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Business Intelligence (BI) Tools

Business Intelligence platforms enable companies to access, analyse and share information in order to improve decision-making through gathering performance metrics. By providing an infrastructure for compiling, analysing and distributing key data, Business Intelligence tools facilitate more accurate reporting and monitoring as well as strategy implementation and assessment. Business Intelligence software is related to Reporting software, Knowledge Management software and Survey software. Find the best business intelligence solution for your organisation in Australia.

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Business Intelligence (BI) Tools Buyers Guide

Introduction

Business Intelligence tools, or BI tools for short, are designed to assist companies with the gathering of important data from a variety of internal and external sources, including performance metrics and operational information. From there, business leaders can access, analyse, and share the information with a view to gaining useful insights. Ultimately, BI software can help businesses to improve their strategies, decision-making and overall business outcomes.

A key function within business intelligence software tools is the ability to run queries that can analyse and draw meaning from business data. This data may be in a variety of formats and may come from a number of different locations, with some of the most common examples including sales data, operations data, customer data, employee data, and financial information. This data and the analysis of it can then be presented in different formats, assisting with data visualisation.

One of the key benefits of business intelligence solutions is their ability to provide business leaders with a holistic view of company operations, factoring in historical data and current performance data while using it to generate insights and forecasts about the future. This can empower businesses to think more strategically, improve stability, identify opportunities, improve relationships with customers, and compete more effectively with other businesses.

The vast amounts of data that can be collected and analysed by BI analytics software means these solutions are often categorised alongside big data software and data visualisation tools. With that being said, applications of this kind also share features and functionality with other packages, including business performance management software and reporting tools too.

Different options on the market may focus on slightly different areas of business intelligence, such as reporting or analytics, but many solutions will be fairly comprehensive in nature, and this means they may be able to replace the aforementioned products or services. Although the features and their quality can vary, there are a number of core features that are found in most solutions in this category and which may be considered defining features. Generally speaking, business leaders making use of business intelligence offerings will be able to:

  • Continually track business statistics, performance data, and other important information
  • Store, access, and analyse internal and external data to gain insights and assess performance
  • Take advantage of data visualisation features, such as graphs, charts, and interactive dashboards
  • Run advanced data analytics, allowing for the use of predictive modelling and data mining

What are business intelligence tools?

Business Intelligence tools, or BI tools, are designed to allow companies and their management to gain valuable insights into the state of business operations and wider business performance. The software solutions in this category can be used to gather and manage data from a variety of sources, both internal and external, and then analyse that data, with the aim of gaining a better perspective on the present state of play, as well as what the future may bring.

A good way to get to grips with the various uses of BI tools is to first ask: what is business intelligence? Essentially, it refers to the various techniques, strategies and tools that businesses and their employees use to analyse company information and improve decision-making. With this in mind, business intelligence solutions offer a variety of features that allow companies to access, analyse, and extract data, such as financial details, customer data, and employee data.

Once data has been gathered, the software can process and analyse it, in order to identify trends and draw conclusions. Data can be displayed in easy-to-understand formats, and data visualisation is a key feature in most products within this category. When businesses make intelligent use of BI solutions, they can start to make more intelligent decisions, implement new strategies, gain a crucial competitive edge, and have a better understanding of any shortcomings.

In many cases, information is gathered and analysed in real-time, offering excellent efficiency.

What are the benefits of business intelligence software?

The benefits of business intelligence tools are numerous but tend to centre around ideas of making data easier to understand and analysing data to find underlying trends that may otherwise be missed. In general, a crucial component of business intelligence is the use of both internal and external data sources in order to provide a rounded picture of business operations and performance. With that being said, some of the more specific benefits associated with purchasing and using BI tools are explored in greater detail below:

  • Offers a clear picture: one of the main reasons why businesses invest in BI tools is because they allow companies to gain a much more complete picture of the current state of their business and their operations, as well as forecasts for the future. Through a combination of techniques like predictive data analytics, data mining, benchmarking, and reporting, it becomes easier to make informed, evidence-based decisions and implement the strategies that are most beneficial and most likely to be successful. A good way to think about business intelligence is as a way of making sense of the current state of play, so that action plans can be created for the future.
  • Makes data easier to understand: modern businesses collect and store vast amounts of data from a variety of different sources. Manually processing and analysing this data can be a time-consuming process, as can presenting it to stakeholders. Business intelligence programs offer a number of tools for making data easier to understand in general, with data visualisation being one of the key features. When business leaders have access to important data, find it easy to understand, and start to have a more complete sense of the current state of play, it becomes much easier to turn that data into actionable insights and create realistic plans.
  • Continually monitors performance: another major benefit attached to the use of BI solutions is linked to their ability to help organisations to continually monitor performance. This means that drops in performance can be detected in real-time and appropriate responses can be formulated. With many solutions on the market, alerts can also be set up and linked to key performance indicators (KPIs). So, as an example, it would be possible to set up the software so that it automatically sends an alert if sales, revenue, or productivity drop below a certain level.
  • Improves data analytics: business intelligence tools allow for the use of several advanced techniques, including predictive analytics, which aims to forecast future events and help businesses to create more accurate forecasts. This can often be taken further through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which can carry out much of the analytics work without requiring intervention from a human user, making the process much more efficient. This then allows decisions to be made at the best possible moment, boosting the chances of success.

