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Business intelligence as a managed service

Business intelligence (BI) managed services providers must be prepared to scale services to meet end customer needs and make BI offerings portable.

Business intelligence (BI) is something many companies are initially inclined to handle on their own -- when they decide to tackle such a project in the first place. Some of the services addressed by BI involve large-scale processes and procedures best left to third parties who have experience with such things.

For instance, a company whose business processes generate databases that stretch into the gigabytes will need a data warehouse solution, which can help determine what data to retain most immediately and what data to take offline (or at least move out of the main database) and into an archive. The company may be able to develop such a solution that lasts one or two years, but what about five, 10 or 20 years? Moreover, how might they bring BI functionality to other groups?

In this tip I'm going to suggest some services and service concepts that you can offer people as a BI managed service provider. Some of these conceits are high level, some are quite specific, but in each case I'll describe how they can be approached, and how to generate a working profit from such endeavors. There are a few basic ways to do this: granularity of service, knowing your customer's customers and making your offerings portable.

Granularity of service

"Granularity of service" means that your offerings don't come as a single block -- they can be scaled up or down to fit the customer, and services can be added or omitted as needed. This means even smaller shops can benefit from having your expertise, and will pay you for some degree of service instead of trying to go it alone.

One of the most common BI services provided by third parties is backup and disaster recovery. Such a solution must be scaled to fit the customer by offering a number of different predesigned packages, such as X gigabytes of backup and warehousing for Y dollars a year. But the best way (that should be offered as an option no matter what the company size) is to work closely with the customer and use live metrics to determine both their existing needs and their future ones. The tools used to generate such metrics could be as minimal as the system-data-gathering tools native to Windows (for instance, to gather statistics from only one or a few machines), or something as major as IBM's DB2 Data Warehouse Edition, which would be used to perform data mining on a whole enterprise worth of activities.

There's a slightly cynical business adage that goes, "Give the customer what he needs, not what he asks for," and it has a fair amount of truth to it. If a customer asks for 250 GB of backup monthly, and you expend the resources and manpower to make that happen only to discover they're using a meager 5 GB, that's a sure sign the customer doesn't know his own needs and it's your job to help him find them.

Know your customer's customers

Your customer, whoever he is, will always work for someone else, and possibly very closely with them. Take the aforementioned ecommerce Web site example: What if you're dealing with a company that provides ecommerce sites, where each customer has remarkably different trending, analysis, warehousing and backup needs? In such a case you'd want to work as closely as possible not only with the customer but also the customer's customers, and give everyone involved the option to accept or reject various levels of service. Some people might need warehousing, but they might not care for trending or analysis. This way, again, you're selling something rather than everything or nothing. You may be surprised to discover who needs what, but you should also be aware of what their real needs are as opposed to their advertised needs.

Make your offerings portable as well as flexible

Most everyone understands that BI services must be flexible and scalable, but they must also be portable so they can be converted into remote processes or localized as needs change.

Consider a company that has expanded and opened an office overseas. If they're with a BI services company that only does its work for them in-house, and isn't set up to allow their services to be performed remotely, they're going to use someone else who can offer such a thing. A company with little growth would not have much need for portability. But their bigger brother, the e-commerce provider, almost certainly would.

Conclusions

One other thing that becomes clear from looking over these three basic concepts is how the customer's true needs can often only become clear to someone on the outside. This is especially the case for BI, where the customer's day-to-day activity doesn't always present a clear picture of overall needs. That, in a sense, becomes the fourth and most important offering: a sense of clarity about the customer's business that they didn't have before.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows.


This was last published in February 2007

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