How To Choose A Business Intelligence (BI) Platform
Business intelligence platforms enable people to import, clean, and analyze data from databases, emails, videos, survey responses, and more. These data analyses provide mobile, desktop, and real-time business intelligence so decision makers can act on insights to improve their organization. BI platforms allow users to customize dashboards, create stunning data visualizations, build scorecards, and compare them to key performance indicators (KPIs).
What is BI?
The term business intelligence refers to an infrastructure that contains a broad number of processes and tools that function together to allow businesses a complete, actionable view of their relevant data. The goal of BI is to allow businesses a clear view of all their data so they can make informed decisions.
What is a BI platform?
A BI platform is a system designed to help businesses view all of their data in a single location. This can include dashboards, charts, and other ways to easily visualize large quantities of data. These are customizable to the business’ needs, allowing the key stakeholders to choose the KPIs and visualizations that best meet their needs. Many BI platforms are also self-service and intuitive to use, allowing users complete control over every aspect of their dashboards.
Why organizations need BI platforms
To succeed in the fast-moving world of business, today’s organizations must be data driven and promote a data-driven culture. To do so, leaders need a modern business intelligence platform that helps everyone see and understand their data. Business intelligence platforms are more than business analytics software packages. They support your organization’s BI strategy by making it easier to access and analyze your data. Simple analytics platforms import, clean, analyze, and forecast data—but business intelligence platforms are more robust and dynamic, and can adapt as you grow your BI strategy.
BI platforms in action
These are only some of the real-world applications of BI software and what they can do for your organization:
- Visualize supply changes over time
- Forecast sales and profits
- Analyze the results of marketing campaigns
- Automate reporting
- Automate report distribution to stakeholders
- Visualize sales and inventory with near real-time functionality
- Integrate with cloud-based, third-party platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure
- Embed dashboards into custom solutions for internal or external use
Common features of BI platforms
There are many commercial and open-source BI platforms available in the market, with different user experiences and functionalities. However, each platform will typically offer some combination of the features below.
- Customizable dashboards
- Data visualizations
- Report scheduling, with security specifications
- Data quality management and oversight for IT departments
- Natural language processing (NLP) to discover new insights from data like videos or social media platforms
- Faster data-mining capability
- Performance tracking against KPIs
An enterprise-ready platform supports business agility without sacrificing governance or security. Here are five things to consider when evaluating a modern BI platform.
One of the most popular features of a BI platform is the ability to create and customize dashboards. People can create modules, graphs, and charts that can be updated in near real-time. Dashboards can also be published on separate, internal platforms. You should choose a platform that offers self-service capabilities, so everyone can access data, create their own analyses, and help your organization build a culture of analytics.
Intuitive visual analytics
Choose a visual analytics platform that’s intuitive, allowing you to visually explore your data, offering visual insights as you go. Your platform should also enable you to share your findings by creating beautiful visualizations—all from the same intuitive interface, and without the need to switch between different products for different types of analysis. Don’t just watch a demo. Sign up for a free trial and take the platform for a test drive. Try to answer multiple questions to test the processing power and efficiency of the tool.
Power to propel your BI strategy
Even the most powerful BI reporting platform is useless if it can’t easily connect to your data. The right analytics platform offers optimized native connections to your data, no matter where it lives, so you can get to your analysis faster. Your platform should allow you to access and analyze your data, live, without needing to download it. You should have the ability to query your databases quickly with little to no coding effort on your part. Your BI platform should also give you the choice to deploy your analytics wherever you want—in the cloud, on your local server, or hosted off-site. The platform should integrate seamlessly with your existing data strategy instead of forcing you to change or buy additional products, disrupting your current data infrastructure. It should also embed easily into your company portals and other enterprise applications so you can meet your users where they are. This flexibility is key when considering business intelligence programs and choosing a BI platform. Tools that are not flexible will add to the total cost of ownership.
No-surprise total cost of ownership
Open-source BI tools are often very customizable. Many organizations, especially smaller organizations, turn to open-source software to suit their data mining and ad hoc reporting needs. However, when evaluating platforms, consider the total cost of ownership. Don’t simply base your decision on the price tag. Conduct a full comparison. Add in all the other extra components that you’d need to make that “free” platform work in your enterprise environment—both now and in the future. Free tools are anything but, and can add up to a big total cost. They often require more products, people, and infrastructure to meet your enterprise-grade requirements. While there are online resources to learn how to use open-source software, those resources will not tell you how to use the platform for your organization’s specific needs. In other words, even if it is customizable, an open-source solution may not be as flexible as your organization scales. Conversely, premium commercial BI tools come with resources, support, and integrated enterprise scalability.
Empowers users while keeping data secure
The right platform for your organization should enable everyone, regardless of skill level, to have conversations with their data and leverage insights. It helps organizations foster a data culture by making data central to everyone’s business decisions. In order to maximize the value of your data, you need to deploy governed self-service analytics at scale. And in order to empower the entire organization, you need an analytics tool that the business loves and IT trusts. The right business intelligence software empowers organizations to take an IT-enabled, business-led approach to analytics. It enables IT to establish a secure and governed environment that protects the data and ensures its integrity without compromising business agility and innovation.
Making the right choice
Now you have thought about your priorities in a BI platform and considered how the platform will be leveraged in your company. Next, we’ll share our recommendations for choosing the right BI platform for you.
Choose a trusted partner for BI success
As you evaluate business intelligence platforms, be mindful to choose a company whose core mission is to empower people to be data-driven. Has the company invested years of research and development into its analytics platform? Does its history indicate the company will continue to innovate? Does it prioritize user experience to help customers drive adoption? Rely on the experience of your peers. Their passion and enthusiasm are a direct indication of the success they've had with the product. Find out how they’ve incented their people to adopt the platform, and leverage that knowledge to build your own road to success.
Choose an innovative platform that keeps up with your needs
Business intelligence platforms should adapt to current technology and the innovation of their users. You should choose a platform that can easily scale as your company grows. At Tableau, we understand that business realities are constantly evolving, and we watch out for upcoming trends in business intelligence to inform BI users. The right platform for your organization will be flexible, easy to use, and should help you reach your business goals. Learn more about evaluating modern BI platforms.