Business intelligence tools are programs that are designed to be able to capture, analyze, report on, and potentially even act upon raw business data. These tools can take many forms, from simple spreadsheets, to advanced reports, to data-mining programs and visually-intensive dashboards, and beyond. In short, BI comprises any tool that is designed to enhance data usability.
But for those business leaders and decision makers who really want to take their organizations to the next level of success, BI means something more. These are BI tools that are designed to offer all-in-one solutions to data-related tasks, and as such, are generally more involved (and more expensive to implement) than the average spreadsheet. But with increased cost comes the potential for increased profit; research by Nucleus shows that for every dollar spent on business intelligence, an average of $10.66 is earned.
Speaking of growth, there are very few businesses that are able to establish effective, complete processes right from the beginning, and then retain those same processes in their initial from throughout the life of the business. Instead, businesses processes tend to change and grow along with the business itself, leading to many businesses relying on a number of different systems and platforms for the various data-related tasks that need to be performed. Superior business intelligence tools are those that are designed with this issue in mind, and are capable of tapping data from almost any existing system. This allows for users at all levels to more-quickly and easily adopt the BI tool, without having to redesign the entire data-infrastructure of the organization to accommodate it.
BI tools that are cloud-based offer further advantages. By removing the need for inhouse, local hardware or software, these tools make it possible for users to access full BI functionality in its entirety from any internet-enabled device, including mobile. This not only cuts down on initial costs associated with implementation, but also allows for better collaboration between departments.
Given how diverse the various tasks associated with BI are, it’s no surprise that many powerful BI tools have a tendency to become too complex for their own good. When users approach a BI tool, they need to be able to quickly grasp not only its capabilities, but also the interface through which they will be utilizing those capabilities. Many BI tools simply don’t make this a focus, which causes employee adoption-rates to plummet. In fact, average BI tool adoption-rates tend to hover around 20%, leaving approximately 80% of a company unwilling to commit. To combat this, the learning-curve associated with utilizing a BI tool needs to be as simple as its data is complex.
Some BI tools approach this problem by offering built-in tutorial programs that new users can take advantage of to quickly become accustomed. Likewise, direct support channels, such as telephone and online live-chat make it possible for users to resolve control issues as they arrive. Going above and beyond these solutions, some tools also offer community connectivity, where users can come together to crowd-source solutions to potentially-unique problems. However, accessibility goes beyond simplicity of use; the data being analyzed likewise needs to be presented in a way that is easy to understand at a glance, but that can be elaborated upon for a more-detailed look at specific information. To this end, most business intelligence reporting tools offer some form of interactive data visualization options.
Data visualization takes the numbers representing the BI tool’s findings, and displays them graphically, usually through charts, tables, graphs, or other visual media. Interactive data visualization then gives users the option to further explore the real-time data that makes up these graphical representations. But while data visualization is certainly not a unique feature among BI tools, the extent by which data can be viewed, inspected, and manipulated in a graphical setting can help businesses determine which BI tool is likely to be the most-effective option.