The author of this report is asked to ascertain and decide which business intelligen solution would be proper and best for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The five options up for selection are Information Builders, MicroStrategy, Microsoft, Oracle and SAS. Each option in the toolbox will be deciphered and covered one at a time with the upsides and downsides of each being considered. The factors to be considered, of course, will center on the who, what, when, where and why of each option and how that leads to a proper decision being made on which option is to be chosen.
Information Builders positions itself as a company that allows for expedient and correct data-driven decisions using visual analytics and heavy use of the user role and skill set dynamics. Return on investment is seen as a key driver of why Information Builders should be chosen. Information Builders depicts their solution as following a chain whereby IT developers and data analysts translate the solution to the power users, the business users, operational employees, business partners and customers in that order. The "business intelligence portal" extends from the business user to the customers in some manner for form including reporting, operational dashboards, performance dashboards, search functions and schedules.
As for what the Information Builders solution would cost, it would be a shade over a quarter of a million for the 4 Core Production and $118,960 for the 2 Core Development. Annual maintenance ranges from about $25,000 to $50,000 and a professional engineer to assist would cost $112,000. Adding the optional data quality suite would roughly double the cost overall. The performance management module is a lot more reasonable with the base cost being no more than $62,000 but the professional services personnel would be a quarter million just for that module. All told, HUD is looking at $600,000 for just the core services and about a million in startup costs overall (including the core services) just to get started (Information Builders, 2014).
MicroStrategy represents the low-cost and self-service option amongst the bunch covered in this report. The company trumpets its cloud-based, big data and self-service analytics. In looking at the feature list for this product, there is some good and some bad. The use of this software may seem appealing due to its nominal costs and open functionality, but that "openness" of functionality includes some publicly used cloud and other technological solutions that may not always (if ever) be terribly secure and a free or close-to-free solution is not going to have the support for its clients that a company that is being paid hundreds of thousands (if not millions) is going to provide. It is nice to have interaction and functionality with Dropbox and Google, among other things, but these are more consumer-driven solutions and may not always (if ever) except the sort of heavy usage and supports needs that Housing and Urban Develop needs, demands and requires (Micro Strategy, 2014).
Microsoft represents the first of the first "Big Three" options on the list covered in this report. Indeed, there are only four firms in the entire United States that are rated as AAA by the credit rating bureaus, and Microsoft is one of them. One huge upside to the Microsoft Business Intelligence solution is its massive and powerful integration into the heavily used Microsoft Office program suite, which includes Excel, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and others that are less widely known. The pricing is a huge upside as well as the cost is per user, not per setup or using some other unit. They offer three levels of their software, those being the Power Business Intelligence 365 (which is an add-on, technically), the Power Business Intelligence option with a SharePoint Online Plan add-on and a third option offers all of the second option's list but adds in Excel functionalities that involve data discovery and access, data modeling and data visualization. The plans cost, in the same order as just mentioned, $20 per user per month, $40 per user per month and $52 per user per month. Depending on the number of users involved, this may end up being more or less expensive than other options, but the ability to scale the business intelligence as the situations and workforce changes is a huge plus as budgetary guidelines and resources with departments like Housing and Urban Development can literally change by the year. The interlacing of this solution with a software suite that is already heavily used is a huge upside and prevents the need for import/export and compatibility issues (Microsoft, 2014).
Oracle has two major upsides of its own. First, Oracle is another one of the elephants in the room when it comes to business intelligence and other computer solutions in general. The "other solutions" include the fact that Oracle, with their fairly recent acquisition of Sun Microsystems, controls the Java computer language empire and they've controlled the database empire in large part for a long time. It should be noted that the other database giant out there is Microsoft Access, perhaps another upside to the Microsoft solution, but more on that later. The costs of the Oracle solution are the highest of the ones covered so far but they have come down. The per processor license was priced at $450,000 as recently as early 2013 but has come down by a third to $300,000. Those prices are for the Foundation Suite. Enterprise Edition Plus is priced at $221,250 and Scorecard/Strategy Management clocks in at $90,000. It is noteworthy that Oracle is fairly flexible with its prices but they will be less flexible given the recent price cuts. Basically, all three modules would cost up to half a million and Oracle states up front that getting desired functionality and results usually requires that all three modules be bought. However, the overall cost, even at regular prices, costs around the same as Information Builders, which makes the Oracle offer very attractive (Oracle, 2014).
The other "big name" on this list of five vendors is SAS. One major upside to the SAS solution is that while it is not a Microsoft product, they offer heavy Microsoft Integration with their Enterprise-level solution including Excel. One of the touted benefits on their website is that their solution eliminates the need to use multiple business intelligence solution vendors to get the desired results and outcomes. Indeed, Housing and Urban Development may want to pay attention to this vendor because one of the testimonials that is prominently displayed on the SAS website is from the controller for the state of North Carolina. Even better, SAS actively touts five major types of solutions with one of them specifically being made for government. They also offer solutions for individuals, small/medium businesses, enterprise and academic. Basically, they do not have a "cookie-cutter" solution that the force on everyone and this is as it should be. SAS is roughly double what a Microsoft SQL server would be but the overall better array of options and functions in addition to the fact that SAS can heavily be integrated and otherwise used with Microsoft products mitigates the concern of going with a solution that is not already in use (like Microsoft Office or Oracle Java and/or Database) (SAS, 2014). However, one source pegs the per user cost of SAS being $6,000 a head and that is rather high (Henschen, 2011).
Overall, the burden that needs to be satisfied by the author of this report is to pick the best vendor who offers the best overall price while delivering the best overall return on investment. However, defining and crafting what "return on investment" means can be a bit elusive because it is not simply a dollars and cents sort of thing. This is true for a number of reasons. First, the aforementioned Micro Strategy solution is a no-go because the solutions and cloud options they offer may function fine for a casual user or even a small business. However, consumer-driven solutions are not going to offer the level of service and support that a vast and wide-ranging government agency needs and demands. Also, security must be on-point as having a security lapse on par with what recently happened with Target and juts happened with crafts retailer Michael's is unacceptable and impermissible. Uptime, reliability and performance of a solution are paramount, especially in light of the debacle that was the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website. That website obviously could not handle the user-load that was needed and there were other glaring mistakes made by both the vendors that were setting it up from the private sector as well the bureaucrats that supposedly knew what was going on. Due to the above generally being the case, the Micro Strategy option is a non-starter.
This would leave Information Builders, Microsoft, Oracle and SAS. The latter three of those four have upsides that Information Builders simply does not have. Microsoft and Oracle are…