up an important question— are business intelligence tools really intelligent?
An ideal case would be to have a BI tool which is future-ready and developer-friendly, ensuring flexibiltiy and extension. With the growing and ever-changing business requirements, IT staff will then be able to accommodate advanced requirements by adding features, adopting new technology and justifying the investment made. Such a BI framework will not be bound by any tool or technology limitation and can adapt to any sort of requirement—current or future. It will be a developer’s paradise given the liberty to do or create anything and business users’ dream since whatever they seek can be achieved with no compromise whatsoever. This will also remove dependence on the BI vendor for any additional functionality or patches and releases based on their product roadmap, since your own team can add functionality.
Below mentioned are some of the instances wherein such a need is felt:
Most BI tools support commonly-used data sources, which are limited in number. If any new database type is to be added as a data-source, it may not be possible without the database vendor providing the connect. Also, in case the data storage technology is different, like Hadoop, the reliance is on the BI vendor to come up with a new patch or version. For BI vendors who have shifted their focus from product innovation to sales, such requests generally take time for execution. Wouldn’t it be great if the developer himself was able to add data sources, API, etc., and enhance the tool?
BI tools generally come with native connectors to certain popular APIs. But, with changing times and requirements, new and more relevant APIs come up. Fetching data from other APIs than the pre-installed ones may be impossible or difficult. In such a scenario, one may feel the BI tools available today are not very future-ready.
After connecting to database, reports/dashboards are created. Most of the BI tools come up with out-of-box charting options which are limited and may not suffice the requirement. Though some BI tools do allow external integration of charts, they often forgo other functionalities such as exporting and email scheduling.
These limited charting options affect companies which are looking for advanced functionalities and those who might be working on predictive and trend analytics like data scientists and statisticians looking for statistical and advanced charting. A BI tool should allow charts to be integrated inside the report, dashboard, ad-hoc, etc., with ability to define inter-panel communication, input filters, etc. Also, even if integration of charts is external, other functionalities such as emailing, exporting, and trigger should work.
Not only for the plain vanilla reports and dashboards, a BI tool should be future ready enough for other visualisation options like infographics, what-if analysis, mashup, cubes, scorecards or any other type which exists or may come up in future as well.
Often, companies have their own products/software with certain navigation options, icons and colour, adhering to a chosen theme. With BI also being introduced to their solution stack, wouldn’t it be wonderful if it can be customised to match the design template of their existing solution stack, i.e., option to change navigation way, repository access, icons, content menu, colour, text, theme, file extensions of the BI software as well? Such exhaustive white-labelling capabilities can lead to a unified view of all the enterprise applications leading to ease of branding, usage and viewing.
Currently, what most BI tools offer in the name of white-labelling is change in the header and footer design, color and text and limited options.
Many BI tools come with a number of separate software/hardware to be used like the server, designer tool, plug-ins, community plug-ins, etc. BI companies release enhancements within these, which, at times, lead to compatibility issues. Here’s food for thought: What if while using the browser itself, we are able to execute everything exactly as the way the BI solution is being accessed? Imagine: no more downloading heavy software, no more compatibility issues and separate purchase of tools.
Licensing presents complex issues. Licensing may be core-based or user-based or server-based or mix-matched or data size-based. Also, there generally are separate licences for separate tools like designer, server and plug-in. Sluggish performance of the solution leads to increase in core server, and, hence, the licences. Maintenance, development and renewal cost are top-ups. Prices are not benchmarked and in many cases: there is no real clarity and often depends on the salesperson and the bargain being struck.
Ad-hoc capabilities allow business users to drag, drop and create their own reports and dashboards. Many BI tools are extremely limited here, not allowing or extending features to write custom scripts, add html, add visualisation for ad-hoc, custom calculated columns etc.
Most BI tools fail miserably in their ability to extend core functionality. BI tools are designed with adoption of the one-size-fits-all approach, wherein they are selling only their out-of-box features. However, every client has a unique requirement. Ability to extend functionality and add features are something that could change the way people view and use BI. Examples of extending functionality could be things like outlook plug-in of BI, offline viewing, introducing new exporting options, rule-based system, custom alerting notifications and triggers, custom business processes, etc. This could lead to a paradigm shift in the entire scope of BI. Frankly, sky is the limit!
An integrated workflow inside a BI tool could help in defining business processes and thus enhance capabilities. Examples of workflow could be things like ‘run ETL AND create report AND mail to one set of users when value is between 0-50 per cent, AND send it to other set of users when value is greater than 50 per cent’.
Companies generally use a number of software; thus a client has to navigate through them based on the requirement. Right now, we can only integrate BI charts inside other applications. It would be real value add if the BI tool is flexible enough to allow integration of other software inside the tool, interact with those software too and BI directly invokes their functions as well.
Skilled resource is one of the hard-pressed problems in the BI domain. Resources are far too less and the salary they command is far too much, leading to outsourcing of the projects. Why should there be a separate set of resource for BI at all? Why can’t BI tools be simple enough for a HTML/Java resource too to be able to work on the tool?
Can you associate or connect with the issues raised? Do you agree with the solutions? Having worked in the BI domain for many years over a number of tools and seen the current limitations, Helical IT Solutions has developed a solution for these issues. Watch out for the BETA edition which is soon to be launched. Write to us for early access at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)