Your Guide to Software Selection

Understanding Business Intelligence Tools

Data, data, data…That’s all we’re hearing about nowadays.  Big Data, data mining, data scientists and the like appear at the top of Google searches and blog headlines more than ever before, and with good reason.  The business leaders of today, in every industry, have discovered how to use their data to its fullest potential.

The proper utilization of data shouldn’t be, nor is it, exclusive to the top players.  Business intelligence systems (BI) have given companies of all sizes access to powerful data analysis capabilities.  Receiving insights and finding trends is essential for businesses to scale and adapt as the years go on, which is exactly what business intelligence software does.  The best thing about these software solutions, however, is that their potential uses are practically unlimited.

There are six million ways to BI… at least, that’s our (very) rough estimate.  What you can do with your data and good BI tools is limited by one simple barrier: your creativity.  You can aggregate user data to provide product recommendations, similar to Amazon.  Or, you can identify your company’s peak revenue times.  You can also find the ROI of your CRM.  Or track employee retention.  Point is: with BI software, you should never feel limited by what you can do.

A Quick Note on Data Governance

A successful business intelligence strategy begins even before implementation. It entails a good data governance policy. Data cleansing is essential before feeding it into your BI tool, because good data analytics is useless when performed on bad data. But a governance policy goes beyond mere data cleansing.

It also involves securing the data. What levels of encryption do you use for data at rest? What are your access policies and procedures? What are the consequences for failing to adhere to policy? All of these things go into a solid data governance program, and upon that you can build a strong governance policy for your business intelligence systems.

Survey Results – What the 2017 BI Software Buyer is Searching For

Over the first six months of the year, we conducted a study on today’s BI software buying trends. After hundreds of discussions with over 250 different BI software buyers, we found some interesting trends. As we did with our previous studies of HR and Marketing Automation, we boiled our findings down to three main categories: requirements, challenges and vendor failures. The buyers in this study came from all sizes of companies, from startup to enterprise. Here’s the full breakdown of our respondents by company size:

BI Buying Trends Company Size Chart

Key Findings

Before we get to the full extent of our findings, let’s first take a look at a few key trends that we discovered:

Visual Data is the Most Wanted Data
Topping the list of BI requirements was visualization, with 64% of respondents identifying the feature as a need. Just as visuals have gained importance in content marketing, so too have visuals become integral to business intelligence. The ability to visualize data has quickly become one of the most-used features in all of BI.

Why? Because it caters to data scientists and data newbies alike. After all, not everyone can glean information from a large table or a matrix. Or at the very least, not everyone can do so quickly. But presenting data in a graph, cluster or another form makes trends easier to find, and patterns easier to decipher.

Picky About Features, Not Deployment
Going into our study, we thought we’d see a large number of BI buyers state a strong preference for one form of deployment or the other. In particular, we assumed that there would be a large number of buyers requiring an on-premise solution. What we found, however, was quite the opposite. These buyers had no preference just over half the time (53%), while another 14% had a preference but were open to either deployment if it had the right features. Additionally, only 15% of buyers preferred an on-premise deployment, including 9% of which who were looking exclusively for an on-premise BI solution.

It appears that BI buyers value, far and above all else, the right features. This makes sense; as we discussed earlier, data is being leaned on more and more in every facet of today’s business. Without a powerful data analysis tool, a company very well might grind to a halt and lose ground on their competitors. So if the right solution comes along and it’s only available in one deployment, buyers won’t hesitate to implement it.

Time is of the Essence
While most of the BI software buyers we talked to weren’t in a panicked rush to choose a new BI vendor, few were in a position to dawdle.  Of all the challenges that these buyers faced, time-sensitivity was the most common.  61% responded that they needed to make a decision in 6 months or less.  Chances are, they needed a decision made so they could properly manipulate their data, or they reached a point where they couldn’t analyze their data with their current methods.

This, of course, is further proof that today’s business heavily relies on the successful manipulation of data.  No matter if they stated that their company needed to choose an option before their old contract was up or they needed to upgrade from paper and spreadsheets, most buyers needed a new BI solution fast.

