Assessing business intelligence tools means first answering the question, “What is business intelligence?” Business Intelligence, usually referred to as “BI” for short, refers to software designed to analyze data with the goal of discovering useful business insights. For example, a multi-site retailer might use BI tools to reveal a previously unknown pattern of revenue changes correlated to time of day.
BI is related to data analytics and business analytics, though the connotation of BI is that it’s accessible to a bigger group of end users. As some reviewers on IT Central Station note, everyone, not just IT people or data specialists, should be able to use business intelligence software in their daily jobs. As a result, ease of use figures prominently into many user reviews on the site.
IT Central Station reviewers want to know how little training is required for a BI tool to get non-IT end users going. They want BI to be easy to implement. Users want tools to enable easy report building and administration as well.
The desire for BI tools to be easy to use flows from a trend in the technology over the least few years. BI has gone from being complex discipline reserved for highly-skilled people to being something the general knowledge worker can use every day. It’s not an either/or scenario. An organization might have some BI workloads that are reserved for data scientists, with others available to everyone. Regardless of where BI is deployed, however, continued support of end users and technical training for the support team are critical for success.
In addition to security, performance, scalability and stability, users emphasize the importance of BI’s ability to integrate with other systems. BI is not a standalone technology. It works in concert with database management and business applications. For example, BI must integrate with OLTP databases with minimal footprint. BI also needs to integrate easily with graphical tools and reporting software. A business intelligence toolset ought to integrate with visualization tools - with ability to produce visually appealing, value added dashboards, charts, and standard reports. Mobility also counts, with workers wanting to be able to do analytics on mobile form factors such as tablets.
Given that the “B” in BI stands for business, the business use case is considered highly relevant in choosing the right business intelligence toolset. BI should meet business needs. The total cost of ownership (TCO) should be well thought-out. And, any initiative to undertake BI should have clear executive management approval and a business plan for success. A thorough business needs analysis is essential.
According to IT Central Station members, the best BI tools support multiple file output options and publication options. For instance, can the tool produce interactive files (e.g. Xcelsius output) that are shared externally via .pdf, Excel, etc.? A business analytics solution should easily access multiple types of data sources, with data blending capabilities.