SQLServerCentral Editorial

Building or Buying Analytics


One of the decisions that I've been involved with at the beginning of every software project is whether to buy software to solve the problem or build our own. This might be a quick "is there software anyone knows about to do this?" query, or an in-depth review of the marketplace or something in between. Often it's a limited discussion on whether we think the problem is close enough to one other organizations have. If so, let's buy something. If not, we might need to build an application to get what we want. Key card software for our doors? Buy it. Managing our core business flow, I might buy this.

Analytics, or what has often fallen under the umbrella of business intelligence (BI) is an area where technology groups often wonder what's best. I have seen no shortage of decisions in the past for how best to implement this feature for our organization. Ultimately, I think this piece summarizes this well: time will make the decision easier.

If you need this done now, buy it. If you don't have development resources, buy something. If you need similar analytics to what many companies need, buy this. Do you trust vendors to spend enough time on security, buy their service.

Those are good reasons to adapt your process, your view, your requirements. If you can be flexible, it makes sense to buy some software that provides analytics for your data. Many companies have had success with purchased products, like Tableau, Qlikview, Cognos, Power BI, or some other pre-built package that allows users to analyze their own data. You might even just give them access to all views (or even tables) and ignore the entire part of your business.

If you have time, however, I do find that developers working with analysts can truly add value and insight to the information a business holds. They can be responsive, while also providing knowledge about ways to structure and summarize data, and perhaps even identify those places where the way in which we gather and use data ought to change, perhaps even add new data elements.

I do like the self-service, pre-built packages for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that users can do some Proof of Concept work themselves. I think Power BI Desktop is one of the best ways to do this today, using existing data sources that users can access. Let them go crazy and try whatever wild idea they have with data. When they find something useful, something that others need to also access, and something that becomes important to the organization, then it's likely time to involve IT to provide stabliity. If there are also ways to better structure the information and perform a more detailed analysis, this might also be the time to customize the way the analytics package works, and again Power BI provides the ability to do this.

Making this decision is hard, and it might not ever be done, but I do think buying is a good place to start, especially with the wide variety of packages out there, but you might find yourself changing your mind as your analytic needs mature.