Robust or Bust
Whether they were changing vendors or adopting their first real BI tool, the most common catalyst for a BI search was a lack of features.  Just under half (45%) of these BI buyers stated that their current methods didn’t fulfill their data analysis needs.  Concurrent with visualization being the biggest requirement, many of these buyers stated that their BI tools (or whatever they were using) didn’t visualize data well, if at all.

This finding led us to conclude that today’s businesses need a robust, all-in-one solution that takes their data from simple data points to visualizations and reports that help inform the decision-making process.  This is something that BI vendors need to be aware of — if they’re not constantly innovating and providing the most powerful features to their clientele, they’ll be dropped without a second thought.

Other Findings

In addition to our key findings, we found interesting trends in what buyers required, what challenges they faced and what their current solutions failed to do.  Here’s a breakdown of what we found:

Data-Focused Requirements

BI Buying Trends Chart

Based on the most-identified responses, it appears that today’s BI software buyers are focused on data analysis first, and extra features second.  The top seven requirements all had to do with analyzing data, pulling data or displaying data.  Although features such as client self-service came up several times, the ability to do so wasn’t mentioned nearly as often as data-related requirements such as the aforementioned visualization, reporting, which included ad hoc reporting (61%), data mining (53%), dashboards (48%), online analytical processing, or OLAP (39%), predictive analytics (34%) and ETL (20%).  The most common BI features that didn’t relate to data were integration capabilities (17%) and mobile access (5%).

Old and New Challenges
As we found in our HR and Marketing Automation studies, time-sensitivity and sticking to a budget (49%) were the top two most common challenges facing BI buyers. Although the jury is still out, these appear to be the biggest challenges for any kind of software buyer. This is certainly aided, at least in part, by the plethora of choices buyers have in every software category. With so many choices, it can be difficult to narrow them down to a shortlist. This is even harder when that shortlist also has to fit into a limited budget.

BI Buying Trends Challenges Chart

There was, however, a unique challenge that hadn’t come up in either of our previous studies: security. Security was identified by 11% of our respondents as a potential hindrance while evaluating BI solutions. These companies were mostly those involved in government work or were subject to HIPAA jurisdiction.

Based on the information we’ve gathered, it seems that businesses with sensitive data are more likely to prioritize a BI solution over other software. This is most likely because their operation relies on their data first and foremost. Although optimized HR and marketing processes always help, you have to prioritize the core of your business.

Logistics and Process Failures

All six of the top vendor failures these BI buyers identified had to do with their current solution’s logistics and processes. A lack of features, as we previously mentioned, was the most common, followed by a solution being too manual (19%), a lack of centralization (10%), the solution was too complicated (9%), the solution was outdated (9%) and the solution was inefficient (6%).

BI Buying Trends Vendor Failures Chart

Clearly businesses value simple logistics, such as an all-in-one solution, and simple processes. They don’t have time for inefficiencies, manual processes or solutions that are hard to work with. It’s bad for the ROI, and it’s bad for employee morale. With how many choices are currently available, the BI buyer of today is more empowered than ever. No longer do they have to put up with a solution that offers complicated processes and bad logistics; they can simply switch to a better vendor.

What Did We Learn?

When it comes to business intelligence, it’s all about the features. Buyers aren’t messing around when they say they need vendors that offer robust, extensive data analysis capabilities. But even if a solution offers those capabilities, they better be in an easy-to-use, modern and centralized platform. As Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, said: “The goal is to transform data into information, and information into insight.” When a company can’t reach that goal, it’s time for a change. And today’s BI buyers have shown that when that happens, they won’t hesitate to kiss their BI vendor goodbye (figuratively, we assume).

101 Uses for BI Software

We know we said there are about six million ways to BI, but we didn’t want to list ALL of them. You’d probably get tired before finishing the full list. So we shortened it down to a much more manageable 101 uses, which you can peruse to find some of the best uses of BI software:

