Friday, November 14, 2008

Power of the Stack

This week, I saw the power of the stack. Talking to local business people, I learned their business intelligence (BI) software decisions were influenced by earlier choices of stacks.

By "stack," I mean that a single mega-vendor provides an integrated product group that meets all or most of a customer's technology needs. If you went with the IBM stack, for example, you would have various hardware and operating system choices, the DB2 database, Cognos BI, WebSphere for the web tier components, and so forth. If you wanted the Microsoft stack, you would get the Windows operating system, SQL Server database, BI in the form of Reporting and Analytic Services, Internet Information Services for web, etc.

If your organization built custom applications, you might choose your stack based on the underlying operating system or databases -- IBM, Microsoft, or Oracle. If you implemented a packaged solution, however, you would probably go with that ERP vendor's stack -- SAP or Oracle (more of a heap of applications than a stack: Oracle, Peoplesoft, JDEdwards, Hyperion, Siebel).

Automobile manufacturers have always offered these "mega-vendor" choices. Buy an Accord and Honda selects the components for you. While you can configure some options, you do not worry about the brand of radio, carburetor, cruise control, or security system. Your real decision is to decide upon a specific vendor -- Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevy, Porsche, and so forth -- and then pick their specific product that best meets your needs -- Accord, Civic, Element, Pilot, etc.

One of my enlightening conversations this week was with a company using the Oracle ERP and database products. When ready to start a new BI initiative, their strategic decision was easy: use whatever BI tools are provided by Oracle. The next day, I met with an organization ready to swap out their BI product. They decided to go with a purely Microsoft platform, which meant their existing "best-of-breed" reporting tool was no longer welcome.

These examples show an advantage to having a standard, single technology stack. When you want a BI product, you no longer research all of the available products, process RFI/RFP documents, watch vendor presentations and demos, do a competitive bake-off, work with the top vendor on a proof-of-concept, and then put together legal agreements. Instead, your incumbent mega-vendor just tells you which BI product you will use.

It also points out that making your initial stack decision is important. Buying the wrong car is a relatively painless mistake; deal with it for a few years and then replace it. Implement the wrong enterprise technology, however, and you might experience pain. In fact, if you picked the stack, you might be what is traded in for something different.

While some companies may still decide to use "best-of-breed" BI products that fall outside of the stack, most will go with mega-vendor choices -- IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or SAP.

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About Me

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I am a project-based consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting.