When it comes to business intelligence and reporting—as with all other development resources—the challenge is to balance “buy” against “build.” The reasons for building are obvious: It’s your code, and nobody knows your business requirements and software resources better than you do.
Why buy, then? We talked to several providers of business intelligence solutions, and their arguments can be summarized as saving time, saving money, creating a scalable system, and leveraging existing business intelligence/reporting resources.
The costs involved don’t all have to do with licensing costs, either. The licensing cost is actually very minor regardless of which solution you choose, compared to the actual development and resource cost that it’s going to take to put it all together and maintain it. “There are many scenarios that need to be thought through when it comes to presenting and visualizing data,” said David Abramson, director of product management at LogiXML. “It’s one thing to be able to connect to data and know what’s in your data. It’s another thing to know the best ways to visualize and report on that data, how to optimize that experience for the widest variety of end users, from your C-level folks down to your managers down to your sales force or other operations people that need to get this information to make better business decisions.”
Organizations need a business intelligence reporting tool that can be widely adopted across many offices, time zones and devices. To create a robust solution, developers often need more than just programming experience.
“I think it takes an extraordinary amount of domain expertise and not just in software development,” said Nelson Ng, principal consultant at Dundas Data Visualization. “I think that’s an assumption that needs to be debunked. It’s not just about software development. Beyond making data available and accessible, data is only valuable once people understand it. To help people understand the enormous amount of data that you’ve conceivably spent an enormous amount of money collecting and warehousing, you’ve got to know how to correctly present that data.”
This is increasingly important, Ng said, because the expectations of business users today are extraordinarily high. “There is a whole notion of consumerized business intelligence, making business applications that were historically clunky and difficult to use and bringing them up to the same caliber, polish and great design as you get from, say, iOS or Android apps,” he said. “There’s an extraordinary amount of thought that goes into doing this for BI, and it’s a very difficult standard to meet if you’re not an expert in this space.”
The only way that human beings can make sense of the extraordinary amount of data that confronts them is to actually visualize it, Ng said. And that’s why he thinks that data visualization is so important, not just for the future of business, but also for society. “There’s so much data. The only way the human brain can process all of this, all these numbers and statistics, is to actually see it laid out visually,” he said. “It’s how our brains work, and it’s been proven to accelerate our ability to understand information dramatically.”
The growing Big Data problem
A lot of the challenges that developers face when they’re trying to build something on their own are related to trying to handle the increasingly larger amounts of data generated in the world today. “Data is growing at just an astronomical rate,” said David Garnett, VP of products at Actuate. “The forecasts are something about 30% per year of data growth. We’re talking megabytes 10 years ago to gigabytes seven years ago. Now it’s not uncommon for people to have petabytes of data that they need to find insight on.”