Business intelligence (BI) software today is considered by more companies as an important tool to drive profitability and ensure long-term competitiveness. According to Forrester, there’s a huge BI market growth in the coming years. The industry is an open green pasture for the taking driven by the fact that that the buy side is expanding.
Where before BI solutions were capital intensive, SaaS best business intelligence software today are scalable to the needs of even the small business. As such, vendors are on a race to come up with the best BI features.
Meanwhile, non-tech users are getting into the picture, encouraged by the idea of coding-less and user-friendly BI solutions. In a BI-Survey study, the most important BI trends users look for are data discovery and visualization, self-service BI, MD/DQ management and analytical databases.
If you’re considering to implement a BI initiative soon, here are the key features that make a BI solution powerful. Make these features the main points of comparison to shortlist your best options.
1. Embedded analytics
Many business intelligence solutions today feature embedded analytics that let you integrate BI capabilities within your existing platforms, for instance, CRM or accounting software. This model moves away from fixed system architecture, where you buy or subscribe to the entire system for BI tools.
Embedded analytics give you greater flexibility. You need not replace existing solutions, you just enhance them with BI functionalities. Of course, it’s critical that the embedded analytics can integrate across different databases, communication channels and processes to leverage multiple data sources.
A good example of embedded analytics is BI bots. They interact with myriad messaging platforms, such as, Skype, Slack and Facebook Messenger. The bots can take charge of your initial customer touchpoints and relay back bits of data for future processing. In this setup, embedded analytics transform your messaging platform into intelligent tools.
Embedded analytics may be the future BI model on the same breadth that collaboration tools have been absorbed into other SaaS categories. CRM, for one, is now leveraging BI tools to dig deeper into customer behavior, buying patterns, social mentions and other customer data and provide an actionable business activity.
For instance, BI displays emails of online shoppers who abandoned their cart. CRM is triggered to send to these emails deals as come-ons or survey laced with freebies to find out the reason for abandonment. Still, the more powerful BI solutions like Sisense offer both in-system and embedded analytics options.
2. Machine learning
Machine learning is standard in BI solutions, but its level of intuition vary per software. This feature may be a deciding factor to prefer one software over another. But what exactly is machine learning?
To put it simply, it’s when software (specifically, its algorithm) learns through experience or based on the data you feed it over time. Software used to be “told” what to do; a programmer writes a code, which contains the instructions. Processing uses a fixed value = action logic.
On the other hand, in machine learning the action part evolves as software accumulates values over time. This is the “learning” part. In short, software will be doing something differently on its third or nth run as opposed to the first time it was installed.
You’re using machine learning when you see Pandora or Netflix organize your playlist based on your past activity. Or, when Google auto-corrects your misspelled query because the search engine remembers how you spelled it the last time.
Again, not all BI tools have the same level of machine learning capabilities, so this should be your major consideration when choosing the best business intelligence solutions.
3. Digital mesh compatibility
Integration is key to the success of your BI implementation. Integration here spans the whole gamut of the “digital mesh,” the buzzword referring to all elements involved in the digital landscape. These include people, content, devices, services and other endpoints tied to anything digital, but especially the internet.
In short, powerful BI tools can traverse this mesh to collect, consolidate and process data into insights. Gartner further breaks down this mesh into the device mesh (connected cars, appliances, machines, cameras, etc.) and the ambient user mesh (our online user networks).
Here’s a scenario of a mesh: a BI solution taps into its customer base’ Amazon Echo speakers (with permission), collect data on recurring playlists, then prepares this data in a BI data mart and feeds a clean report to a third-party cloud storage. Users access the report via cloud through their smartphones. Across this digital mesh, the BI solution must work seamlessly with various systems, platforms and file types, while being user-friendly to non-tech users.
4. Ad hoc analytics
This feature empowers non-tech users to use analytics without having to depend on IT If you’re the company’s IT guy, ad hoc analytics frees you from servicing other departments’ frequent BI needs.
Before the evolution of this BI tool, users must have the tech skills to code their queries for, say, SQL or Python. Otherwise, they depend on IT to prepare data and then again to process it for analytics. Generating the final report took a long time and could easily create a bottleneck across the organization.
Today, ad hoc analytics cover the whole range of data sourcing, sorting, preparation, consolidation and processing down to the final report. Advanced BI solutions even allow multiple users to run ad hoc analytics simultaneously. What took days before now only requires minutes, if not seconds, to generate insights.
Evaluate closely the BI solution’s ad hoc analytics. Make sure it empowers your different business units to run their own BI initiative when they need it and how they want the report to be framed.
5. Action enabler
Business intelligence software today provides more than just insight. It triggers actionable paths based on report outputs. In short, the best BI solutions are solution-based. They either provide in-system pathways to execute a business action or they integrate with other systems like CRM or HRMS to accomplish the action.
It’s like this–instead of simply aggregating new subscribers won this month, for instance, a BI software automatically feeds the list to an autoresponder to guide their onboarding. Another example is, beyond identifying the most successful landing page used in a campaign, the BI solution surfaces patterns and elements and adopt these into your next landing page.
While reporting and analytics guide your strategic decisions, this solution-based action enabler makes business intelligence software a powerful tactical tool, too. It helps you refine your short-term actions.
While they all have the same goal–to generate insights–not all business intelligence solutions are created equal. To help you refine your search for the best BI tools, benchmark your options around the features we discussed above.