The proliferation of new technologies and digital transformation means that data can now be collected on every aspect of a business, from sales and marketing, to workflows and productivity, to hiring and HR, to overall performance and profitability.
However, many of these data points exist in isolation and require a dedicated IT platform to connect the dots together.
This is what business intelligence represents, the ability to not just look at a specific detail of business operations, but tie in key information from each angle into an overall whole that can allow for real insights and predictions for improving business performance, not least through Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
A number of software packages do come with their own reporting data and cloud analytics, but these can also usually be exported into a business intelligence platform.
This is the realm of big data, where actionable insights are key and business intelligence can provide for that.
Even more importantly, good BI software will be driven by visualizations you can share with stakeholders. This can be incredibly useful for turning sometimes complex statistics into every to understand charts and diagrams.
Here then are the best in business intelligence and analytics tools for business.
- We've also highlighted the best productivity gadgets for business
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Best BI tools - at a glance
- Microsoft Power BI
- Tableau Desktop
- Zoho Analytics
The software giant provides a free business intelligence tool
Software behemoth, Microsoft, also plays in the business intelligence tool space, and their offering is Power Bi. They even have a Microsoft Business Applications Summit that features their Power BI, and not surprisingly other Microsoft business applications. Unlike some of their competition that take a totally web-based portal approach, Power BI also offers downloadable software, so you can run your analytics either in the cloud or via a reporting server.
There is a generous sixty day trial of the software, which promises to “Connect hundreds of data sources,” including Microsoft applications, and other sources such as Facebook, Sybase and Oracle which can then prep data for subsequent data analysis on the fly, allowing reports to be created in just a matter of minutes.
Pricing begins at the Power BI Desktop tier for a single user, which is fully functional, and free. The next tier up is Power BI Pro and supports collaboration between users, and real time data analysis, and after a 60 day trial costs $9.99 per month for each user.
A visually slick business intelligence tool that commands a premium
Tableau Desktop endeavors to do more than make charts, but rather to show “live visual analytics.” A slick interface with drag and drop buttons allows the user to quickly be able to spot trends in the data. There is a lengthy list of supported data sources, including Microsoft Excel, Google Analytics, Box and PDF files.
Tableau enjoys the ability to connect with pretty much any type of database, as well as use a whole range of data blending options, to output into an even bigger selection of charts. Dashboard visualizations can be easily shared, and are mobile friendly.
Tableau Desktop becomes an expensive option for a single user as it costs $70 per month that is billed on an annual basis, making this more expensive than other competing solutions. On balance, it also includes the associated application of Tableau Prep under the Tableau Creator package.
An experienced and simple to use BI tool
Dundas is a browser based business intelligence tool with 25 years of experience. It is designed to be a single tool to transform data into visual data analytics with “granular control over almost all visual design elements.” Data files can be incorporated with drag and drop functionality allowing end users to analyze data without involvement from IT. The HTML5 interface allows it to be used across a variety, including mobile, devices.
There is a free 45 day trial, but after the pricing is opaque and requires a quote, but there are options to lease annually, or own for perpetuity.
The business intelligence tool of Fortune 500 companies
SiSense is a business intelligence tool that seeks to simplify the complexities of data analysis by building in IoT, machine learning and AI into their platform. They claim it is so simple and streamlined, that you can go from “data to dashboard in just 90 minutes.” While we can argue the validity of that claim, their list of clients, including the likes of GE, Philips, Fujitsu, NBC and Airbus would back up that this is a top tier product.
Main features include the ability to embed white label analytics with customizations, mashup live or cached data, analyse data across your entire landscape or focus on specific areas such as object, data, or system.
Sisense is an enterprise BI porgram that can be run in the cloud, or on premises. However, there no flat-rate pricing is provided for either model so you'll need to contact Sisense for a custom quote.
Their custom pricing is based on an annual subscription model, but it requires a price quote, and is unfortunately not available on their website.
A tool from folks that have a cloud-based approach in their DNA
Zoho Analytics is the business intelligence tool from the folks that have plenty of experience with web-based business tools, namely the venerable Zoho Office. Zoho Reports is a robust solution, that can integrate data from a variety of files, including Microsoft Office documents, URL feeds, and databases, such as MySQL, along with applications, of course from Zoho, but also outside their ecosystem including data from the cloud from Box, DropBox, Google Drive and other applications (for example Salesforce, Quickbooks and Google Analytics).
Data can then be blended via integrated mathematical and statistical formulas, for example marketing costs in an Excel file, with sales data in a cloud database, to create a visually attractive and informative report. This is all done via a simple online interface, and functions can be applied via a simple drag and drop, with reports that can be easily viewed via the portal, or also printed or emailed.
After the short fifteen day free trial, there are several pricing plans. The least expensive basic plan, which as a limit of only two users is $25 monthly, billed at an annual rate. Their most popular Premium plan with fifteen users is $125 monthly, again billed at an annual rate which requires more commitment than some smaller businesses are looking to make.
Other business intelligence tools to consider
We've only scratched the surface when it comes to BI, as there are many providers in the market. However, the caveat is always that a software platform is only as good as its programmers, and data always needs to be the best quality - too many managers presume that processes and workflows are being correctly followed when they may not be and therefore undermine analyzes. Additionally, while there are comprehensive BI tools available there are also ones that focus on particular areas, such as sales or distribution, in order to provide more detailed and focused insights:
Looker is another full-spectrum analytics and business intelligence platform that provides real-time reporting. To get the most out of it some MySQL knowledge would be helpful, but training materials are provided as required. Even without, Looker is an easy to use platform for data discovery that can accommodate a number of third-party sources.
Qualtrics Research Core is more focused on working through developing, collating, and analyzing survey data, and uses its own AI to tease out trends and actionable insights. This can be especially useful when applied to sales and marketing campaigns for analyzing not just results but can also be used to identify ideal price points.
Systum is a BI software platform aimed at improving efficiency and productivity in wholesale markets, that looks to streamline and consolidate processes across multiple B2B and B2C channels. This means sales and order tracking, and there are a wide range of integration options including Amazon, eBay, and Quickbooks.
Adobe Analytics is a tool especially dedicated to tracking the customer journey online, and provides data to analyze how to more effectively engage with them according to their sources, ie, social media. It's able to work with complex databases to generate quick results, which can then be exported or printed easily.