10 questions to ask analytics vendors (before you buy)

Analytics purchase decisions are littered with opportunities for missteps. These 10 questions will help ensure you get off on the right foot.

questions for analytics vendors

Choosing the right analytics platform is essential. After all, the product you choose will be helping leaders make critical business decisions for years to come -- that's if you get it right.

Here are 10 questions you should ask analytics vendors early in the buying process.

1. Can I answer questions?

It sounds very basic, but the capability to ask and answer new questions simply, not just a set of predefined questions, is table stakes.

"If you're confined to a preset view of a slice of your data and it requires going to your IT department or doing complex scripting to ask a new question, you're not going to get a lot of value out of your analytics," says Ellie Fields, vice president of Product Marketing, Tableau Software. "You need to live in a world where your questions are not predefined."

2. What is your experience in my industry or with my specific business issues?

Expertise in analytics is not enough. You need domain expertise to get the most out of your analytics products and services. Does your vendor have a set of industry-specific data models (e.g., for consumer products, banking, insurance companies, etc.)?

[ Related: Big data projects on the rise (but data use could be better) ]

"To develop analytics or visualization or products specific to industry you need to be in tune with business issues," says Mark Shilling, principal, Deloitte Consulting and leader of its Analytics and Information Management Service Line. "You cannot deliver wireframes with KPIs and an underlying data model to support it if you do not know what you are measuring and why."

3. Will people want to use it?

Your analytics solutions need to be able to answer your questions, but using them has to be an enjoyable experience. As anyone who's deployed new products knows, getting the users to actually use it is a big part of the battle.

"Every enterprise system throughout history has been bedeviled by people not wanting to use the system," Fields says. "It has to be useful for answering questions. You want them to dig in and feel that asking that question is a really good experience. People will spend more time on it if it's easy, intuitive and they feel like they're getting something out of it."

4. What is your tool's capacity?

What number of concurrent users does it support? What about numbers of users, accounts and sites? What's the response time?

[ Related: 8 ways IBM Watson Analytics is transforming business ]

"This is tied to performance at scale," says Deloitte's Shilling. "You need to make sure that the tool can accommodate the size and pace of business growth."

5. Does it work with all my data?

Organizations have data in many places: cloud, on-premises, data warehouses, Excel spreadsheets, Web logs and more. Does this analytics tool work with everything you have? It may be structured data, unstructured data or semi-structured data.

"Some tools require you to move data before you can analyze it, or require you to get it into their proprietary system," Tableau's Fields says. "What data do I work with today and what data do I think I'll be working with in a couple of years? Does this product support all of that data?"

"Can you perform analysis for text, audio and voice? Not every vendor crosses into the domain of big data," Shilling adds. "Some are specifically building capabilities tied to a data set."

6. Do you have tools that can address analytical needs of different business functions?

For instance, can your tools provide a 360-degree view of a customer, supply-chain planning, distribution effectiveness and scenario planning and modeling? Shilling says the answer to this question shows the breadth of usage across domains.

7. Is your pricing model based on outcomes and value?

Accessing data is only the first step in an analytics journey. Successful analytics projects are about outcomes that deliver value.

[ Related: 6 analytics trends that will shape business in 2016 ]

"Have you entered into value-based billing agreements before? 'VBB' -- what more is there to tell? Every software company today is being measured against open source or free. So to justify why someone would plunk down capital investment you need to have pricing tied to outcomes," Shilling says.

8. What customers are using your tools and how? Can you provide references?

Trust, but verify. No executive buys a product to be a pioneer, Shilling says.

"It needs to be proven technology and that is what a reference is about," he adds. "Validation."

9. What security features are embedded in your software? How can you guarantee the security of personal information?

Data security and data governance are essential, especially in regulated industries, where it's mandated by law. Personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI) in regulated industries like health care and life sciences need to be obfuscated, Shilling notes.

10. What is your product roadmap? How do you assist your clients with version updates and migration to new products? How do you manage the migration and cut-over processes? Do you have program to help train users?

Your analytics solutions will hopefully serve you for a long time to come. As with other software and solutions, analytics solutions won't remain static. Shilling says you need to understand your vendor's software development life cycle, product enhancement and change management.

This story, "10 questions to ask analytics vendors (before you buy)" was originally published by CIO.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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