Ten Subject Areas to Cover with Data Warehousing Vendors
Here are ten subject areas that you should discuss with any data warehousing product vendor, no matter which product category (business intelligence tool, middleware tool, or RDBMS, for example) you’re considering buying.
There are also specific question you might want to ask. All these questions are somewhat odd because they have little to do with product features and how they work; if you do a good job of hands-on evaluation of the products, you can figure out how the features work by yourself.
Product’s chief architect
Who’s your product’s chief architect, and what background does this person have?
Most companies have a single individual who’s primarily responsible for crafting and setting a product’s technical direction. This person isn’t often the same as the “company visionary,” who might be the CEO who has seen a market need and is now trying to fill it.
You’re asking about the person whose imprint is all over the product. Find out as much as you can about this person’s background and experience.
If the current chief architect isn’t the original chief architect, ask what happened to that person. It’s not a good sign when a person who probably had a decent compensation package and attractive stock options is no longer with a company, especially if it’s a relatively new company.
How big is your development team, and how does it compare with last year’s?
Here are some guidelines to consider when you ask this question:
A relatively small development staff (for example, five or six people for a commercial product) might indicate skimpy quality assurance (QA) and product testing.
It might also indicate that the vendor (or their financial backers) is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the product before pumping in more funds. You might also see other signs that the company is making a less-than-full-scale commitment to the product.
A development team that’s the same size as or — worse — smaller than it was a year earlier most likely indicates internal concern about the product’s market viability.
A development team that’s significantly larger than it was a year earlier indicates the vendor’s enthusiasm for the product’s chances and viability in the marketplace.
How have you addressed the top three customer complaints about the preceding version of this product?
Vendors have customer-support service organizations and call centers, so they should know the answer to this question. (If they don’t, consider it a bad sign.)
You should determine whether customer complaints occur in clusters according to specific features, performance, connectivity, or whatever — and then determine the company’s reaction and responsiveness.
How high was employee turnover in the past year?
Pay attention to this indicator of a company’s internal mood, especially if it’s a relatively young company that hasn’t gone public yet. Few people leave a growing company in which a big payoff waits around the corner.
Which company do you see as your chief competitor?
A vendor usually targets one company as their chief competitor and strives to overtake it. Or, if a vendor is the industry leader, they might just try to stay ahead of the latest up-and-comer.
You can find out a great deal about the product direction and use from the way the vendor answers this question.
If a vendor responds, “We really don’t have any competitors,” they’re either blissfully ignorant or arrogant. Either way, watch out!
What are the three most significant innovations in your product?
In what’s often described as a commodity product marketplace, vendors’ products are pretty much the same in terms of features and capabilities. Vendors usually base competition on price and other basic attributes, or they can try to position their product as truly innovative and worthy of market leadership — as well as a hefty price tag and significant support costs.
If the vendor claims their product is innovative, ask this question to see what makes the vendor tick.
How many clients have bought this product, and how many can serve as references?
Watch out for vendors who claim that their customers are happy but don’t want the vendor to identify them because they’re doing top-secret, strategic work. How could the world knowing that a company purchased and is using a product be damaging to that company if it doesn’t have to reveal application and business use? If a product vendor avoids providing references, start asking questions!
What significant advances do you expect in this market segment this year, and what are you doing in each area?
Here’s what you want to find out (but without asking the question this way): “Are you guys just standing still, milking money off this product, or are you continuing to improve it?”
Internet and internet integration approach
What’s your strategy for Internet technologies and how are you opening your product up to enable integration with other Internet technologies?
Almost everyone has a Web-enablement story. Ask the vendor for their version. With the Internet moving into semantic connectivity, often called mash-ups, how is the vendor assuring that their technology can be leveraged in ways they never expected?
Do you guarantee that your product will work as advertised?
Ah, a truly inspirational question. Gauging a vendor’s response to this question tells you a great deal about the character of both the company and its sales representatives. It also generally indicates whether you’re in for a bumpy ride if you do business with these folks.