How to Select the Right Business Intelligence Vendor

Business intelligence vendors outside the Big Four (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) have a lot to offer, but they have to fight hard to get considered. There are, however, distinct advantages to selecting independent business intelligence vendors. When considering your company's business intelligence needs, consider the following top three reasons to choose independent business intelligence vendors, as outlined by Knowledge Center contributor Ted Cuzzillo.

/images/stories/70x50/bug_knowledgecenter_70x70_(2).jpgOver $15 billion in business intelligence mergers and acquisitions were announced in 2007. These acquisitions are reigniting the debate on the most fundamental issue in enterprise software today: whether it is better for companies to have their BI software supplied by a few conglomerate BI vendors or by a range of independent BI vendors.

The pitch from the Big Four (that is, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) has a pleasant ring. They want BI shoppers to believe, for one thing, that the family of components is one big happy family. All the parts interact as if made from the same cloth. The trouble is, while sweet promises come and go, failed BI initiatives can leave a bitter taste. Should shoppers ignore their well-founded skepticism and consider only the Big Four's integrated suites? Or should they go with their instincts and build with best-of-breed and flexibility in mind?

To help determine what's best for your business, the following is a breakdown of three advantages to selecting an independent BI vendor:

Advantage #1: The ability to mix and match

As a CIO, you can build your own optimal set of tools for your organization's unique needs-with tools you know will work the way you need them to. You shouldn't leave that selection up to those who design "integrated" suites. In many cases, the Big Four's solutions just may not be good enough. For example, while IBM offers a complete suite, its data modeling tool is not one of the keepers. Their data modeling tool is used by three people in the whole world. There are several preferable alternatives such as tools from CA and Teradata.

You may wonder if you can install a component from another provider into an integrated suite. But that, too, can be trouble. You may stumble on the platform's "spider web" of underlying pieces. Some companies find that they can't run the IBM Solo products intermixed with the BEA products. They just don't interoperate, so if you make a bet on one, you make a bet on all.

Advantage #2: Freedom to apply leverage with a vendor, and ultimately, the freedom to walk away

The allure of bundling is strong. The salespeople offer you a discount on one thing if you buy that other thing. Then they've got you and they're going to think of you as their captive audience.

Imagine a conversation with one of the Big Four. You're playing the captive customer. You complain and the vendor responds, "What, you don't like that? You don't like our support? You don't like the new pricing structure? What are you doing to do, wise guy, pull it all out?" So you're locked in, along with the expertise that's tied to it.

Those who bought open systems switch out at will. They simply say, "Mr. Vendor, we don't like your product. We don't like your pricing. In the next cycle, we're going somewhere else!" That freedom to adopt better, more advanced tools is critical in the rapidly evolving state of technology. There's a lot on the horizon and plenty of reason to stay open.

Advantage #3: Customer influence

During rapid change, independent vendors have to listen to customers. Even veterans cannot ignore their customers. Customers tend to be able to influence product direction (of independent vendors) more easily. Meanwhile, nobody can say what's going to happen with some recently acquired tools as they're dragged into the new mother company's orbit. For example, what will happen to Cognos as it gets sucked into IBM? Will it retain its independent database roots or will it be pulled toward DB2?

While acquired BI tools come under the new parent's influence, some of the bright minds that made those tools what they are drift away. Some stay for the money. But a lot of those who can leave, do. They're usually replaced with "company functionaries," who tend to be complacent. An independent vendor, by contrast, is powerfully motivated to steer a straight course. Customers are far more assured of a stable platform.

Naturally, there's a downside to buying from independents. People with expertise with some of the less well-known tools can be harder to find. Even so, the advantage of an open system is clear. While supposedly "integrated" platforms might serve for today, open systems serve today's needs and also tomorrow's-as they leave a path open for rapid and unpredictable evolution.

/images/stories/heads/knowledge_center/cuzzillo_ted70x70.jpg Ted Cuzzillo is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and a Certified Business Intelligence Professional, with credentials from The Data Warehousing Institute where he is a contributing editor. He writes about business intelligence on his blog at He can be reached at