Choosing a business intelligence software platform can boost your business’s performance. Here are the 6 biggest questions to ask before choosing BI software.
With the growth of big data and the advanced capabilities of business technologies, companies of all sizes can mine deeper insights into their business potential, mistakes, and successes by leveraging the power of business intelligence. Business intelligence is like a spreadsheet on steroids, since you can carry out advanced modeling on your data sets to discover new truths about your business. With so many business intelligence software options out there it can be hard to know how to begin choosing the right one for your business. Here are the 6 questions to ask when looking for the best business intelligence software.
How Easy is it to Use?
While business intelligence was once operated only by employees in the IT department who had expert knowledge about SQL sheets and custom queries, today’s business intelligence software needs to be usable by every department, even by employees who don’t have deep IT knowledge. If you’re prepared for a longish onboarding period and you’re willing to invest time and money on training your employees, then a deep and powerful platform like Tableau can be a good choice, even though it’s not intuitive to use straight out the box.
However, if you’re a small company you probably need to know that everyone can get something productive out of your business intelligence software just by spending some time exploring the platform on their own. Microsoft BI stands out as one of the most intuitive business intelligence software solutions. Because everyone is already familiar with Microsoft’s interface, thanks to Microsoft Office suites, the business intelligence platform isn’t such a new experience.
Along with the ease of use for beginners, it’s a good idea to check out how easy it is to set up and populate the platform with data. Looker makes it easy to drag and drop data into the system. Although you do need some SQL knowledge to get the most out of the software, Looker comes with interactive puzzles and in-platform training programs to teach your employees what they need to know from within the system. Everyone can easily use Looker to build data-rich dashboards and visualizations.
How Powerful is the Data Analysis?
The power of data analysis that the platform offers to technologically-knowledgeable users is every bit as important as the ease of use for non-techies. The best business intelligence software utilizes cutting-edge tools like machine learning and supports both ETL (extract, transform, and load) and ELT (extract, load, transform) import processes to allow for more flexibility in analysis. More powerful software also returns faster answers and can handle more complex queries.
Sisense is a good example of powerful business intelligence software that uses in-chip and in-memory processing to deliver more powerful analysis. Sisense can handle a wide range of data sets and deliver deep, interactive insights. It also enables the use of natural language commands and queries from within third-party apps such as Skype and Slack. Another software platform for companies that need the most powerful analysis is GoodData, which offers extremely sophisticated analytics, powerful data discovery, and both ETL and ELT data loading.
What Data Visualizations Can You Access?
Data visualization lies near the heart of business intelligence. Data analysis is the central pillar but data visualization is the way that you access and understand the analyzed data. Good data visualization does not need to be beautiful or complex, but it does have to succeed in making it easy to absorb the message that the data is trying to impart. The best business intelligence software carries plenty of data visualization templates and permits you to add your own customized visualizations as well, creating graphics and animations that provide different ways of looking at the same data.
Powerful business intelligence software like Domo can also easily adapt visualizations when you add more data sets and permit you to interactively drill down into the visualization so as to examine the data from many different levels, all the way down to a granular level. Domo comes loaded with 85 different visualizations so that you can test out different options and choose the presentation that you prefer. Plenty of data connection options add to the flexibility of the visualizations. Microsoft BI shines here, as well. The many stock and custom visualizations and powerful solution templates available enable businesses of all sizes to produce valuable and insightful visualizations that cope with all types of data sets.
Where Does Your Data Come From?
When you run a business, even a small one, you end up with lots of data coming in from multiple sources. Your CRM, your customer support apps, your social media platforms, and more, all amass valuable data which you need to transfer to your business intelligence software so that you can organize, analyze, and examine it. This is where it matters to ask how effective the software is at gathering data. Can it ingest data from hybrid sources, like SAP analytics? Does it have plenty of data connectors that enable you to carry out analysis within another app? Dundas, for example, can connect flexibly with any data source, such as MailChimp or Salesforce, so that you can easily integrate that information into the software without having to extract or import it first. Depending on where your data is coming from, it might be very important for you to use business intelligence software that can pull data from anywhere and integrate with your other business software like your CRM. While Zoho reports can stand alone, it does integrate smoothly with other Zoho software like Zoho accounting and Zoho CRM software.
Can it Handle ‘Dirty’ Data?
Whether your business intelligence software needs to import the data or can go to the apps where the data is already located, the likelihood is that the data it encounters is ‘dirty’ or unstructured data. This means that some data fields are missing, some values are corrupted, and/or multiple fields can contradict each other. There are lots of misspellings and data entry errors in raw data and sometimes values need to be inferred from other fields. Numeric fields also often need to be normalized.
Cleaning up your data is just the preliminary step to analyzing it and mining it, but it can take a lot of time to carry out. So, business intelligence software that helps you write database queries and clean up data is very useful. For example, QlikSense offers a ‘smart load’ feature which reads raw data sets and works out which columns are shared to automatically align data with the correct columns, even when the column names are slightly different on different data sets. Sisense also can help formulate SQL queries to clean up disparate and large data sets quickly.
How Much Does it Cost?
If the software has tiered plans, don’t only compare the upfront or monthly cost of the plan you need right now. Consider how much you expect your business to grow over the next 5 years and check the price of the plan you’ll need at that time. Additional charges for data storage and updates can add up, too. Many business intelligence software platforms like Zoho Reports have a free basic level plan which gives you a chance to become familiar with the core features before you commit to a paid plan. Others, like Sisense, offer a free trial. Consider your budget, the features you need, and how much storage will cost (if relevant) when comparing prices.
Start Harnessing Business Intelligence Insights Today
Today, business intelligence is a vital tool for your business success and one that you really can’t afford to overlook. Self-service business intelligence software tools are the easiest, most cost-effective and most efficient way to get deep insights into your business, so use these questions to choose the best business intelligence software for your company.