When researching for a savvy Business Intelligence (BI) tool that understands an organisation’s needs – and provides accurate forecasting in order to make swift company decisions – it’s not always easy to know which one is the best fit.
There are many factors to consider, from feature sets and capabilities to price and ongoing support. Extensive research into the understanding of the firm’s current infrastructure – and how easy a BI platform can be integrated into existing systems – alongside speed, accessibility and security, are of paramount importance.
So, where does an enterprise even begin?
1. Ease of use and the interface
Traditionally, BI tools have been run by IT specialists who would deliver results to the rest of the business.
However, as organisations are now beginning to move towards democratising data, such intelligence has increasingly focused on ease of use and self-service analytics.
For many, the objective is to provide a single source of truth for every key decision-maker. Ideally, even non-technical users should be able to explore the data themselves, create their own dashboards and visualisations, and share reports with the team.
People expect rapid responses to business-critical questions too, therefore, the speed, performance and responsiveness of BI tools truly impact how quickly users can get the insights they require.
2. Access and accessibility
A browser-based or online model makes things very simple for brands needing swift deployment and vast real-time data insights. Anyone with a computer and strong internet connection should be able to subscribe and access this software whenever – and wherever – too.
But there are more factors to consider. For example, do SaaS vendors have people with visual impairments or are hard of hearing that are accessing a BI platform? If so, what provisions are in place? Can the system provide alternative text for images to help with descriptions?
Addressing these needs straightaway should be easy and relatively inexpensive for the vendor, and a key consideration, because without such inclusive offerings, brands risk alienating users altogether.
3. Mobility – device compatibility laptop versus mobile versus tablet
These features are crucial for any business that has off-site workers, board members or partners that need effective access to company data. For example, there might be a requirement for users to simply view dashboards and reports, but also create and edit them on the go.
Manoeuvrability has come far in the BI space, and more vendors are offering diverse solutions to suit individuals. What must be considered next are which features are necessary for an operation’s success.
4. Commitment to security and data privacy
It’s important to ensure that BI tools are compliant and protect customer data in line with information security management standards – such as ISO, identity access management and single sign-on (SSO), as well as data storage, transfer and deletion policies.
There are platforms out there which don’t allow data to be moved, providing businesses with total peace of mind in terms of the secure protection of critical customer information.
5. Cloud technology and integration with cloud data warehouses
Ideally, these are elastic, fast and cheap, offering the possibility of a radically simplified BI architecture for organisations of all sizes.
Over time, firms will only increase their use of SaaS apps, and, as they do, BI tools will need to live in the cloud to enable users to securely access – and view – data on the fly through desktop browsers, smartphones and other cloud-based devices.
Whether that’s a sales representative looking up customer information on a mobile – before an off-site client meeting – or an executive sharing a performance metric during a late-night call, cloud technology drives self-service analytics anywhere and at any time.
6. Integration and embedding
Before selecting the BI tool, enterprises should next be figuring out whether they require a standalone or an integrated solution. The former can only be accessed and viewed in its own application, whereas the latter is only via pre-existing applications, websites, and services within the firm.
Integration allows companies to put the benefits of BI directly into a service that users are already familiar with. And if the tool empowers organisations to white-label – i.e. rebrand and appear like they’ve made it themselves – this enables the inclusion of a logo and highlights a familiar look-and-feel that helps to customise dashboards.
7. Scheduled reporting and notifications
Building multi-item formatted reporting into a BI platform improves efficiency across the entire business. Scheduled reports – such as monthly sales figures – can also be generated automatically whenever teams or key decision-makers need them.
Having the ability to remove typically labour-intensive tasks from a colleague’s desk can not only establish a single source of truth, but it makes it easy to share data with partners and customers quickly and in real-time.
8. The ability to import and export data
Centralising analytics from a data warehouse – with automated pipelines – and analysing it from a repository ‘hub’ is the best way to work with data in most cases. However, it can be beneficial to export data into CSV files so that domain experts can make and share quick, ad-hoc calculations.
And when it comes to importing data files into the BI tool, this can also be useful. Adding temporary data to a project provides opportunities to explore and test without the commitment of storing it in a data warehouse.
9. Having a visualisation library
When simple line graphs and bar charts can’t adequately convey rich information, users need more complex imagery – and may want to embed these into external applications. Considerations must be made regarding whether a prospective BI platform offers a wide range of native visualisations, if it’s easy to use and supports an organisation’s objectives.
While visuals may not seem all that important on the surface, if dashboards are difficult to create and understand – or feature poor-quality visuals – then it will be infinitely more difficult to get people to buy into the platform in the first place.
10. Support services that are tailored
Having gone through the functional requirements there are also non-functional needs to meet, in order to make the user’s experience ‘human’.
It could be providing a self-service tool that frees up the IT department and data scientists – so they can focus on other tasks and employees can learn as they use the platform. Or it could focus on the vendor support, all of which should be high-quality, flexible and fully responsive with 24/7 accessibility too. Ongoing training, webinars and supportive guides should also be provided to keep upskilling users and show that all-important competitive edge.
Investing in a savvy BI tool must be clear from the outset. It has to deliver from the initial product training right the way through to helping employees to utilise its power, so that it changes a business for the better. It’s vital that costs are considered fully too.
If enterprises selected a strong, scalable solution – with a flexible pricing model that grows alongside the organisation – there should be no hidden costs.
Ultimately, a BI reporting tool is the face of the whole operation, it’s what users will refer to when making critical business decisions so researching the best fit is critical towards company continuity, as well as commercial and customer success.
Charlotte Bailey, COO, Panintelligence