There are more high-powered business intelligence (BI) tools on the market than ever before, catering for every kind of specialised need and data and analytics function.
With so much choice, selecting the right BI tool for your business can seem like a daunting task.
The best way to begin narrowing down your options starts with an examination of your data and analytics strategy; the timeline, the information requirements, and how the overall strategy will be used to further the corporate aims of the business.
This top-down approach identifies the big picture needs and goals, before diving into software specific capabilities. With this perspective, you’ll have a far more accurate and holistic view – not just of what tools are needed for individual tasks but also what is needed to cultivate a data culture within the organisation.
So, let’s take a look at a few areas that should be taken into consideration when choosing a BI tool.
Taking stock: what tools do you have and how are they working for you
A good starting point is to look to what tools you already have. Due to the evolving nature of technology, you might find that your business has accumulated a range of different platforms over time.
It’s important look critically at these resources. Existing tools may have inadequate data handling, governance or security features. They may have limited use-cases or have constraints that don’t allow for future growth in your data and analytics maturity. Even having a variety of tools can itself be a problem, as too much energy is spent choosing what solution to use and when.
Evaluating these tool – how they are used, where they excel, and where they have deficiencies – can help to focus what you’re looking for in a new BI tool.
After taking stock of what you have, you might find that everything you currently employ can be replaced by a single, well-crafted tool, although it is not imperative to reach a one-size fits all conclusion.
Choosing a single BI tool can simplify a range of tasks, saving time by consolidating working processes into one fluid analytics pathway. Similarly, selecting a single vendor to work with streamlines payments and allows you to spend minimal time on admin. Depending on your budget, having a single platform to manage and administer, even if the cost is higher, might outweigh the trouble of dealing with multiple moving parts.
Alternatively, if your solution is complex you may want to opt for separate, best in class tools that address each area of your data and analytics strategy. It’s also worth considering the level of automation that a tool can offer; a fully automated tool can save safe time and resources by eliminating repetitive tasks.
With both options, business strategy, budget, and the complexity of the project, will influence your decision on whether a simplified approach is best, or whether multiple tools is the right decision for you.
Internal capability and tool functionality
Another important factor in choosing the right tool comes down to the internal capabilities of the team.
As such, usability and target audience should be factored into your criteria. The purpose of a BI tool should be to empower decision makers with data-driven insights, and it’s important for any tool to be accessible to end-users who may not necessarily know the mechanics behind it.
Of course, even tools that offer user friendly interfaces may require additional expert knowledge to prepare or maintain and it’s important to consider the training requirements of any tools you plan to invest in. Even the most capable software platforms will remain underutilised if personnel lack the training and knowledge required to effectively operate it.
Support and documentation are a factor here. A platform that has a wide array of online resources, forums and support networks is likely worth the investment. The rise of the analytics community has become critical to the success of many analysts who work with data on a daily basis – the stronger the community the greater chances of success.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that business requirements can rapidly change, and the long-term goals of the organisation should be factored into any BI purchases. If not, then the tool itself may lose its productive value, leaving trained employees using outdated or inefficient software.
The next steps…
Once you have narrowed down your choices you can begin to test the waters. A great option is to run free trials as a low-cost way of seeing if the tool works within the business. Additionally, running proof of concepts (POCs) is a relatively quick way to establish the function of the tool and garner results from real-time data. Most people wouldn’t invest in a car without test driving it – the same apporach should be taken with investment in BI tooling.
It’s best to put these tools into ‘real-world’ scenarios with the people who are likely to end up using them.
Beyond the functionality of the tools themselves, it’s important to couple any investments with a general push for data literacy in the organisation. A tool is only useful in a skilled hand, by raising engagement in and knowledge of data-driven business practices you will maximise the value of these resources.
Working from the top-down is the best way to select business intelligence tools that meet the needs of the organisation and not just the needs of a single IT service. Keeping corporate goals and the data and analytics strategy firmly in alignment will help to ensure you choose the right BI tool for your business.
This article is part of our Data-Driven SMB series. For more information, advice and resources on how to accelerate your organisation’s data and analytics maturity, click here or contact us today.
Tim lives, sleeps and breathes analytics. A Chartered Management Accountant by trade, Tim has been with TrueCue for over a decade, having previously enjoyed roles as a Finance Analyst at Walt Disney and Auto Trader.