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Managing Multiple BI Tools Doesn’t Have to be So Hard

Originally published February 14, 2012

Many business intelligence and data warehousing (BI/DW) efforts began as technology-driven initiatives. The IT department bought hardware and software to build a BI environment with little to no business involvement. Over time, these IT-driven projects accumulated multiple toolsets for data acquisition, end-user reporting and other facets of business intelligence and data warehousing.

Independently from IT, business units have undertaken their own BI initiatives, buying more BI tools. In addition, the organization probably implemented an ERP that came with its own BI/DW environment, including even more BI tools.

The result of all of these factors is a multi-tool environment. This environment is often difficult and costly to maintain; therefore, organizations are looking for ways to simplify and better manage their multi-tool environment. To achieve this, there are two fundamental approaches:

  • Reduce the number of BI tools to a more manageable level.

  • Live with the multi-tool environment but manage it better.
These choices are not mutually exclusive, however, and the organization can do both by taking concrete long-term and short-term actions.

In the long term, establish or revalidate your approach to BI governance – how your organization manages business intelligence. Then execute a project to rationalize the BI tool environment.

Establish (or Revalidate) BI Governance Mechanisms. The goal of BI governance is to set and maintain the direction of the BI program from multiple perspectives. From a business perspective, BI governance ensures that BI programs align with business initiatives and with each other. From a technical perspective, it guides technical architecture, data governance, and ongoing BI operations management. Strong BI governance ensures that the introduction of BI tools follows a systematic, business-driven process. It also lays the foundation for evaluating and then rationalizing a multi-tool environment.  Thus, the first long-term action item is to establish and/or revalidate your BI governance mechanisms.

Rationalize BI Tool Environment.  The next step is to execute a project to rationalize the BI tool environment or, stated more directly, to reduce the number of BI tools and environments. A project management methodology, such as DecisionPath’s BI Pathway, can be used as a guide to help you plan and execute a business-driven project to:
  1. Update/refine your BI strategy by examining the BI portfolio, requirements and BI tool capabilities.
  2. Analyze your existing BI environment to determine how it is meeting strategic information needs. 
  3. Develop a rationalization plan based on gaps between strategy and your BI environment.
This plan will result in recommendations to continue using the tool as is, repurpose the tool, or sunset the tool.

In the short term, while the above two projects are underway, the following tips will help you manage a multi-tool environment. The overarching goal is to simplify the environment while retaining existing functionality with little to no impact on business users.

Migrate reports/functionality to the “best” tool. In a multiple BI tool environment, the chances are high that the same report is produced in different tools. In addition, there may be custom-developed BI applications/functionality in one BI tool that are easily done “out-of-the-box” in another. In these cases, migrate the report/functionality to the “best” tool. This, of course, is subjective; but useful guidelines are to move reports to environments with large user bases and move custom functionality to tools that provide it standard. These actions will require some planning but will simplify the environment overtime.

Keep reporting environment current. Since business information needs evolve over time, the reports that were important six months ago may not be important now. Determine which reports are used the least and shut them down. Eliminating rarely used reports will make the overall environment easier to manage. The challenge is to determine which reports are used the least. Some BI tools provide these metrics. Lacking these metrics, a somewhat risky approach is to turn off reports and see who complains.

Upgrade tool software versions. Once a BI tool is installed and working, the inclination is to leave it alone. However, you may be missing out on new and improved functionality that makes the BI environment easier to manage. You also may be missing out on bug fixes. Keep your BI tools on the latest stable software versions (wait for bugs to shake out), thus maximizing tool functionality and reducing the number and complexity of workarounds you have to develop and maintain.

Consolidate infrastructure. If your multi-tool environment runs on multiple server platforms, try to consolidate these tools on the same platform. This will simplify tool administration and maintenance. A thorough analysis should be conducted to ensure the servers have enough performance and capacity to handle multiple tools.

By looking at your BI environment from a strategic perspective, linking it to business outcomes and undertaking some short-term steps, your multi-tool environment will become easier to manage.


  • Nancy WilliamsNancy Williams

    Nancy serves as Vice President for DecisionPath Consulting. Focusing her work on how business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing (DW) can be leveraged to improve business performance, Nancy is a well-known industry educator, author, and practitioner. Nancy’s experience includes more than 25 years of business management and technical experience. She has been involved in numerous consulting engagements, providing expertise in the areas of BI/DW assessments, BI/DW strategy, portfolio development and roadmaps, BI/DW requirements and data modeling, and BI/DW project and program management. Nancy is a regular speaker and keynote presenter at TDWI industry events,  co-hosts the BI impact channel on the BeyeNETWORK, and is co-author of the highly rated book The Profit Impact of Business Intelligence. She received her MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia. 

    Editor's Note: Visit Nancy and Steve Williams' BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel for more articles and resources as well as Nancy's blog.

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