Why Multiple BI Tools Matter

Post: Why Multiple BI Tools Matter

Why Multiple BI Tools Matter

And the underlying challenges in making it work


There are 20 vendors ranked in Gartner’s 2022 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.  Over the past 10 or 15 years we’ve watched the pendulum swing as vendors consolidate, move between quadrants, and come and go.  This year, the lower half of the box is crowded with vendors challenged with the “ability to execute”.  Gartner Magic Quadrant


IBM Cognos Analytics is considered to be a Visionary.  Gartner considers Visionaries to have a strong/differentiated vision and deep functionality.  What separates them from the Leaders square is 1) inability to fulfill broader functionality requirements, 2) low customer experience and sales experience scores, 3) lack of scale or inability to execute consistently.  IBM CA is praised for its Watson integrated AI and flexible deployment options.  


True to a Visionary, IBM offers a roadmap for applying analytics everywhere: “IBM’s vision is to unify planning, reporting and analysis in a common portal”  We think this is the biggest innovation. IBM’s new Cognos Analytics Content Hub unifies disparate analytics, business intelligence, content management systems and other applications, eliminating multiple logins and portal experiences.


What’s not said


What’s not said in the Gartner report, but is validated elsewhere, is that most companies are cheating on their primary Analytics and Business Intelligence vendor.  Some organizations use 5 or more at the same time.  There are two sides to the coin, however.  On one side, this development is understandable and essential.  Users (and organizations) have found that no one tool can meet all of their needs.  On the other side of the coin is chaos.  


Corporate IT has relented to the demand of the business user and is now supporting multiple systems.  Each additional BI tool adds additional complexity and confusion.  New users are now faced with a decision as to which analytics or BI tool to use.  The choice is not always straightforward.  To further complicate matters, the various tools, even if they are pointed at the same data source, often produce different results.  The only thing worse than not having an answer is having more than one and not knowing which one is right. 


The right tool for the job


These issues are resolved with Cognos Analytics Content Hub.  Let’s face it, the marketplace will not tolerate going back to the single vendor concept.  If that single tool is a screwdriver, sooner or later, you’re going to come across a nail that your tool is just not designed to handle.  On June 1, 2022, IBM released Cognos Analytics Content Hub which sits on top and provides a consistent interface across your existing technologies. Through a single sign-on, everyone can access everything they need.


The analytics industry has talked about “the best of breed” for a long time.  The concept is to buy the best tool for the job.  The thinking has been that there is just one job and you were limited to one tool.  Today there are more and more niche players.  Gartner puts 6 of the 20 vendors in the niche quadrant.  Previously, these were considered for niche businesses.  Now, there is less of a reason to steer clear of niche players if solutions from multiple vendors will better meet your needs.


Benefits to unifying multiple platforms


There are a number of benefits to being able to using multiple platforms and presenting the end user with a single portal:

  • Time.  How much time do users spend looking for stuff?  The end user needs to be able to search for assets, whether a report or analytics, in one place.  Consider this simple ROI: In a company that supports 5 BI tools for 500 users who tend to spend an average of 5 minutes a day looking for the right analysis.  Over the course of a year, if an analyst costs you $100/hr you’d save over $3M by simply having a single place to look.  You can do a similar analysis of cost savings of wait time.  The time watching the hour glass spin adds up across multiple environments.
  • Truth.  When users have access to multiple systems that do the same thing or have similar functions, what are the odds that two users will come up with the same answer?  Different tools have different metadata.  They often have different rules for default sorting.  It’s difficult to keep business rules and calculations in sync across multiple tools.  The answer is to present your users with a single asset with a curated answer, so there’s no mistake.
  • Trust.  The more systems or platforms an organization needs to support, the more risk there is and the greater the likelihood that you can trust them all to give the same results.  There are risks of duplicates, silos of data and confusion.  Eliminate that risk by removing that decision point from the end user and presenting them with the right asset.  


You’ve gone to the effort of making sure that the reporting data represents a single version of the truth.  Users don’t care where the data comes from. They just want the answer to be able to do their job.  Make sure a single version of the truth is presented through your multiple BI tools.


Cognos Plus


Just like IBM is moving two of its tools – Cognos Analytics and Planning – under the same roof, the marketplace will continue to expect to be able to use any tools – Cognos, Qlik, Tableau, PowerBI – together, seamlessly. 


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As the BI space evolves, organizations must take into account the bottom line of amassing analytics assets.
The more assets you have, the greater the cost to your business. There are the hard costs of keeping redundant assets, i.e., cloud or server capacity. Accumulating multiple versions of the same visualization not only takes up space, but BI vendors are moving to capacity pricing. Companies now pay more if you have more dashboards, apps, and reports. Earlier, we spoke about dependencies. Keeping redundant assets increases the number of dependencies and therefore the complexity. This comes with a price tag.
The implications of asset failures differ, and the business’s repercussions can be minimal or drastic.
Different industries have distinct regulatory requirements to meet. The impact may be minimal if a report for an end-of-year close has a mislabeled column that the sales or marketing department uses, On the other hand, if a healthcare or financial report does not meet the needs of a HIPPA or SOX compliance report, the company and its C-level suite may face severe penalties and reputational damage. Another example is a report that is shared externally. During an update of the report specs, the low-level security was incorrectly applied, which caused people to have access to personal information.
The complexity of assets influences their likelihood of encountering issues.
The last thing a business wants is for a report or app to fail at a crucial moment. If you know the report is complex and has a lot of dependencies, then the probability of failure caused by IT changes is high. That means a change request should be taken into account. Dependency graphs become important. If it is a straightforward sales report that tells notes by salesperson by account, any changes made do not have the same impact on the report, even if it fails. BI operations should treat these reports differently during change.
Not all reports and dashboards fail the same; some reports may lag, definitions might change, or data accuracy and relevance could wane. Understanding these variations aids in better risk anticipation.

Marketing uses several reports for its campaigns – standard analytic assets often delivered through marketing tools. Finance has very complex reports converted from Excel to BI tools while incorporating different consolidation rules. The marketing reports have a different failure mode than the financial reports. They, therefore, need to be managed differently.

It’s time for the company’s monthly business review. The marketing department proceeds to report on leads acquired per salesperson. Unfortunately, half the team has left the organization, and the data fails to load accurately. While this is an inconvenience for the marketing group, it isn’t detrimental to the business. However, a failure in financial reporting for a human resource consulting firm with 1000s contractors that contains critical and complex calculations about sickness, fees, hours, etc, has major implications and needs to be managed differently.

Acknowledging that assets transition through distinct phases allows for effective management decisions at each stage. As new visualizations are released, the information leads to broad use and adoption.
Think back to the start of the pandemic. COVID dashboards were quickly put together and released to the business, showing pertinent information: how the virus spreads, demographics affected the business and risks, etc. At the time, it was relevant and served its purpose. As we moved past the pandemic, COVID-specific information became obsolete, and reporting is integrated into regular HR reporting.
Reports and dashboards are crafted to deliver valuable insights for stakeholders. Over time, though, the worth of assets changes.
When a company opens its first store in a certain area, there are many elements it needs to understand – other stores in the area, traffic patterns, pricing of products, what products to sell, etc. Once the store is operational for some time, specifics are not as important, and it can adopt the standard reporting. The tailor-made analytic assets become irrelevant and no longer add value to the store manager.