The saying goes, “Past performance is the best indicator of future performance”. Investors will tell you to look at a 5-10 year performance of a stock or a mutual fund to determine whether or not you should invest. The same goes for your business. It is important to know where you have been as a company (sales data, expenses, revenues) to help plan for future growth and expansion of the business. Business Intelligence software will certainly help analyze the necessary data in a streamlined fashion.
In this guide you will find information on:
Business intelligence software (also known as “BI tools”) is designed to gather the data, sort the data, create visuals, help you analyze and report. For most systems, it is easy to extract data and dump into a spreadsheet. However, it is what you do with that data that is important.
For the most part, business intelligence software is geared toward higher levels of management. The idea is to give key decision makers the ability to make decisions based on relevant business data, rather than instinct.
What sets business intelligence software apart from standard reporting is the ability to report on financial and non-financial data alike. Not only do you want to see your profit margin on each widget you built, however, you also want to see the time it takes to produce each widget, parts and materials used to produce the widget, waste or scrap, how many were produced per hour by each employee, etc.
Information gathered will help management make decisions going forward such as: Do we hire more employees? Can we afford to take on a new customer that will double the output? Will a new machine speed up the processes and efficiencies of the manufacturing process?
Successful companies are always planning, analyzing and reporting on practical activities in order to top out your efficiency, lower expenses and gain greater market share. The following features can be a part of any business intelligence software and help your business achieve that:
OLAP’s perform a multidimensional analysis of business data. They allow companies to conduct complex calculations, evaluate trends, and work with data modeling.
Big data is another way of referring to a large data set. Big Data can be analyzed via computers to reveal patterns, trends, and associations.
A KPI is a business metric which has been deemed particularly useful in reflecting the achievement of an important business outcome.
These are commonly used by organizations to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. These assessments often lead to the identification of potential improvements. It’s the inclusion of the modifier “key” that matters most when it comes to qualifying for KPI status.
The stages in identifying KPI’s include:
Companies often find using the SMART acronym will help with the key performance indicators.
Once the goals have been identified and you have solid key performance indicators, a business management system will help track those goals. Graphical reports and sorting/filtering capabilities keep managers updated as to the progress of those goals.
Beyond the previously mentioned features found in BI systems, you’ll want to look for the following functionalities to ensure you have an adequate option:
Which business intelligence software options are free, open source, or cost little to nothing? Most developers understand that BI is a tool every size of business (even the little guys) can apply to their operations. Most free solutions offer a stripped down version of the paid software, or offer the ability to have a free base product with the ability to add features and functionalities as you go (for a cost).
We’ve done the research and are happy to detail (in no specific order) some of the most widely-used free and open source business intelligence tools on the market today:
Microsoft’s flagship BI tool has a bare bones version that is no cost and can be downloaded straight from the Microsoft Store. The free license will enable only some of the features of Power BI, such as a connection with 70+ data sources, the ability to publish to the web, and the ability to export to platforms such as PowerPoint and Excel. This version is great for doing your own analysis, as long as you don’t need to share that analysis with any other end users (which is a feature of the Pro version).
Qlik Sense has both free desktop version (pictured above) and a free cloud version intended for use by individuals. Both the Desktop and the Cloud Basic version have fully interactive apps, sharing capabilities (up to 5 users), and free access to the Qlik DataMarket. QlikView has a Personal Edition that offers unlimited access (not a trial product) for user-driven exploration and analysis.
One of the leading BI tools on the market, Tableau, provides their Public version at no cost. This version lets you create interactive charts and graphs, maps, live dashboards, and more. Examples of features include heatmaps, mobile-friendly layouts, transparent sheets, and integration with Google Sheets.
Plenty of top BI solutions on the market can meet the needs of your business. Every company will be different, but they can all share the same goal of wanting to analyze data and make better decisions. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to BI tools, and instead you’ll want to compare some of the top BI tools on the market to grow your business.
Oracle’s Business Intelligence solution provides visual analytics to let any department in your organization make better decisions. They market themselves as having a modern analytics platform, advanced analytics capabilities, data visualizations, mobile access, and self service capabilities.
SAP is well known for their ERP solutions such as SAP Business One, however they have also thrown their hat into the ring when it comes to data analytics. Their cloud BI software uses the power of SAP HANA in-memory computing to provide real-time SaaS business intelligence.
Adaptive Insights markets itself as a corporate performance management (CPM) tool to provide business planning and analytics on an increased scale. The software is cloud-based and is intended for use by larger enterprises. Adaptive Insights provides standard reporting features as well as data discovery, visualizations, and versions available for your most important departments (Finance, Sales, and Workforce Planning).
Some business intelligence software will advertise as low as $10/user/month, but these price plans are typically extremely limited, and are just designed to get users in the doors. When you look at adding on needed functionalities, the price of the software will increase.
Pricing of BI software is highly dependent on the number of users (the report creators and the viewers). Another primary cost factor is the size of data being stored in the program (file size) and how frequently you need this data updated (i.e. data grabbed from it’s sources such as your primary financial system).
While the following graph does not reflect any specific BI software pricing structure, it can be a great guide to look at the relation of user count to the most realistic price:
|Users||Lowest Monthly Cost||Highest Monthly Cost|
Business intelligence tools boost efficiency, reduce costs, provide data integration and integrity, provide easy access to decision-making tools, allow for quicker recognition of critical information, give managers the information needed to be more information, and provide the ability to predict events in the future based on historical analysis.
Real-time BI tools let dashboards compared historic data with the most current data available. Predictive analytics are built on top of having real-time insight into your numbers, and will pull data from whatever source necessary (inventory, customers, services, and more).
