The late 2009 release of Cognos Express has generated quite a bit of interest from companies considering the benefits of a Business Intelligence (BI) implementation, but had previously been limited by financial considerations. While this entry into the market does provide an excellent solution at a relatively low cost, IT departments need to keep in mind that this type of BI software is never a turnkey solution.  Many of the same strategic and tactical issues that larger companies have faced over the past decade in an effort to effectively undertake a BI initiative while retaining a high ROI will be faced, all be it on a smaller scale, by mid-market organizations. It is critical that the IBM Cognos Express team in these organizations realize that a complete implementation methodology is vital to the overall success and sustainability of the BI project, no matter the size of the company, the cost of the tool or the complexity of the project.

Keys to Success

The keys to success lie in understanding the critical steps that must be considered in this type of project. As mentioned above, while the scale of the project will be much smaller than many of the BI initiatives undertaken with IBM Cognos products in the past, the tactics utilized to make these projects a success are no less valid. In fact, the very same governance that is often applied to larger projects could and should be utilized on smaller scale efforts. The overall success of the BI initiative, as measured by user adoption, can hinge on recognizing all the factors that need to be considered when defining the scope of the project.

What Do I Really Need?

The first question that any organization, regardless of size, needs to ask: Who are the end users and what type of information is going to allow them to do their jobs more effectively? Once this information is gathered it becomes much easier to identify the type of data that will be consumed and where that data is located. An often overlooked and perhaps even more vital aspect of this type of information, especially in a mid-market company, is that it is going to allow the organization to purchase the specific product modules that will be necessary to ensure success without limiting the ROI by extraneous purchasing costs. This step is obviously not as critical to larger organizations that are going to have more disposable budgets and have no need to fine tune the exact number of licenses purchased.  For this reason, it is imperative that organizations understand the components that make up the Cognos Express software package (IBM Cognos Express Reporter, IBM Cognos Express Advisor, IBM Cognos Express Xcelerator) and the type of users licenses required to sustain and utilize the software in order to ensure that limited budgets are spent on driving the most value out of the investment.

Don’t forget the Data!

While choosing the right software is important to keeping the cost of the initiative down, it is far from the only crucial factor to the success of the project. One of the largest and most often overlooked areas by mid market organizations is the location and structure of the relational data sources that will be used to provide the consumer with the necessary information.  A well designed data source or sources and the resultant ease and speed of data manipulation is vital to getting the end user to accept and utilize the tool and therefore realize the potential ROI on the project. Too often we have seen organizations either need to reinvest in a data warehouse or mart or realize low user adoption due to badly designed data sources. If the native data source is not suited for reporting, a data warehouse may be the answer.  This undertaking needs to be taken into account when looking at building out a BI initiative. The adage “The tool is only as good as the data that it sits on top of” is applicable regardless of the size of the company.

Thinking about the future

Considering the upfront tasks that are essential during the development phase is only part of the puzzle.   Many organizations, regardless of size, never plan for the sustainment of the BI initiative after initial go-live. While larger organization may be able to absorb this into operating costs or secondary projects, mid markets do not often enjoy the luxury of having additional budget dollars. For this reason it is imperative that mid market organizations incorporate the development of a set of standards for current and future development requests into the initial project plan. While a full Business Intelligence Competency Center (as is often used in larger implementations) may not be required, many of the same ideas, such as the importance of specifications, standards and repeatable operations, can smooth the implementation of smaller projects as well.

Knowledge = Power

Another often over looked factor in the implementation and cost evaluation of a mid-market BI project is the need for administrator, developer and end user training. It is certainly not necessary to design large scale training classes for smaller organizations, but the skill sets to maintain the systems and ensure future growth in addition to user acceptance and adoption is critical to realizing the full potential of these systems. While training does not need to be a large part of the overall implementation cost, it is important that the right training for key individuals is included in the overall implementation plan.

Conclusion

Ensuring that all the necessary variables are taken into account when mid-market organizations decide to make the investment in a BI project is key to the success of the initiative. We have discussed just a few of the considerations that should be taken into account during planning and cost discussions. While many of the lessons that have been learned in larger organizations can be adapted to work in smaller installations, it is critical to understand the relationship and application of these lessons in the mid market arena. The Ironside Group has a proven track record of success at assisting mid market organizations navigate these often complex and overwhelming projects and can provide the necessary methodology to ensure a maximum ROI.