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Forefront eNewsletter

Q3 2016 EDITION

Five Critical Factors for Selecting Your BI Vendor and Solution

Bummer: you have just been tasked with overseeing your firm’s selection of the new business intelligence (BI) platform. The executive director, CFO, CIO, and department heads want it all: dashboards, ad-hoc analysis, seamless report distribution, a new budgeting application, and even improved profitability analysis. You ask yourself what you did to deserve this assignment, and you recall that the last employee who selected a new application that flopped is no longer with the firm.

You need a toolset to guide you through the selection process: what to look for, what to avoid, and things that you didn’t even know to avoid! This article will provide you with that toolset and the tough questions that will allow you to choose the right software and the right vendor. BI projects are not like the other projects and applications that your firm is implementing. BI has special goals, requirements, customization scenarios, and performance requirements. When purchasing and implementing BI solutions, your firm should be comfortable that you are going to receive great results, fast performance, and excellent value. In this article, we propose a roadmap for firms as to how they can select, implement, and customize BI solutions to get great results.

#1 – Get All Your Required Customizations (and Fast!)

It can be argued that this must be given highest priority for all firms. All legal and professional services firms are different; they have variations in location, business focus, practice management system, accounting practices, system configuration, and customization. There never has been and never will be one BI system that works out of the box for all firms. If your BI system does not match your firm’s business model, nomenclature, and financial calculations, then the BI project will fail. The ability of your BI vendor to deliver your customizations is of critical importance. Another area to demand excellence is regarding how long it takes to deliver your customizations. If the vendor’s customization framework requires that you wait for the next product release, imagine your frustration when the customization does not work and the fix gets pushed to a future release. In summary, you need all of your customizations, and you need them delivered in a reasonable timeframe. The tough vendor questions: (1) Describe your customization process – in detail. (2) How long does it take on average to deliver a customization? And prove it! (3) Are there any customization requests that you have not been able to deliver? (4) How do you handle our firm’s unique nomenclature or financial calculations?

#2 – Fast Dashboards and Queries

This is another critical factor. Imagine that you have deployed beautiful, informative, fully customized dashboards that take 20 seconds for each screen refresh. Nothing will suppress user adoption and enthusiasm more than slow dashboards. Not only is slow refresh time frustrating, it is also wasting the valuable time of your fee earners. Your power users may actually be more forgiving if their reports are taking several minutes to run, because they are being spared from writing difficult queries. But are your partners and executive team going to be willing to patiently wait for their results? A reasonable premise is that your BI dashboards should respect the “five-second average rule.” Some screens (especially at the total firm, office, or department level) might take longer, but the average refresh time of all dashboards should be five seconds or less. And if you can get that down to two seconds or less, that will provide a great user experience! The tough questions: (1) What is the average screen refresh of your dashboards at client sites? And prove it! (2) What is the refresh time for the slowest dashboard? (3) Note that when I talk to your references I will be asking for specifics about dashboard refresh speed.

#3 – Buy with Confidence

Does the vendor believe in their products? If they do, then they should have policies that allow you to buy with confidence. The only way that you can be truly confident that the BI solution is going to meet your needs is to see it running with your data. The vendor can address this requirement in several ways: by offering a proof-of-concept demo, giving you a trial period, or offering a 90-day unconditional money back guarantee. You are entitled to strong and contractual assurances that the performance and capabilities you were shown during the demo process are going to be achieved during your deployment. Stating this another way, you are entitled to a low-risk selection and implementation. The tough questions: (1) How can I see your solution running with my firm data? (2) If the product does not perform as promised, can my firm get all the money back, including the installation service fees?

#4 – Get into Production Quickly

Once your firm has purchased a BI solution, you have the right to get into production quickly. A reasonable expectation is that basic system install should be completed in a couple of weeks. Some deliverables will obviously take longer: profitability implementations, budget implementations, completing cube modifications, and coding custom reports or dashboards. The key point is to enable your power users to start working with the cubes and testing the dashboards as quickly as possible. The tough questions: (1) Once the server is available, how long will it take before the basic installation is complete? (2) What is your current backlog for implementations? (3) Based on the modules that we are purchasing, how long will it take to complete the installation?

#5 – Better Decision-making

One of the most important deliverables of a BI solution is to provide your decision-makers and fee earners with the information that they need to improve their performance. Better performance for individuals will of course lead to better performance for the firm. In general, your dashboards should display both values and the targets. This is what is referred to as “actionable intelligence”. For example, if the collection realization rate is shown to be 94%, the user may not know if that is good or bad performance. But if 94% is displayed in red and shown side-by-side with the firm target of 97% and the firm average of 96%, then a problem area has been clearly identified. This is the well-known KPI concept of showing a value, target, indicator, and an optional trend arrow. Taking this concept to its logical conclusion, most of the data displayed in the dashboards should be shown comparatively. The comparison can be to the user’s individual target, the firm target, peer performance, last year’s performance, etc. The tough questions: (1) Please send me your complete set of dashboard and cube documentation so I can confirm that the content is supporting better decision-making. (2) Please provide me with the list of values where I can set targets. (3) Are those targets set for each individual user or for the entire firm?

Your Call to Action

Most likely you will have your BI solution for 5 to 10+ years, so choose wisely. Every extra hour that you spend defining your requirements or making extra reference checks will pay itself back many times over by resulting in the selection of the best solution for your firm. Be sure to ask the vendors the tough questions and get the quality BI solution that your firm deserves.
 

Iridium Technology

Iridium Technology is focused on "Business Intelligence for Law Firms. Period." The Iridium BI product line consists of a complete BI solution specifically built for law firms, offering four modules: GL, Revenue, Expense, and Profit. We fully support both Enterprise and 3E. We are recognized for fast and beautiful dashboards, and ability to handle our client's toughest customization. Click here for more information.

 
 
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