Choosing the right business intelligence (BI) solution for your company can be overwhelming. There are niche solutions, general solutions and everything in between. Some BI providers specialize in certain industries, business sizes or even job roles.
To muddle things further, many vendors offer solutions that are of outstanding quality, which makes objectively choosing the ‘best’ solution just a bit of a challenge. In this blog we will explore five key criteria you should consider when deciding on a new BI solution for your business.
1. Which challenges are you looking to solve?
The first step to ensure your BI project will succeed is to determine which pain points you would like to “relieve.” This step demands ongoing communication with the members of your business who will be using the software. Often discovering which pain points you’d like to solve is a process; through discussion and collaboration what is possible new and valuable ideas can emerge.
There is nothing worse – for client and vendor, both – than being promised the world, only to discover upon implementation that the BI solution cannot do what your team had hoped it would. Having a clear idea of the challenges you would like to solve within your business allows you to ultimately request from the vendor a proof of concept (PoC) that relates directly to your business and its growth.
2. Who will use the solution?
It is essential to identify those employees who will use the solution. Consider asking questions like:
- What job roles do they fill?
- What’s the extent of their technological skills?
- Do they typically work from the office – or do they travel?
- What type of device do they typically work from: laptop, smart phone, or tablet?
Your answers to these questions will help determine what requisite capabilities you need from a BI solution. Are you looking for a solution specifically for your sales department? Or would you like a solution that can also benefit other teams (e.g., executive or inventory teams)?
Assessing the technological skillset of your intended BI users, as well as the amount of time they have to sit down and learn about the new solution, will further influence which BI solution you may consider. Some solutions, while simple for your IT team, may appear complicated to non-technical employees. In that case, choosing a solution that intuitively analyzes data and which does not require extensive training may be the way to go.
You may also want to think about how your intended users prefer to work. If they often travel, choosing a solution that can only be used at the office may not make much sense. Similarly, if you are anticipate your warehouse manager tracking inventory with the BI solution, it might be worth considering a solution that can be used on a tablet, bringing BI to the warehouse floor and obviating the need to return to his desk for every new query.
3. Does the vendor understand your industry?
One of the most overlooked criteria when choosing a BI solution is whether the vendor understands your industry. This does not mean that the vendor must have designed a niche product focused exclusively on your industry, but rather that the vendor can prove it has successfully worked with businesses similar to yours.
Obviously, the better the vendor understands your business needs, the better its BI solution can analyze what you need it to analyze. For example, a solution focused on SaaS businesses is unlikely to understand the needs of a food and beverage wholesaler. However, a vendor that has experience with your industry will likely “have the goods” and may even suggest metrics or means to use the solution that you had not considered.
A good place to start investigating a vendor’s familiarity with your type of business is to read the case studies or success stories each BI software vendor places on its website. Such case studies will tell you which industries the vendor has worked with in the past, how the solution has helped the relevant businesses, and often include direct quotes from the customers. Checking case studies is a good way to quickly tell whether a solution would be relevant to your company.
4. What do current business intelligence users have to say?
Lastly, you want to ensure you know how current users of the BI solution rate their experience. While case studies provide valuable information about how a vendor has worked with its customers, these reviews provide a hands-on and current evaluation of the customer’s experience with the solution.
You can look for reviews on sites like Better Buys, as well as third-party reviews like those on BARC. When you read them, note whether the customer found the solution easy to use, valuable to his or her job role, and whether the vendor delivered what it promised.
5. Choose the right BI solution for your business
After you have mapped out your pain points, considered who will use the solution, and found a solution that knows your industry and has excellent reviews, it’s time to request that PoC from the vendor. Once you’ve engaged relevant stakeholders, (e.g., project managers, executives and end-users) to get their input on what they need to see in a BI solution, you solicit those vendor candidates to see which can best deliver a practical solution that satisfies all parties.
If one vendor gains consensus from the team, your decision has been made. Welcome to the brave new world of digital BI.
Once you have made your choice, implemented the solution, and started to investigate trends in your business data, you can start making data-driven decisions and reap benefits like increased sales, lower operation costs and improved workforce efficiencies.