Common uses of real-time BI are:
Financial indicators allow management to see where they stand for the day, month, quarter, and year. Through a business intelligence software, management will also have the ability to review the financial data for the year but also look at and compare the current year to previous years. In addition to looking at past data, business intelligence tools also create projections based on the past performance showing potential outcomes.
Analytics platforms can provide you with data or trends on whatever platform you desire. And while business intelligence is commonly associated with financial insights (such as for budgeting purposes), the core functionality of any BI tool is the ability to collect raw data. In terms of marketing insights and social media, this can mean customer demographics, behaviors, and search habits. For businesses on the go, it could mean needing access on mobile devices.
Developing profiles of the buyers your company is targeting used to consist of surveys, focus groups, and other forms of interaction that required a lot of time and user engagement. Social media is another tool providing real-time marketing insights that is available naturally (without a software tool) if you have the means to comb through the results.
Social media BI isn’t going to necessarily make sales for you, but it will help you nurture existing relationships with your base (whether it’s consumers or other businesses you have a relationship with).
Most importantly, social media will help you find clusters of people with similar interests and sort them based on their age, income, gender, and more. This can be vital information for marketers who want to connect to the people most interested in their products.
Business intelligence modules were initially designed for large companies. The focus was to take all the raw data locked up in financial and operations systems and turn it into useful business information. While this software has been readily available for years for large companies, BI modules targeted toward small to mid-sized businesses are new to the market. These self-service options are able to be utilized by the business themselves rather than needing an IT team to make sense of the data.
Self-Service is all about providing a business with the analytical tools they desire with ease of use at a lower cost. These options will be less technical than their high-end counterparts, and thus easier for someone with little to no IT or technical skills to handle. This will come at the expense of functionality, however, smaller businesses seem to enjoy the autonomy and independence it provides.
BI is about having the right data at the right time. That could mean wanting that data when you are out of the office. The rise of smartphone technology has allowed BI software developers to create apps or extensions of their program and let key decision makers get the insights they desire in real-time.
There’s a lot of jargon thrown out there when it comes to Business Intelligence. What does one term mean in relation to another? Don’t some of these terms mean the same thing?
Business intelligence software is used in virtually every industry. Some examples include:
BI Tools used to be a privilege of big companies, as implementing analytics software required building data centers and hiring IT specialists. With the emergence of the cloud and more cost-effective methods become more available, BI has begun to rise in businesses of all sizes as businesses begin to make faster decisions with real-time analytics.
Often times the financial reporting and budgeting modules are not integrated and often times gathering reports from these modules requires time-intensive data mining to obtain the necessary information. They also may not include data visualization options that allow for better insight.
Depending on the size of your business, you’ll need to focus and prioritize on different aspects.
These type of buyers will focus on financial reporting that goes beyond what their existing general ledger reports can give them. Most small companies will struggle with implementing any big-name BI tool due to a lack of resources.
Small companies will benefit the most from a software they can implement in the short-term. A software that allows for self-service BI with ad-hoc querying will let you grab the data when it’s most convenient.
This can be a SaaS-based tool that will integrate with their existing software (such as their accounting software). This type of solution may not be the best fit for a growing company but will be the most cost-effective method until a future time allows for the re-evaluation of company software methods.
These buyers will move from simple reporting tools to complex analytical ones. Buyers generally look for a BI upgrade is their current solution provides insufficient reports, processes are running slow, or the reports and analysis are no longer viable due to an increase in the volume of data. The business may have also experienced a shift in the direction for revenue, which requires a change in their analytical approaches.
The level of customization involved is often what sets enterprise-level BI software apart from small to mid-size offerings. Often enterprise level BI systems will require the data warehouse to be custom designed to handle the quantity of data they desire. They may also require IT staff to be available to handle the amount of hardware or in-house system integrations they need, possible with an ERP system. The best approach may be going with a handful of different BI platforms and consolidating them together to meet every department’s needs, as standardizing enterprise BI has a number of challenges.
When searching for business intelligence software, companies focus on key areas where their current solution falls short. What are users of BI tools saying when they search for new options?
At times, much of the insight a business may be looking to gain from BI tools may be industry specific. The software option, or perhaps the vendor that implements it, may be unable to help a company achieve their full potential with the software.
Half of the battle in reporting data is how you are presenting it to the individuals in your company. Your main goal should be to engage the viewer, communicate data, and elicit appropriate responses from the target audience. This can be accomplished with different types of visuals. Choosing incorrectly could be the nail in the coffin that disengages your audience, and doesn’t allow you to spread the desired message.
Visual BI must provide the following core common capabilities:
Businesses desire the ability to add storage capacity. Others look to have a wide user adoption at their company, which can be difficult for certain employees who are frequently on the go and don’t have access to a desktop computer during the day. Mobile devices are becoming more commonly found among workers in the field, and access to key reports no matter where an employee is can help.
What trends are taking over the world of business intelligence? Whether you’re trying to get a simple forecast for your company budget, or looking for improved metrics on the profitability of your sales staff, these are some of the hottest topics.
In a recent review of over 3,000 software projects from 2017, businesses with 50+ employees are more than 70% more likely to need software that handles budgeting/business intelligence (BI) and fixed assets.
BI tools have expanded immensely to break down more than your financials. In the world of inventory, it can help answer questions such as “Which brands are the most popular? What colors or sizes tend to move the most? What products to people buy in tandem and should be recommended for upselling?” From there, you can improve your product-handling to faster address pending RMA’s, transfers, back orders, and more.
Wikibon projects the Big Data market will surpass $84B by 2026. This was after the Big Data market reached $27.36B in 2014, up from $19.6B in 2013.
This means a large chunk of BI users have a limited skillset. Power users consist of 25% of all users. These type of users are skilled to analyze data and create reports and dashboards from scratch.