Nine Questions to Ask a Rep Before You Buy a Business Intelligence System

Updated: January 21, 2011

By Ron Dimon, CheckPoint Consulting LLC


1. What impact will the system have on my business?

This is a great question to get your Rep to help you brainstorm what's possible with BI and the potential ROI of the system. While they may not be able to answer with specific amounts, they may have some good ideas on how to achieve the level of impact you're looking for. Beware of vendors who draw a blank at this stage, or are unable to point you to current customers who have achieved something similar. Here are some details you can use to help prompt the Rep:

  • How many net new customers will we acquire by having the new or updated system that we wouldn't otherwise have, and what's the average lifetime revenue per customer?
  • How many more products or services can we sell?
  • Will the system let me improve my prices or price/volume mix?
  • Will the system help improve my margins…measurably?
  • Will the system increase the velocity of cash flow?
  • Can I improve cross-sell & up-sell opportunities
  • Will the system make me more efficient and produce more with fewer resources (measurable productivity)?
  • Is there a direct headcount reduction associated with this initiative?
  • Can I reduce inventory costs? Raw material costs? Transportation and storage costs?
  • Will it reduce my selling, general, and administrative expenses?
  • Can it reduce debt and/or improve our cost of capital?


2. What features/functionality (that are important to my business) do you have, including:

  • Support for self-service BI (meaning end-users can create their own experience with the system)
  • Ad-hoc query & reporting capabilities
  • Predicative Analytics
  • Ranking, sorting, filtering
  • Visualization (graphs, charts, drill-down, pivot)
  • Exception & stop-lighting reporting
  • Real-time monitoring and alerting
  • Multidimensionality support (for example, looking at sales figures by rep, by product, by geography, by month, by customer type, etc.)
  • Support for various kinds of data (internal, external, structured, unstructured - like text from customer support logs or social media data, financial, operational, historic, actual, forecast)
  • Support for mobile devices (iPads, iPhone apps, Android, Blackberry)


3. Will your system help us ‘bring it all together' and replace disparate tools. Will you help simplify our IT portfolio and information architecture? If we gave you a list of our tools, can you show exactly how you would replace them?


4. What's the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the BI System? Including:

  • the cost to build or acquire the system (hardware, software, network costs)
  • the third-party software license costs to the above (for example a system may require an add-on license for an RDBMs or middleware)
  • the cost to operate, maintain, and upgrade
  • the training costs (administrators & users)
  • the cost to install and implement the system (this is a significant question to ask, there can be many surprises here!)
  • the cost to upgrade or troubleshoot and fix any impact the system will have on other existing systems
  • the potential consulting cost to re-engineer processes that are being automated
  • the cost to temporarily back-fill any headcount that has been ‘seconded' for this initiative
  • the labor components of all of the above (procurement staff, IT staff, new-hire administrators, trainers, consultants, and so on).


5. How will we handle data and system integration? For example, with our ERP system, CRM system, with budgeting & planning systems, with existing data warehouses, with external data.


6. Since different types of users (analysts, managers, executives) interact with information differently, do you support role-based front-end tools (see my article here:


7. Do you run on-premise or as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application, or both? Having a BI system in the cloud will reduce much of your IT overhead expense, and you have to be comfortable trusting your company data to a third-party. If you are looking at a SaaS solution, some follow-on questions include:

  • How do you charge (by user, by volume, by feature)?
  • What security, integrity, redundancy, and backup guarantees are in place?
  • What service-level agreement (SLA) do you have in place for performance (response times, support times)?
  • How do I get at my data should something go wrong?


8. How do I get support when I need it, and what kinds of support do you have. For example, directly from your company, through consultants, user-groups, on-line resources.


9. How many references can you give me for current customers in the same industry as mine, with similar data sources, similar needs, and ideally with some third-party validated ROI success stories?

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