What’s Next for Business Intelligence Software? 2019 Predictions
According to the Business Application Research Center’s (BARC) 2018 Business Intelligence Survey, the BI market is awash in a sea of IT meta-trends. These meta-trends lately have included data digitalization and its security/privacy, solution agility and cloud deployment (SaaS), mobile platforms and artificial intelligence.
Taking the initiative, we asked several BI software experts to predict what awaits the market in 2019 and beyond. Their replies corroborate much of BARC’s findings, but also uncover some outlier trends.
This is what they said:
In 2019, BI goes AI
The confluence of factors pointing to the emergence of AI in business is undeniable. Machine learning is changing the world, and business finally has the right tools to amass the training data that algorithms need. 2019 will see headlines that show a broadening of the niche ML solutions we’ve seen in business to date. Automated expertise won’t just be the realm of boutique airline pricing or insurance risk prediction. Instead, digital agents will begin to collaborate with business analysts to automate decisions like where and how to invest in innovation or new markets, marketing spend, or competitive forecasts.
Of course, the effect of this new collaboration (which Gartner calls “Augmented Analytics”) will not be shorter workdays and more time on the beach. Instead, competition will drive business to use AI agents as a means to increase the pace of decision-making and feedback cycles. In other words, AI will boost the efficiency of operations by letting businesses optimize resource allocation more frequently. This will be the start of a cycle that will disrupt many industries, just as many technological advances have in the past. Smart companies will start small and get quick wins in order to learn how AI works before scaling it up.
Chief Data Scientist
AI will make data accessible (Finally!)
In 2019, I predict we’ll see artificial intelligence start to move from science project to production throughout the analytics ecosystem and really start to deliver on the promise of democratizing access to insights. AI will fundamentally change who has access to data, broadening the proverbial aperture and allowing anyone to interact, analyze, and utilize data.
While I predict this will alleviate much of the access issue in analytics, it’s not some silver bullet that will automatically turn organizations into data driven machines. All this access means enterprises need to teach their teams what data is available, what it actually means, and how to effectively use it. Enterprises next year must not only grapple with implementing AI, but simultaneously instill a culture of data literacy throughout the organization. It’s not going to be an easy transition, but for those that can do it successfully, the opportunities are endless.
Chief Data Evangelist
Insights embedded everywhere
“Software,” it is said, “is eating the world,” but analytics are eating software. And AI is eating analytics.
In other words, as software automates our existence, it creates a level of data size and complexity that only analytics can solve. As more people demand data-driven insights faster, those analytics will be streamlined, and eventually augmented by machine learning and AI.
We see 2019 as the year of “insights embedded everywhere” – analytics embedded not into graphs and dashboards, but into the very fabric of the workplace: products, processes, and places.
The objective is for business decision-makers to get the data they need, when they need it, where they need it – and to eventually eliminate dashboards and even standalone analytics themselves.
ETL capability will be further integrated into BI platforms
With the growing demand for real-world machine learning, all modern data analytic applications will start to offer serious end-user driven data preparation and ETL capabilities alongside classic analytic functionality, because it’s the only way to make machine learning work properly.
Today, it is common for ETL tools used to Extract, Transform, and Load data into the target database to be separate from BI platforms. This limits the effectiveness of machine learning algorithms because they are applied to data that has already been prepared and aggregated. By incorporating ETL capabilities into the analytics platform, it becomes possible to apply machine learning to the raw data, leading to more relevant correlations and insights.
7 Key Business Intelligence Trends for 2019
“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off that ol’ Lone Ranger,” and you don’t run your business without analytics.
As 2018 wanes, the company that dismisses business intelligence does so at its own peril. Over the past half decade, as BI solutions have evolved, more and more businesses have been run at the speed of analytics.
If it’s not already, yours ought to be.
Mining raw, collected data no longer suffices. Today’s analytics comes to life not with standard graph and pie charts, but with dynamic and real-time visualizations from which sound strategy can be developed – or adjusted. Business intelligence software delivers value by generating real-time analytics that delineates trends, from which proactive and objective decisions can be made.
The payoff? This deeper insight impacts and improves personnel, product, and user experience. Your company runs better. Staff is content. Customers are happy. Product is sold. Revenue climbs. Profits soar.
So, it’s no surprise when looking back to Better Buys’ 2016 BI Trends Infographic that our new and updated 2018 BI Trends Infographic continues to reflect the momentum, popularity and utility of Business Intelligence software.