Business intelligence software refines businesses data into insights to help make better decisions; it transforms the art of business into science. In this buyers guide, you’ll find steps to help choose a modern BI platform feature fit for small businesses
Business intelligence (BI) software is technology that helps organizations analyze their data assets to make informed decisions, improve processes, and drive business objectives. The solution’s signature function is sharing data analysis—in the form of dashboards and reports—with teams. With an eye on key performance indicators (KPIs), historical analysis, and future forecasting, BI grants organizations a vantage point to see a holistic view of their business.
The first step toward selecting BI software is deciding on traditional vs self-service BI. Traditional BI has long been confined to big corporations because of its cost and complexity. Modern BI (aka self-service) is what has emerged as cloud and digital technologies have tilted BI solutions towards user-friendly and accessible options.
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: How will your solution deal with my organization’s primary data type, as well as large volume datasets, and how will it maintain my data’s security and availability?
Your next critical consideration is deployment options: cloud BI or on-premise BI. This choice will sometimes cleave on available features, but the main deciding factor will come down to the variety, velocity, and volume of data your business hosts, as well as cost and infrastructure requirements.
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: How timely will data be surfaced for my users, and what tools are provided to share insights to fragmented or remote teams?
With implementation out of the way, the next hurdle is determining which features are most important to your organization. The best practice is to make a balanced purchase: fulfilling your current needs, yet leaving room for future growth. But avoid the temptation to overbuy, because it only overwhelms your users with unnecessary functionality. Below are some common features offered by BI vendors:
Custom dashboards: Creates an overview of metrics in customizable dashboards that can be filtered by key performance indicators (KPIs) and are consumable at a glance by all manner of users.
Embedded analytics: Provides users access to BI and analytics capabilities that are self-contained within the BI and analytics platform or that are available for import and integration from third-party tools.
Collaboration features: Helps users share and discuss information, analyses, analytic content, and visualizations via discussion threads, chat, and annotation; remote access via mobile devices is a key component and offers teams data sharing asynchronous to time and across extended geographies.
Self-service data preparation: Enables access to and combines various data sources, transforms data using arithmetic, logical operators and functions, and ultimately loads the data into the self-contained storage layer.
Advanced analytics: Predictive modeling, data-mining, workflow builders, machine-learning capabilities, natural language processing (NLP) and platforms for creating custom models in “R,” Python, Java, and using query languages such as SQL.
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: What unique value does your tool offer for my primary intended use case?
*Note: The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.
Now let’s make sure the BI software is compatible with your business: Without proper integration with your data sources and critical systems, BI software is a worthless investment.
Integration tools: First, you need to ensure all your data—whatever it is and wherever it is located—is fed into your data analytics platform This includes information collected from your critical business systems, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) solution or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system . Ensure your prospective BI solution is equipped with the necessary integration tools to bring together all your data for analysis.
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: Is your product capable of displaying a comprehensive view of all my organization’s data in real-time?
One of your last considerations—although arguably the most important—is advanced configuration. Although not every user, or business, will make use of all the bells and whistles a BI tool has to offer, it is the missing “power features“ that lead to premature obsolescence. Here are several configuration options that, if relevant to your business, you should ensure your selected product is able to provide:
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: What features or options does your software offer for a small business with limited IT resources and/or analytics skill sets? Likewise, what options are available to satisfy advanced power users or niche use cases?
Finally, how long will a BI implementation take? Estimating the time it takes to rollout BI software is difficult because it is based on many variables and every project is different. The time it takes for your BI project to go live will depend on the following:
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: What is the most effective way to evaluate and quantify ROI with your product?
Future proofing: Will your solution still be useful in 1-5 years and be able to keep pace with your competitors'? Preparing for the future is perennially a loose end, but to ensure ROI and competitive advantage, be forward looking and appraise your BI vendor's software roadmap and planned expansion. For starters, here are five features we predict will chart the course of small business BI over the next decade:
Key Question to ask your BI vendor before you buy: What is your product roadmap, and how will the solution scale as my business grows?