Many of us run to reporting and analytics vendors because our users scream for reports and we think that if we “just give them a tool” they will be able to make things work and get their own reports. Most of us are finding that not to be the case because we underestimate the effort and time necessary to do analytics and run “user friendly” reporting systems.
The main reason we’re surprised is that we believe everything we see during the web analytics demos that vendors present. It’s not their fault, really — they are trying to show us that everything is much easier with their tool. Well, the reason that’s the case is that they (the demonstrators) understand the data they are presenting. Of course, our users who will use the tools with our own data don’t understand the structures we designed.
A simple rule is that unless the data models underneath are pretty well design and just as well understood no tool will be able to do “easy analytics”. Even if you have a free analytics tool it will take hours to setup each report and more hours to maintain the reports as time progresses. This means that no matter how nice the reporting tool, without complete understanding of the data in the data stores you can’t have good reports.
When calculating costs, don’t forget all the time needed to include internal stakeholder participation, testing the reports, and ongoing maintenance. Data collection is an ongoing activity, data structures change, and data is dynamic. Choosing a reporting solution should take that into account.