3 Business Intelligence tool selection tips to help your business go the distance

Business Intelligence (BI)

What purchase do you regret the most? I’m not judging: I could write the book on buyer’s remorse. Here are a few of my worst buys in recent memory:

  • 1 acoustic guitar—out of tune since 2009.
  • 1 exercise bike—now enjoying early retirement as a drying rack for shirts.
  • 100 DVDs— most useful for playing fetch with a different sort of business intelligence that will, inevitably, take over GetApp.

It’s true: in our personal lives, we’ve all felt the sting of a purchase we regret. However, at the organizational level, spending your budget on the wrong business solution is a higher class of pain. Selecting the wrong tools result in a downward spiral of lost time and resources, things not easily regained.

Business intelligence (BI) tools are quickly becoming a high priority item in business shopping carts worldwide. To grow your business with BI, you need to select the right tools to solve your organization’s unique pain points.

The way a business invests in its tools is yet another source of differentiation and a way to gain a competitive advantage over rivals. Therefore, treat BI tool selection as not just a purchase, but as a competition to be won. As any competitor will tell you, victory isn’t achieved in a day, but through a steady grind and continuous effort.

In this article I’ll outline the BI purchasing process, including three selection tips:

How to select business intelligence tools and not regret it

Business intelligence (BI) tools, having been used predominantly in enterprise businesses, are now a viable option for small and medium sized companies. The two main reasons:

  • Business is becoming increasingly insight driven—all sized companies are challenged to make better use of analytics and data assets.
  • Cloud options have reduced cost and other barriers of entry to BI, which in the past have kept smaller organizations on the sidelines.

According to our data, small and mid-sized companies are today prepared to spend anywhere from $30,000-$100,000, upfront, to add BI tools to their arsenal.

The problem: most businesses are newcomers to BI and may not have the expertise or experience to select the best BI toolkit for their organization. Gartner, surveying BI solution uptake in businesses over the past seven years, identified that 71 percent of respondent companies would be classified as possessing low BI maturity; in other words, the majority of companies are not far along with BI capabilities.

But lack of precedent is not slowing small businesses down. There is urgency to adopt BI benefits and companies aren’t hesitating to dive headfirst into a BI purchase. The result is that BI is a green light businesses can’t afford to be idle to, or else find themselves losing ground to competitors that are more quickly implementing and achieving ROI from their BI tools.

Without experience and under competitive pressure, it’s easy to make a hasty decision and select the wrong solution. Instead follow our tips:

Tip 1: Understand what business problems you are trying to solve

Purchasing a BI solution is somewhat of a Catch-22: the most effective way to buy a BI solution is by using BI.

For example, to select the most suitable BI tools for your organization you need to understand your business as well as possible. A BI solution is like a luminous flashlight that reveals actionable information about your organization’s data assets and processes. But to choose the most suitable BI product for your company you need to know where to shine the light.

This means understanding all the ins and outs of your company from marketing to operations. Selecting the right BI tool calls for understanding the types of data your company presides, bottlenecks in its critical processes, and which key workflows to optimize. It’s about answering the question: what insights about my business would be most helpful to identify and solve pain points, and ultimately, move the business forward.

BI tools provide several features with the express purpose to tell you exactly this type of information. For instance, the top BI features as revealed from GetApp research are the following:

BI Tools - Key Feature Requirements

If you are buying your first BI or analytics solution…

First some context: solutions are typically offered as product suites. BI sellers stockpile features into their products, so you’re going to get everything but the kitchen sink thrown at you. Identifying your unique business needs is a crucial first step before hitting the BI store.

We’ve also got a beginners Guide to BI to help fill you in on the basics.

Another way to determine BI priorities is by talking to key stakeholders, the users that will be piloting these solutions on a day-to-day basis, which is also our next selection tip.

Tip 2: Obtain employee buy-in before you buy

Something worse than buyer’s remorse is receiving a gift you don’t want. Across industry verticals, the reason many projects stall or sputter out is because key stakeholders were not involved early enough in the process. Don’t buy a BI tool that nobody wants.

BI tool selection is a team sport. Projects need defined leadership, someone to share the vision with the rest of the team. In addition, the most relevant users must be brought into the fold and have their opinions listened to. Stakeholder feedback is critical and should help determine which BI tool is selected.

If you are having trouble finding the right solution, you can get a better idea of what’s out there with GetApp’s alternatives tool.

GetApp Vendor Alternatives Tool

Find alternatives to BI solutions

Tip 3: Cut through the sales speak

Sales speak, marketing mumbo jumbo, the tell-tale inflection of the product pitch—when buying BI tools you are going to hear a lot of salespeople singing the praises of their BI solution. It’s important to learn how to read between the lines of the solution seller’s script and judge products on their legitimate merits, functionalities, and real value.

For a look behind The Wizard Oz’s curtain, use GetApp’s comparison tool:

GetApp Vendor Comparisons Tool

Compare multiple products by supported platforms, features, integration, security and more.

The comparison tool—somewhat like a pros and cons list—is an effective way to judge the differences of products via a highly visible dashboard.

Demos, trials, and speaking with salespeople directly are also effective ways to research BI tools—just be prepared to press them on claims. For example, if a seller says their solution integrates with XYZ platform, ask them to prove it.

The nature of BI products lends itself to product suites, which means the product roadmap and planned updates are also very important, as you will most likely be using the same implementation for a long time. This is also why vendor lock-in can be a problem.

For these reasons, it’s better to make no selection than to make the wrong BI tool selection for your business. Here’s a visual guide to aid your search:

[Infographic] Help Your Business Go the Distance - BI Tool Selection Tips

I’m ready for BI tool selection, what are the next steps?

Now the fun part: moving forward with BI tool selection for your business. There are many BI tools available, but it is about finding the most suitable solution for your users and business needs.

Remember: software purchases are measured in months, not weeks—it may even take a full year before you find the right fit. But don’t worry: the first competitor off the blocks isn’t guaranteed the gold; dig your heels in and start with these helpful resources:

Buyers guide
Thomas LaMonte
Thomas LaMonte
Senior Content Analyst at Gartner
This buyers guide will help you understand the key features of business intelligence and analytics (BI) software, its benefits and challenges, information on who uses BI software, and industry trends.
Case studies
Thomas LaMonte
Thomas LaMonte
Senior Content Analyst at Gartner
Our Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst shares real-world case studies of BI implementations.