The best Business Intelligence (BI) tools make it easier to provide insights through visualizations based on your data for communicating to stakeholders.
This is especially important when the modern business can now collect data 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 the best BI tools 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.
This can then allow for real insights and predictions for improving business performance, not least through Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). A number of software packages also come with their own analytics, but these can also usually be exported into a business intelligence platform.
Even more importantly, the best BI software will be driven by visualizations you can share with stakeholders, to help communicate sometimes complex statistics as easy to understand charts and diagrams.
Here then are the best business intelligence tools for business.
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Software behemoth, Microsoft, also plays in the business intelligence tool space, and their offering is Microsoft 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 includes a 60 day trial.
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, making this more expensive than other competing solutions. On balance, it also includes the associated application of Tableau Prep under the Tableau Creator package.
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.
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, analyze data across your entire landscape or focus on specific areas such as object, data, or system.
Sisense is an enterprise BI program that can be run in the cloud, or on premises. However, there no flat-rate pricing is provided for either model. Their custom pricing is based on an annual subscription model, but it requires a price quote, and is unfortunately not available on their website.
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, but all are billed at an annual rate which requires more commitment than some smaller businesses may be 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.
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.
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