By Teri Sawers
Business Intelligence is a core driver in staying competitive, as companies increasingly capitalize on the insights provided by data analytics to improve operating efficiencies, reduce costs and grow revenues and profit.
But getting to a place where your BI is paying an ROI is not a simple journey. There’s considerable work involved in finding key underlying data in the first place, and then getting past information gaps and data bottlenecks across databases, systems and networks. You will of course need to prioritize according to different initiatives, departments or geographic locations—and build a data model(s) on that basis. Finally, there’s a question about how end users want to interact with a BI application: C-level staff famously want their dashboards, and Finance people will almost certainly want to see (and jigger with) numbers in Excel.
What part do you want to play in addressing these and other challenges? Are you going to get the best returns by developing applications with your own BI software and resources in-house, or by investing in an outsourced solution?
In-house Software Applications
One of the first things many businesses say about BI is that they already have a software package in place. These firms have almost certainly employed consultants not only to select the software, but to develop a defined application. What’s involved, then, with maintaining and further developing the purchased software in-house?
Most certainly it will require staff proficient enough with the software to obtain ongoing results that meet stakeholders’ expectations; this translates into training and support in at least the basics of the application, including the extraction of underlying company data; modelling this data, and; management of the “front end” user tool.
Beyond maintaining the in-house software application, it is fair to ask whether internal resources will have the wherewithal to extend the product’s capabilities (not to mention address inevitable software issues that arise). Staff and managers often don’t have the time to become BI experts on top of their other daily tasks and responsibilities.
Some companies create an internal BI team with more advanced technical skills: their mission is to develop applications to meet the needs of prospective users, from salespeople out in the field, to department, local or head office management.
Here are a few considerations about developing in-house BI software experts:
- Will this team be fully dedicated to implementing and developing your BI software?
- Will this team need to be proficient in the use of BI software other than what you already own or plan to implement?
- What happens if the people managing your BI application leave the company—who will resolve ongoing problems? Would external expertise need to be hired?
- Is it going to cost more to hire for such skills rather than invest in an outsourced solution?
Outsourced BI Solution
Choosing an outsourced BI solution can address many of the issues and questions raised above. Most managed outsourcing solutions incorporate ongoing service and support as part of their offering, saving your IT team both time and costs. At a basic level, an outsourced solution will provide regular upgrades that ensure you always have the latest technology in place.
Further to that, as your business grows and embraces BI throughout the organization, you need capabilities that will grow along with you. Packaged, in-house software often lacks scalability and flexibility, making this kind of growth difficult. An outsourced solution should provide a “game plan for growth,” taking into account prospective second, third, etc. applications that build on the first solution and leverage software that has been put in place.
In recent years there has been a progression from purchasing a "software/application" to a "managed solution,” tailored to specific circumstances that include stakeholder requirements as well as pre-existing software (underlying database and current BI systems). Expert outsourced BI providers possess skills that extend from data integration, to data modelling, to satisfying users’ front-end preferences. Their expertise should be in delivering customer-centric BI that is fast, easy and scalable; their focus should not be on selling any one software package.
And on the all-important consideration of costs: an outsourced BI solution should “spread” the cost across the timeframe of a subscription, including both software and services. It’s a far different paradigm from a large capital expenditure of (mostly software) cost up front, along with uncertain service costs billed by a developer on the way to a usable application. Absent, too, are all the costs associated with training for maintenance, upgrades and some acceptable degree of in-house expertise.
In sum, a successful outsourced BI solution provider should work like Uber or Lyft: you avoid the angst of buying and sustaining your “transportation” (software)—and leave the driving (i.e., the outsourced BI) to “them.” You should find getting to your destination easier, faster…and when all costs are added up, cheaper than you expected.