  1. Schedule regular automated reports
  2. Automatically share reports with clients
  3. Visualize inventory and sales in real time
  4. Pull data from multiple databases
  5. Analyze eCommerce sales in real time
  6. Integrate with cloud computing services like AWS
  7. Pull and analyze data from a CRM
  8. Data mining for deep layers of analytics
  9. Create embedded dashboards in a separate internal system
  10. Provide historical analysis on payroll, benefits and other employee HR data
  11. Embed and/or generate professional reports for clients
  12. Create predictive analytics dashboards and data visualizations
  13. Transform various types of data into a standardized format
  14. Predict trends using data forecasting to help with loss prevention efforts
  15. Assess distribution statuses on-the-go with a mobile device
  16. Visualize supply chain data over time
  17. Analyze the results of your marketing efforts both over time and in real time
  18. Optimize employee scheduling based on your highest and lowest foot traffic times
  19. Analyze commonalities in routes for various truck types, bridge weight ratings, and more
  20. Provide clients with self-service data visualization capabilities
  21. Pull and analyze data from a LMS
  22. Create custom reports via drag and drop functionality
  23. Create ad hoc eCommerce sales reports
  24. View data trends in real time
  25. Provide every location with access to the same data, reports and reporting tools
  26. Create dashboards that display real-time inventory data
  27. Pull together different types of data including financial, practice management, HR and more
  28. Use for data warehousing client data
  29. Predict future retail sales with demand forecasting
  30. Aggregate and analyze customer survey results
  31. Provide clients access to custom dashboards of their data
  32. Use your BI tool for data warehousing employee data
  33. Pull data from SQL servers
  34. Find distribution inefficiencies
  35. Report on a diverse set of KPIs
  36. Set revenue goals using predictive analytics
  37. Find the most efficient transportation management systems for your supply chain
  38. Pull and analyze data from a CMMS
  39. Integrate with multiple data warehouses
  40. Track the ROI of your SCM system
  41. Compare the effectiveness of new distribution strategies to old strategies
  42. Create a 360-degree view of financial data trends
  43. Use drill down capabilities to find procurement inefficiencies
  44. Set marketing goals using predictive analytics
  45. Provide remote access to your field sales teams so they can use real-time analytics in the field
  46. Provide multiple users access to ensure data consistency company-wide
  47. Evaluate the effectiveness of cybersecurity procedures
  48. Track employee skill development
  49. Pull and analyze data from a marketing automation software
  50. Find warehouse operation inefficiencies
  51. Pull and analyze data from an EMR/EHR system
  52. Set sales goals using predictive analytics
  53. Compare compliance processes of different locations
  54. Analyze customer demographic data
  55. Evaluate membership growth over time
  56. Customize and integrate your BI tool into an open-source system
  57. Automatically process, analyze and visualize large amounts of data in real time
  58. Create multiple presentation-worthy reporting templates
  59. Track the different stages of production and distribution over time
  60. Pull and analyze data from HR software
  61. Find supply chain inefficiencies
  62. Create custom dashboards for each department based on their individual needs
  63. Track the ROI of your HR software
  64. Process sales pipeline data, social data, and user interface data
  65. Allow clients to create their own custom reports with their related data
  66. Centralize company-wide data analysis
  67. Pull and analyze data from an inventory management system
  68. Compare results of A/B tests
  69. Track employee retention
  70. Segment customers and prospects
  71. Discover the trends behind the peaks and valleys in revenue
  72. Discover the best times for employee recruitment
  73. Report on the allocation of distribution resources
  74. Pull and analyze data from a WMS
  75. Report the results of a risk analysis
  76. Track market changes
  77. Create multiple ad hoc reporting templates
  78. Pull and analyze data from SCM software
  79. Track the ROI of your CRM
  80. Discover customer buying trends which can be used for customized product recommendations
  81. Track student performance over time
  82. Optimize appointment scheduling based on the most and least popular appointment times
  83. Discover cases of potential fraud with trend analysis
  84. Find the best location to open a new store or office based on market data
  85. Evaluate student geographic data
  86. Automatically organize all your data in one location, rather than multiple spreadsheets
  87. Set next year’s budget using predictive analytics
  88. Reduce overhead warehousing costs by identifying inefficient processes
  89. Develop reports on cybersecurity
  90. Track and compare the distribution time of various locations
  91. Discover the peak times for membership and other sign ups
  92. Monitor web traffic specific to different marketing campaigns
  93. Evaluate eCommerce cart abandonment rates
  94. Compare your competitors’ growth over a given time with your own
  95. Assess how often departmental and organizational goals are met
  96. Analyze patients’ medical data to find patterns and correlations in their symptoms
  97. Discover trends in inventory usage and stock
  98. Predict upticks in inventory usage
  99. Monitor compliance issues and track instances of compliance failures
  100. Identify which departments are viable for cost cutting and which are untouchable
  101. Find correlations between revenue and outside influencers such as weather, power outages, etc.

