There are more enterprise business intelligence platforms than I can easily count. Throughout the second and third quarters of 2018, DMI has pushed to evaluate a handful of top contenders in the BI space so that we can improve our in-app analytics and democratize data access to our partner organizations. Based on our diligent efforts and experience performing these evaluations we have advice to share.
BI platform evaluations can be exhausting for you and your team, but the value of unlocking data and democratizing access across your organization will far outweigh the hard, diligent work that lies ahead. Be prepared to evaluate the landscape, which includes big names like Cognos, Microsoft PowerBI, Tableau, Sisense, Looker, GoodData and many more. You won’t likely make it to the trial stages with each potential vendor, but it will serve your organization well to schedule an initial demo of each. There’s no magic number for how many you should trial, but in order to understand how much these products can vary your team should trial at least two platforms.
As nonprofit data experts, we’ve been struggling with and overcoming unique data challenges for decades, and we know that some analytical requests are harder than others. For example, we know that calculating donor lifecycles over fiscal quarters or fiscal years can be difficult –– especially for a large database. This concept is called “slowly changing dimensions”, and it’s just one of many complex considerations to include in your BI trials.
To get the most out of each trial, understand and document, in writing, the most complex data analysis tasks your team or your software already does before you start trialing platforms. Many of the BI platforms that we have evaluated in recent months have followed a similar sales pattern; it ultimately results in a weeks-long, guided trial in which your team is given assistance scrubbing data and building dashboards. You’ll want to be able to provide test cases for complex reporting challenges during these trials, and you don’t want to be writing them after the trial has already begun.
You can do all of the up-front analysis that you want, but the people consuming the reports and dashboards that you produce are always going to ask questions about the data or about the filtering and drill down capabilities that you can’t anticipate. Find the people who ask for the most reports in your organization, and bring them into discussions. Let them watch as dashboards are created and as table relationships are defined. They’ll ask questions, but if you’re able to solve their data needs, you’ll be able to solve almost everyone’s.
Before your first evaluations are complete, you’re not likely to understand the breadth of functionality that exists in the BI marketplace. You’ll find similar products provided by different companies, but precise features and capabilities can vary wildly with some platforms being better suited to your use case than others. As you learn about functionality provided in your first evaluation, write down notes on those features and then ask each subsequent vendor how their platform compares. When you’ve finished evaluating your top contenders, circle back around to the initial vendors so that you can compare their platforms to the interesting components of other tools.
Self-service analytics can feel a lot like drinking from the firehose. If you notice during your evaluations that meaningful reports and dashboards are not materializing, consider partnering with an analytics provider like DMI. We can help you collect and organize your data and then build impactful BI for your organization’s users.