What are the features of business intelligence software?

The features contained within different business intelligence tools on the market can vary substantially, as some packages are more comprehensive than others, and some may focus on a particular area of business intelligence. Nevertheless, almost any business intelligence platform or software solution worth its salt is likely to include some defining features. Many of the core and most common features contained within these programs are explained below:

  • Visual analytics: view data in ways that are easy to understand and interpret, such as graphs, charts, graphics, and interactive interfaces or visual representations. As a concept, visual analytics brings together concepts like data analysis, graphics design and computer science, with the end goal of making complex data more accessible. One of the major plus points connected to visual analytics is the ability to present information in ways that provide genuine clarity. Within business settings, this can be invaluable for presenting reports and results to senior leaders and other stakeholders, while for ordinary employees, it can make working with data much more efficient.
  • Self-service data preparation: store, access, remove, reshape, and otherwise make use of data, even without possessing advanced technical knowledge. A major focus of self-service data preparation is focused on making the process of preparing data for analysis as simple and accessible as possible for everyone. This can be especially advantageous in smaller businesses, where there may be limited IT resources, where the IT department itself may be limited in size, and where the level of expertise within the workforce may not be at the level that would historically have been needed for data preparation purposes. Many business intelligence solutions provide sophisticated tools that are explained in simple language and designed so that almost anyone in an organisation can make effective use of the feature.
  • Dashboard: view important information about business operations, company performance, employees, customers, and more, all from an easy-to-use dashboard, presented on a single page. In many BI solutions, the dashboard serves as a central hub for actually accessing data and tracking statistics. It is the location where users can broadly oversee business intelligence efforts and see the status of the business. It can also then be used to access the other areas of the software in order to carry out some of the more specific tasks and use more focused features.
  • Predictive analytics: utilise a range of techniques, including data mining and predictive modelling, with the intention of making forecasts about what the future will look like. This could mean predicting future events or business states, or anticipating rises and falls in customer interest or demand. The basics behind this process are that the software finds trends, patterns, and relationships within historic data and then uses the information to make intelligent assumptions about the future. Some solutions can go further, assigning a probability score to each predicted future event, which can help businesses to gain a better sense of which events are likely, which are certain, and which can be more easily avoided with the right actions and strategies.
  • Key performance indicators: continually monitor the key performance indicators within a business in order to measure the current and historic effectiveness of different processes, procedures and strategies. Analysing performance is vital for optimising business operations, and business intelligence tools allow this to be done in real-time, with data coming from a variety of different sources. The BI solution then functions as a central KPI database, with employees from all departments having access to the same up-to-date information. This then makes it much easier to make changes to business strategies and to identify performance-related trends.
  • Collaboration tools: capitalise on a range of features that are specifically designed to assist teamwork and collaborative tasks. Most high-quality BI tools will provide options for sharing files and data with other users, and cloud-based solutions, in particular, can be useful for updating data for everyone in real-time. However, the very best tools will also include built-in communication options too, whether that communication is text-based, video-based, or audio-based. Precise collaboration tools can vary from one solution to the next, depending on the types of businesses they are aimed at, or the specific areas of BI they focus on. Nonetheless, any good solution will provide tools that will make it easier for people to work together.

Using the Capterra software directory, it becomes much easier to identify the best BI tools by narrowing down the available options based on the features they actually contain. This provides a significant head start for those involved in the purchasing process because they can begin their search by only seeing the options that are likely to be suitable. From there, a number of options that include the necessary features can then be easily compared and contrasted, and user feedback can be added to the mix, making a successful purchasing decision more likely.

What should be considered when purchasing business intelligence tools?

When purchasing BI tools, there are a number of things that should be considered, as they can have a significant bearing on what the best available solution will be. A good way to explore some of the key considerations prior to making a purchase is to ask some questions and come up with answers to them. When businesses and their decision-makers do this, it provides a better understanding of what is needed, what is expected, and which features are less important. Some examples of the types of questions that can assist with this process are:

