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BI for SMBs: What's good for the big boys might be bad for you

Microsoft’s business intelligence stack is just one of the options available for midsized companies looking to implement a customized (and cost-effective) BI strategy.

Nobody likes to be thought of as “the little guy,” although frankly, I much prefer doing business with small and midsized companies.

As it happens, that “we’re not the little guy” thinking can get midsized companies in trouble when they start looking at business intelligence (BI) solutions. For example, check out Microsoft’s BI stack:

  • implement SQL Server
  • design a data warehouse
  • create ETL jobs
  • implement SharePoint
  • design dashboards and scorecards
  • create Reporting Services reports
  • implement Analysis Services tools
  • train people to use PowerPivot in Excel

And that’s one of the easier BI stacks in the industry. It will still require a couple servers, tens of thousands of dollars in software licenses, hundreds of hours of planning, specialized design skills, most likely a consultant or two, and hundreds more hours of training and implementation. If you’re a Fortune 500 company it’s pocket change, but for most midsized businesses it can be the profit margins for an entire quarter or more.

In fact, this is exactly why so many midsized businesses avoid business intelligence. There’s a perception that it costs the world, is unwieldy and will interrupt the business for a long period of time with unnecessary distractions.

But that doesn’t need to be the case.

For instance, when a midsized business goes shopping for a new customer relationship management (CRM) solution, they don’t often look at the same names a giant company would -- they go for something like Microsoft Dynamics or The company then implements it, does some customization to make it work the way they want and are off and running. Larger companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours doing the same thing because they usually require much heavier customization and integration.

So when a midsized company looks for a business intelligence solution they should take the same approach they would for any other technology solution -- look for something that’s basically pre-built, all-inclusive and flat-priced. It should require minimal customization to get it going initially, although you may continue to tweak it as the business evolves. In fact, if it’s a solution with a free downloadable trial, that says a lot about the vendor’s confidence in your ability to implement it on your own.

More and more vendors are making midsized-specific BI solutions, including IBM Cognos, SAP, Oracle, Altek and many others. You can even punch “midsized BI” into your favorite search engine and get a stream of results.

Midsized businesses can benefit from BI and maintain better business agility than their giant counterparts regardless of their limited budgets. The trick is to think midsized and look for solutions designed for your business.

Find more BI basics from Don Jones and other technical experts by visiting our Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Tips page.

Don Jones is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC, the author of more than 30 IT books and a speaker at technical conferences worldwide. Contact him through his website at

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