How to Choose the Right Business Intelligence Platform

Author: 
Selwyn Zhou

What is a BI Platform?

Business Intelligence platforms enable users to build applications that help organizations learn and understand their business. Gartner defines a BI platform as a software platform that delivers the 13 capabilities listed below.

These capabilities are organized into three functionality categories:

  • Integration
  • Information delivery
  • Analysis

Information delivery is the core focus of most BI projects today, but we are seeing an increase in interest in deployments of analysis to discover new insights, and in integration to implement those insights.

business intelligence bi Platform

Integration

  • BI infrastructure — All tools in the platform should use the same security, metadata, administration, portal integration, object model and query engine, and should share the same look and feel.
  • Metadata management — Not only should all tools leverage the same metadata, but the offering should provide a robust way to search, capture, store, reuse and publish metadata objects such as dimensions, hierarchies, measures, performance metrics and report layout objects.
  • Development tools — The BI platform should provide a set of programmatic development tools and a visual development environment, coupled with a software developer's kit for creating BI applications, for integrating them into a business process, and/or embedding them in another application. The BI platform should also enable developers to build BI applications without coding by using wizard-like components for a graphical assembly process.
  • Collaboration — This capability enables BI users to share and discuss information and/or manage hierarchies and metrics via discussion threads, chat and annotations, either embedded in the BI platform or through integration with collaboration, analytical master data management (MDM) and social software.

Information Delivery

  • Reporting — Reporting provides the ability to create formatted and interactive reports (parameterized) with highly scalable distribution and scheduling capabilities.
  • Dashboards — This subset of reporting includes the ability to publish formal, Web-based reports with intuitive interactive displays of information, including dials, gauges, sliders, check boxes and traffic lights. These displays indicate the state of the performance metric compared with a goal or target value.
  • Ad hoc query — This capability enables users to ask their own questions of the data, without relying on IT to create a report. In particular, the tools must have a robust semantic layer to allow users to navigate available data sources.
  • Microsoft Office integration — In some cases, BI platforms are used as a middle tier to manage, secure and execute BI tasks, but Microsoft Office (particularly Excel) acts as the BI client. In these cases, it is vital that the BI vendor provides integration with Microsoft
  • Search-based BI — This applies a search index to both structured and unstructured data sources and maps them into a classification structure of dimensions and measures (often leveraging the BI semantic layer) that users can easily navigate and explore using a search (Google-like) interface. This capability extends beyond keyword searching of BI platform content and metadata.

Analysis

  • OLAP — This enables end users to analyze data with extremely fast query and calculation performance, enabling a style of analysis known as "slicing and dicing." Users are (often) able to easily navigate multidimensional drill paths.
  • Interactive visualization — This gives the ability to display numerous aspects of the data more efficiently by using interactive pictures and charts, instead of rows and columns. Over time, advanced visualization will go beyond just slicing and dicing data to include more process-driven BI projects, allowing all stakeholders to better understand the workflow through a visual representation.
  • Predictive modeling and data mining — This capability enables organizations to classify categorical variables and to estimate continuous variables using advanced mathematical techniques. BI developers are able to integrate models easily into BI reports, dashboards and analysis.
  • Scorecards — These take the metrics displayed in a dashboard a step further by applying them to a strategy map that aligns KPIs with a strategic objective.

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