  • What is business intelligence software used for? The starting point for any business making a decision about business intelligence applications is to think carefully about what the software is actually going to be used for. Most options on the market will offer a large amount of features and, in many cases, businesses are not actually going to need all of these. This means that the best overall software package may not necessarily be the best option for an individual business because it may be more comprehensive than is required, or it may not include one feature that is vital to business success. Make a list of the main features that are needed, try to be as specific as possible, and then search for the software package that best suits these requirements.
  • What is the best deployment option for BI tools? In terms of deployment, there are two main options available to businesses: the cloud-based method, which is generally offered by third-parties on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis, or the on-premises method, which involves installing software on company systems and managing data in-house. The first option tends to be less expensive initially, although there will be a subscription involved. Advantages of cloud-based deployment include improved access from remote locations and continuous backing up of data. Although on-premises deployment has higher start-up costs, it does avoid the ongoing subscription and can provide businesses with a greater sense of control and ownership.
  • What skills are needed for business intelligence? Next, businesses need to think about the skills that are needed to use business intelligence platforms and then consider the skills that exist within their workforce. Some options on the market are designed with user-friendliness at the core, making them accessible to people who do not have high levels of technical knowledge. However, some of the other options may be aimed at more advanced users with existing knowledge of business intelligence processes and procedures. It is important to consider the skills that exist within the organisation and to then select an appropriate solution.
  • Can the software integrate with existing technology? Building an integrated tech stack is often highlighted as one of the biggest tips for small businesses that are looking to successfully purchase new software packages. Put simply, it is important that the different software solutions being used in a business can work alongside one another without any unnecessary friction or compatibility issues. Therefore, businesses should give careful thought to the existing tools they are using, such as analytics software, reporting software, and performance tracking software, and select a BI solution that is compatible.
  • Is remote or mobile access to the software required? Decision-makers also need to consider how and where the software is going to be used because this can have a major bearing on the eventual decision. In particular, the growing popularity of remote working can be an important factor because if employees are going to need remote access to the software, it may boost the case for cloud-based solutions. Beyond this, there may also be a demand for mobile accessibility, even if everyone using the software is going to be based in the office. Some employees may need to move around the workplace and work using tablets or smartphones, and solutions that provide a high level of mobile accessibility can be advantageous in these situations.
  • How much does business intelligence software cost? Finally, the cost of the business intelligence programs in question can have a substantial influence on the final decision. Here, businesses need to think about the initial costs and whether the software can be acquired within budget, but also the longer-term costs too. For instance, some solutions may charge for updates or for access to technical support. Cloud-based options are likely to have a monthly subscription charge connected. Then, businesses also need to ponder the costs associated with training employees to use the software and costs linked to storing and protecting the relevant data.

The most relevant software trends related to business intelligence are also essential to think about prior to making a purchasing decision. Businesses need to know that they are investing in software that has been created with an underlying awareness of what the major trends are and how they are influencing modern workplaces. Additionally, understanding the emerging trends can help businesses to think about what may be needed in the short, medium and long-term future, and this can then alter the final decision. Some of the most relevant BI software trends include:

  • The growth of cloud technology: In general, cloud technology is experiencing growth as more businesses become comfortable with it and more familiar with its benefits. With regards to BI software, cloud solutions provide the ability to update data for everyone, regardless of where they are located, in real-time. Additionally, cloud solutions can help to keep data secure and safe from threats like accidental deletion, which can be especially important when the data is related to business operations, and these software packages also have compatibility advantages because they tend to be accessible from almost any internet-enabled device with a web browser, regardless of the operating system being used, or the physical location of the user.
  • Increased demand for voice control: One of the more interesting technology trends of recent times has been the increased popularity of voice control. This has been influenced by mobile voice assistants, smart speakers, and other similar forms of technology, but it is also disrupting software more generally. When software uses AI and machine learning, voice recognition has the potential to allow users to issue commands through speech alone, and this can be valuable for businesses for a number of reasons. Firstly, voice control can be used while completing complex work with the hands, which can potentially enhance productivity in some businesses. Secondly, it provides accessibility advantages for employees with disabilities or other health conditions that make typing or using a mouse difficult. However, this needs to be balanced against some of the disadvantages, too, such as the potential for voice commands to be misunderstood, which could lead to errors that might otherwise be avoided.
  • Remote and hybrid work: Although remote working was already starting to take off in many industries, the coronavirus pandemic led to a major breakthrough in 2020, and many businesses have subsequently embraced the idea of allowing employees to work off-site more regularly. This is a trend seen across the globe, and it is estimated that 32 per cent of all workers are now remote at least some of the time and various studies on the subject suggest that a large number of employees enjoy the flexibility and freedom provided through this approach. Of course, when investing in software, this trend is important to keep in mind because solutions that have been purpose-built to accommodate remote accessibility are likely to be preferable to options that are more rigid.
  • The emergence of data storytelling: BI reporting tools can help to make data analytics more accessible, and another key trend in this area is the emergence of the concept of data storytelling. In essence, this is the process of attaching meaning to hard data and using interactive interfaces and presentations to take people on a journey. Tools that allow for a degree of data storytelling can be particularly useful for conveying complex concepts to stakeholders and for highlighting the urgency of certain action plans.
  • AI and machine learning: The last software trend to be aware of in relation to business intelligence is advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. Software solutions that capitalise on these concepts fully can provide significant benefits for companies, especially when it comes to automating some of the more repetitive tasks. This level of automation may be advantageous in situations where circumstances change, but no employee is available to manually perform data analysis or data preparation tasks. It can also help to identify trends related to business performance more quickly than they may be spotted by human users.