by Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

Darryl Smith

This is a difficult topic to discuss, particularly as I am a passionate employee of a Business Intelligence (BI) software vendor. So of course Alchemex is the best solution, but seriously in the interests of fair blogging and not to market our own product, I will try to be as objective as I can and keep away from naming vendors.

I was in a meeting in Europe last week and in the meeting there was a person from a large ERP vendor trying to make a selection from a set of BI tools. They were evaluating from a list of 250 BI products! And a large portion of these were developed in just one country, Germany.  I was quite amazed. 10 years ago or so there were only a handful of BI vendors to choose from. Wow things have changed.

These days none can really answer the question “which BI tool is best for SMB’s?” as it is very general. The good news is that in this time the set of technologies, solutions and practices that sit under the BI banner has expanded vastly creating more specific niche areas within that BI banner that individual vendors can choose to excel in and then to eat their piece of an ever expanding pie.

No BI vendor can be the best, or realistically even do well, at any one time in all areas. Those that specialise well for the market segment they serve will continue to thrive. This still does not mean that the task of selecting a BI solution is not daunting for the end customer (SMB customers for the purpose of this blog). They are generally not IT savvy and the BI jargon and technologies can take years to fully understand. It is like being English and being in a foreign country ordering food off a menu with no English translations.

But perhaps a way of simplifying it is not to look through the vast menu of BI vendors and then the non-trivial menu that each of these provide for the components in their stack, but rather to identify what the business needs most and through this trying to quickly eliminate the majority and then spending more time looking deeper into a refined list. Kind of like arriving at a restaurant having a good idea of what you would like to eat and then zooming in on that area.

I am going to generalize as an example but some of the generalizations would probably ring true for customers in the SMB space. Assumptions….

1.            I am an SMB with only an ERP system

2.            My primary areas that I need insights into are around Financials

3.            Understanding my sales is also important to me

4.            I am interested in other information in my system to but these are less critical to me

5.            My ERP system is desktop based (bear in mind that ERP SAAS offerings are still a small part of the market today although this is changing)

6.            I don’t have a complex IT infrastructure

7.            I don’t want to spend large amounts of money on implementation, consulting and support

8.            I don’t want to pay large license fees

Immediately criteria 6, 7 and 8 eliminate ALL enterprise level vendors, criteria 5 and 6 eliminate Web based solutions and criteria 7 eliminates any solution that does not ship with reports for your specific ERP system out the box.

So in this generalised scenario one would be left with more commoditised affordable desktop solutions that target the ERP system with bundled solutions. This should narrow it down to a handful of product options and that is when it is important to  really start looking at the finer detail of a business’s needs.

And if one wants to get information in a familiar environment like Microsoft Excel, the choices are narrowed down even further.

Over the last few years most ERP vendors have acquired the BI solutions that they feel work best for their market. And you may find your ERP vendor is one of these that provide a bundled solution. This could eliminate many costs of ownership for you and the single point of ownership from the vendor can eliminate a lot of pointing fingers when you do require support.