The Top Business Intelligence Tools Buyers Plan on Using

You didn’t think we’d give you all this information and leave you without some recommendations, did you?  If you’re in need of business intelligence tools, check out some of our top recommended vendors, taken from our BI Software Leaderboard:

One of the most popular BI tools, Tableau is a commonly sought after BI platform. It’s simple enough that non-technical users can easily create customized dashboards and other reports to find valuable insights. Tableau is so popular that many people consider it the de facto BI tool and search to understand the difference between Tableau and the competition.

Among the best business intelligence tools is Qlik, with it’s guided tool, QlikView, and self-service BI tool, Qlik Sense. This powerful program offers fully interactive data operation, which allows users to explore data at all times during input, processing and output. QlikView also offers a system memory function that displays every action that took place during analysis. Available on mobile platforms, which provide the same interactive analytical tools, intuitive associative search and excellent visualization available to desktop users, QlikView is an extremely powerful BI tool with solid performance all around.

Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI earned a top score in several areas, including interactive visualizations, predictive analytics, mobile access, export of analytics reports, big data integration and storyboarding, ensuring this solution is a powerful data visualizer. This solution offers one of the more affordable options, with a free (but limited) version and a more powerful version that costs only $10/user/month.

Dundas BI
With the Dundas BI solution, users can get data ported to any device, and connect relational database, web services, Excel and other formats. Features for new versions include data generators, new data transformation tools, scaling modes, and quick filters. Dundas bills its product as offering fast, self-service BI, and a choice of on-the-fly or single-click in-memory analysis, as well as a leading data visualization tool. Part of the appeal of this tool is its innovation in displaying aggregate data.

The Sisense BI platform provides one of the most popular, and one of our top rated, all-in-one BI solutions.  This solution offers a user-friendly interface, powerful data visualization tools and interactive dashboards designed for quick and easy use.  Sisense also includes in-memory database tools and SQL server integration, so that no matter where your data is, you can analyze it.  Or rather, Sisense can analyze it.

Information Builders WebFOCUS BI
By fueling a proactive business culture, WebFOCUS BI from Information Builders allows you to consistently make smarter choices. This product allows not only your employees, but also your customers, access to its platform. Your customers can have access to easy-to-use apps for better organization and more informed decisions. For added flexibility, this platform can be deployed both on-premise and on the cloud.

Oracle BI
Oracle BI is another top solution. While Oracle shares commonalities with QlikView, it also boasts especially strong geospatial visualization capabilities, including advanced mapping controls and fantastic dashboard integration. In addition, it performs exceptionally well when exporting analytics reports.

With Oracle BI, users can easily and intuitively interact with each other; view reports online; and publish, send and schedule reports to a variety of outputs such as SMS. While Oracle has limited benchmarking capability, its Scorecard and Strategy Management features allow users to establish goals and measure their success over a period of time, while also communicating progress and information to the entire organization.

SAP BusinessObjects
SAP BusinessObjects received a perfect score in Hadoop, exporting analytics reports, mobile access, and storyboarding, with strong performance in visual querying, geospatial integration, and interactive visualizations. However, its benchmarking capabilities are very limited, as is its ability to monitor regulatory compliance. That said, it’s still a powerful analytic tool for finding game-changing insights.

MicroStrategy Analytics
For users who want a customized interface, the MicroStrategy Analytics platform may be the right choice. Since the company is known for its excellent personalized customer service, this is a good choice for companies and individuals new to BI software. The platform provides helpful insights through customized dashboards and powerful analytics tools.

SAS Business Intelligence
To get simple answers from complex data analysis, SAS Business Intelligence is a good platform choice. With fast processing and guided exploration, you can see a clear picture of the information you need instantly. Learn to build better models with a simple feature based on tested techniques, and put the models into service faster without any headaches.

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