Having seen BI implementations ranging from the very good to the very bad, I think a BI solution needs to be:
1) User friendly, self-help oriented and designed for the users and not for IT experts, because constantly needing an IT person to run SQL, MDX or complex reports is a slow and unproductive process for everyone.
Having representatives of all business areas attend the vendor presentations and participate in the BI selection process is fundamental to develop commitment and support. Of course, IT leads and facilitates the process.
In order to succeed, a BI project needs to be an equal partnership between IT and all the business sectors that will use the solution. A clear understanding and agreement on the definitions of user needs, metrics and dimensions is the base of a system that people will like and use.
2) The solution needs to accommodate a flexible design of the meta-data to be “business intuitive” because you do not want business folks to rely on analysts as intermediaries to translate BI reports into useful information through extensive and time consuming manipulation of data exported to spreadsheets.
3) The BI tool needs to be fast and interactive (like OLAP cubes) to be able to drill down, drill through and filter, so everyone can uncover the root cause of problems in a very few minutes.
4) The ability to connect multiple data sources is fundamental to enrich the scope of the decisions. Merging internal transaction data with external market intelligence will ensure a 360 view of the market-business-profit reality, instantly, right from the BI software. This gives the company a competitive edge, because the competition is still likely to rely on internal raw data from transaction driven static reports and managers’ intuition.
5) Top management needs to fully commit to the project, and once implemented should demand that the organization continues to use it, strengthening the data-driven culture, so BI does not become the flavor of the month.
Finally, while cost may be important to some folks, Return on the BI Investment is the ultimate measure of success. If the selection and configuration of the BI solution allows the company to beat the competition, increase market share, revenue and profit everybody wins.