Once you’ve come to the decision that your company is ready to take the leap, choosing the best business intelligence (BI) software platform for your company to use can be a tricky and loaded process.
When you get it right, the heavens open and you can experience the benefits of streamlined, democratized data-driven decision-making. You’re able to dig down into deep insights about your market, your audience and your product, and you’re able to optimize your business processes to maximize profit margins. When you get it wrong, well, you’re on the path to lost productivity and frustration from employees and customers alike.
The trouble is that BI platforms cover such a wide range, and there are some significant differences between them. You need to compare a plethora of different features, benefits and workflows. Plus, there are plenty of add-ons which may sound amazing, but could also end up only distracting you from the main business use cases that you truly need.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re trying to balance all the competing factors in different BI software options.
At the same time, you need to guard against the risk of letting your personal preferences and biases tilt the vote. Even when software purchases are made by a diverse team, there are still windows that let subjective opinions creep back in. You have to anchor your evaluation to specific, concrete business goals, while also considering how they match your existing tech and team infrastructures.
That’s why it’s useful to boil it all down to just three key questions. That way you can consider the most important issues and make an informed decision about choosing business intelligence software, without getting swamped by questions and answers about nice-to-haves that won’t actually make a difference to your business bottom line.
1. Is the Platform Accessible to Line-of-Business Users?
Ease of use is one of the most fundamental issues. The best BI software in the world isn’t going to be much help if it’s siloed in your data science department. If you want to be a data-driven company, you need to make sure that every department in your organization can access data and manipulate it independently, and that means finding a truly self-service BI portal.
You don’t want a scenario where only data scientists and analysts are able to produce reports and visualizations. They have better things to do than to spend all day responding to ad hoc requests for a quick report, and your employees don’t want to have to twiddle their thumbs waiting for the DS department to get around to responding to their questions.
Think about who needs access to data insights, how often they’ll need them, and how they’ll be using them. Can non-techie employees generate reports without SQL, set up dashboard-level filters to adapt visualizations, and build their own customized dashboards, cards and graphs? At the same time, you need software that’s powerful enough to support the advanced needs of data scientists. Some platforms auto-adapt to the user’s skills, so that it’s accessible to the average marketer, for example, but also responsive to the head DS.
Finally, don’t overlook mobile functionality. Mobile use is already here, so make sure that you can support mobile access to data and reports.
2. What Is the Onboarding Process?
When you’re looking for a BI solution, you probably really want it yesterday. It takes time to evaluate, choose, and implement new software, but you don’t want it to take forever before you can start using it. That’s why the onboarding process is crucial.
Make sure to ask vendors about their onboarding experience. What’s required to map all of your data sources properly? Will any outside specialists need to come in to install any software or configure any hardware or network connections? Check each vendor’s knowledge base, how-to training videos and community forums to see how much guidance there is, both for initial onboarding and for ongoing troubleshooting and support.
Ask how long it usually takes before the typical user becomes comfortable with the software, and look for intuitive interfaces that you can work out independently.
The best software solutions support in-flow learning, so that you can get started almost instantly with basic processes and increase your capabilities while already using the tool.
3. Does It Come With Embedded Analytics Standard?
Embedded analytics are rising in popularity, giving you more ways to monetize your data and improve insight analysis. Check whether the option in front of you can support embedded analytics and allow you to add your own logo or branding if you’re white labeling interactive data experiences in customer-facing custom apps. Find out which of these features are included in a standard subscription, or if you need to go up a tier for embedded analytics capabilities.
But there are other functionalities that you’ll need to evaluate as well. On the most basic level, you need business intelligence software that can meet your business needs. Can it handle semi structured and unstructured data as well as structured data? This is important, because semi- and unstructured datasets are on the rise. If you need alerts when certain data points exceed preset limits or thresholds, look for that functionality as well.
Check if the new software connects easily with third-party data sources and databases, such as Salfesforce, MailChimp, Jira, Google ads. Cloud data warehouses are becoming increasingly important, so check which of these your proposed solution can connect to. Look for solutions that have built-in connectors or APIs, to make it simple to gather data from multiple sources into a single platform.
Another aspect of this issue is how the software processes data. Some solutions import, store, clean, and process data themselves, while others host data off-platform and just manipulate and analyze the preprocessed data.
Last but not least, investigate security functionality. Does the BI solution support single sign-on (SSO)? Row-level security? Can you define user permissions so that different users can access different datasets or varying levels of data manipulation? The security that’s baked into your BI software is what guarantees that your business is compliant with data privacy regulations and safeguards you from hacking attacks, so keep it at the top of your list.
An Organized Checklist Is Your Guide to the Right BI Software Choice
Selecting the best BI software option for your business is never going to be a walk in the park, but you can make it far easier on yourself and your decision-makers when you choose the right key questions.
Verifying that prospective BI solutions are truly accessible to your employees, assessing functionality, and checking the onboarding process will help simplify your decision making and lead you to the right BI for your needs.