10 traits to look out for when choosing a business intelligence tool

Business intelligence, the process that allows executives to make decisions through data, is about to make a significant shift. While there are still quite a few “old school” BI solutions in the market, a new generation of BI software is disrupting what used to be an expensive and complicated industry. Here are the 10 software characteristics executives should take into account when selecting a modern BI solution.

1. EASY TO USE AND TO IMPLEMENT

As you have surely seen in other hardware and software you use, intuitive design is more than a trend – it’s a necessity. BI software has lagged behind in this respect, but modern BI solutions have now caught up. Using your BI tool should be just as easy as it is to use your smartphone.

We’ve all been through a long system implementation at some point in our professional careers, or at least we know someone who has. Fortunately, things have changed dramatically with advent of SaaS software. What once took months or years to implement can now be accomplished within a few days or weeks.

2. INDUSTRY SPECIFIC

Does it make sense for you to ask for advice from people outside your industry regarding business aspects requiring specific domain knowledge or expertise? No, it doesn’t. The same applies when it comes to BI tools. Domain expertise in a business intelligence tool ensures that your data is analyzed in a manner relevant to your business and your industry. It takes into account specialized needs which other industries may not utilize. Look for industry specific insights and analysis the tool can provide and not template based reports.

3. UNIFIED DATA SOURCES

It’s difficult to get the whole picture of your data when it comes from different data sources. According to KPMG[1] “More than half (55%) of all organizations admit that they are facing difficulties in making decisions around analyzing data. Many say their biggest barrier is in knowing what data to collect.” Modern BI solutions are solving this problem and provide insights from disparate databases within an integrated dashboard, including data extracted from Excel spreadsheets. Make sure you pick the BI software that is able to crunch all your relevant data, not just parts of it.

4. VISUAL

The biggest issue with business intelligence tools is not about getting the most data in one place, but rather getting insights out of the right data. BI solutions have used visual graphics for decades. However, there’s a big difference between generating a simple chart and transforming data into an actionable visual representation. A great way to test the visual capability of a BI tool is to write down the questions you need answered and see how the BI tool visually represents the answer. If the resulting graph doesn’t give you the insight you need, move on to a different solution.

5. REAL-TIME

Traditional systems require a lot of resources and often can’t give you the right answer when you need it. Modern BI platforms are now capable of showing results in real time (or close to it). Be sure to select a tool that auto syncs with your raw data – in real time.

6. CROSS-FUNCTIONAL

Most advanced BI solutions require minimum IT skills to use them. Anyone within the organization can access key insights relevant to their role, not just the C-level or tech team. Management, Operations, IT, Finance, Marketing, Sales and even sales reps are able to gain insights and make the right decision in their domain. When buying a BI solution be sure to look for a tool with multiple user roles and access controls. After all, the more people who can utilize the software you’re buying, the higher is your ROI.

7. SECURE

Data security and privacy is a major concern for almost every organization nowadays. Data encryption, access control mechanisms, password complexity are some of the tactics preventing unauthorized access on virtual private clouds. Terms of services are your best friend as it reflects the level of security offered by the BI vendor you are willing to subscribe to. Be sure to read those thoroughly to avoid any surprises later.

8. MOBILE

The time of 9-5 employees is long gone, especially at managerial levels. Executives on the go want access to their data anytime, anywhere and on any device. This is why mobile is a must have for BI vendors. And that doesn’t translate only to mobile apps. Gartner predicts[2] that through 2014, improved JavaScript performance will begin to push HTML5 and the browser as a mainstream enterprise application development environment.

9. SELF-SERVICE

Traditional BI software saw CEOs and executives relying on others to get insights on their business. Be it through IT, consultants or business analysts the answers in that model often come too late and can be detrimental for the business. Self-service in BI is the new trend, which means executives are able to get an answer to their questions on their own instead of relying on others. Moreover, new user interfaces are making the task intuitive and straight-forward. When applicable to your business, self-service is a great option to consider when buying a BI solution today.

10. AFFORDABLE

Last but not least, business intelligence has long been the privilege of large corporates. It’s not that small companies have no need for BI – it’s just that it has been too expensive to implement for the SMB. However, during the past decade, IT costs have decreased drastically thanks to innovation in data storage. Cloud computing is contributing strongly to this phenomenon and has dramatically reduced implementation time and fees. There’s really no reason why you should have to spend large sums of money on your BI tool. Additionally, when choosing your BI tool, make sure you find out the “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) that includes detailed implementation costs and on-going maintenance costs. Chances are that if you’re looking at a tool with high startup costs and long lead times, it’s not the most modern solution.

These 10 factors constitute a pretty good checklist when picking a BI tool for an organization of any size. At Einsights, these 10 (and more) are already part of our DNA. If you’re looking for business intelligence software for investments or insurance industries, give us a try.

Arnaud Boulay is passionate about technology and writes about sales, marketing, social media and analytics. He is the VP of Partnerships & Distribution of Einsights, based in Singapore. You can follow Arnaud on Twitter: @arnaudboulay.

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