In the past, the expense of collecting, storing, and analyzing data meant business intelligence (BI) was available only to large corporations.
But technology has changed and increased, namely through widespread internet access and usage. It’s therefore become quite affordable to collect and store big data that’s useful to business decisions. The problem, until recently, has been handling the analysis of said data.
Now, a variety of tools are available to assist even the smallest of businesses operating on a limited budget. These days, anyone can be his or her own data scientist.
What Is Business Intelligence?
We can break down business intelligence into four main categories:
- Reporting: This area of BI focuses on developing documents with valuable information in order to communicate to readers what has happened. The writer determines the time span the report covers, as well as the information it covers. Reports can be as simple as a weekly look at what has happened on Facebook. Or they can be as complex as an annual look at the entire company’s finances. Many BI tools (discussed below) have built-in reporting tools.
- Analysis: This area of BI focuses on why something happened, which is a core part of BI. The data itself is pointless if you can’t understand what it’s telling you. The analysis part is why many companies have data sitting around that’s doing nothing for them. Many tools are helping to bridge these gaps. There are three main types of analysis, which are important to know for tool selection.
- Spreadsheet: Data presented in spreadsheets helps you to evaluate performance.
- Ad-Hoc Query: This kind of software allows users to develop their own queries, which is how many BI tools on the market today work.
- Visualization Tools: This software coverts raw data into visualizations the users can read and understand. Examples include graphs and pie charts.
- Monitoring: With BI, it’s possible to monitor information in real-time, and if not in actual real-time, fairly close to it. Monitoring can help you see how things are going right now. It can also help you evaluate any point between reporting periods if you need to make a decision quickly. There are three kinds of monitoring:
- Dashboard: Dashboard monitoring provides a central location for all data and actionable metrics. Typically, the information is represented in a graphical format for better and easier comprehension. Google Analytics presents in a dashboard format.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs measure the performance of a specific action or project. These include return on investment (ROI), customer acquisition cost (CAC), customer lifetime value (CLV), and so on.
- Business Performance Management: Business performance management refers to a system designed to ensure people meet performance goals and deliver results. Some BI tools refer to this type of monitoring as the “Balanced Scorecard.”
- Prediction/Forecasting: BI helps us see what’s going on right now. But based on the data we feed into it, we can also predict what may happen in the future. Of course, these predictions are just that—they are not guarantees of what will happen. Variants might impact the actual outcome, but forecasting can help guide your business decisions in the right direction instead of leaving you to take a shot in the dark. Prediction is a fairly complex area of BI, so many companies rely on others to handle this part for them. However, there are some tools that use automation to manage it well. There are two types of prediction:
- Data Mining: Data mining finds patterns and relationships both in data and between sets of data. The end goal is to extract the data and create something you can read and understand so that you can use it.
- Predictive Modeling: Predictive modeling aims to predict outcomes or the probability of an outcome.
Benefits of BI
One of the main benefits of BI is obvious. Companies can dissect and transform the data they collect into something they can understand and use. They can then make improvements to their products and services.
BI allows companies to see where they need to make changes in marketing to improve their profit margins. They can project how much product they need to produce. And they can see what kind of overflow they have and what sales tend to perform the best with their customers.
Companies can see who their best and worst customers are, how much they’re spending to acquire new customers, and more. Ultimately, data can support the majority of business decisions. Data makes it easier to see the direction the business needs to move in to continue being successful.
But with today’s cloud-based BI tools and ease of accessibility, BI also offers interdisciplinary opportunities. It can strengthen collaboration between departments, ultimately in order to improve performance company-wide.
For instance, your content creation team can work closely with the data team to determine how each piece of content is doing. Using the insights from that data, the content team can then adjust their editorial calendar.
They can include more content that performs well and eliminate content that does not. Doing so will save time and money on content creation, while in theory boosting the amount of money that content indirectly brings into the business.
There are a wide variety of BI tools out there from which to choose. Some tools require the exclusive use of desktop client applications. But nearly all of them offer a browser-based experience, making it possible to use the tools from anywhere there’s an internet connection.
Many vendors are also working on implementing native applications for use on tablets and smartphones. So you’ll be able to use them anywhere you can get online, regardless of your device.
Larger companies might implement BI application servers as part of their on-premise IT department. But doing so is costly in the sense you must have the servers to hold the data and a team of IT experts on hand to manage it. As a result, smaller businesses are opting to deploy cloud-based BI solutions.
Cyfe is an all-in-one monitoring dashboard you can use for everything related to your business. You can create multiple dashboards as needed. For example, you could have dashboards for social media, marketing, financials, IT, clients, sales, and more.
You can pull in data from a number of sources automatically and get real-time reports. The pre-built widgets make it easy to get the information you need right in front of you. There is a free trial, but you’ll need to pay $20/month for the paid version that allows for more widgets and dashboards. Cyfe also allows for branded reports and domain name mapping.
Sisense is a cloud-based BI platform designed for non-technical people. There is a free trial available, but you must contact the company to get pricing information. Sisense is capable of processing large amounts of data in minutes and then transforming that data into visuals on a user-friendly interface.
Sisense also has a BI bots feature. This feature allows it to integrate with communications and productivity platforms such as Slack, Skype, and even Alexa. As a result, users will be able to speak their data commands and turn conversations from Skype and Facebook Messenger into an informal knowledgebase of sorts.
Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI is a cloud-based analytics service. There is a free version, but if you want more features, you’ll need to upgrade to Power BI Pro. The cost is $9.99 per user, per month.
This system is similar to Cyfe in the sense that you can create a dashboard with more than 50 connections to popular business applications. There are also pre-built dashboards designed to help you get started quickly.
Microsoft Power BI offers both a mobile app and a desktop app. The desktop app allows you to write your own reports and include visuals. The idea behind the platform is that if your team knows how to use Microsoft Office, they will understand how to use Power BI. That way there’s no need for IT or training.
Hubspot is a BI tool for your company’s inbound marketing. This platform is particularly helpful when it comes to figuring out your ROI on issues that are not cut-and-dry. These would include email marketing, landing pages, and blogging.
HubSpot helps you get a look at your bigger picture for all your online marketing by integrating social monitoring, SEO tools, and other features. With this platform, you’ll also get access to a library of videos, webinars, and ebooks. You can also create branded email newsletters and landing pages.
Cognos BI is IBM’s answer to business intelligence needs. It is a cloud-based analytics platform that can pull in data from a number of sources to create the system you need for your business. Cognos BI offers a completely web-based experience that can be personalized to your needs. It offers access to interactive content also available offline.
Reports and visualizations are as simple as a few clicks, and there’s no need to busy an IT team to get it up and running. Cognos BI is definitely an enterprise solution. The standard “installation” starts at $23,880/year (nearly $2K a month) for 25 or more users. There’s a proof of concept plan that costs $12,360 a year, but even this is still cost prohibitive for a lot of small businesses.
Halo BI is a platform that includes supply chain analytics, BI, and advisory analytics in a single dashboard. It is best suited for businesses at the enterprise level because it helps with supply chain planning, operations, procurement, and manufacturing. No pricing information is listed, and you must schedule a product demo with the company.
Domo is cloud-based BI solution that connects with over 400 business applications to give you a central location for all your data collection and analysis. You can tailor your insights with customized business apps so that you can see your competitive advantage and find more strategic opportunities.
There’s a free plan that allows you to give Domo a try. But if you want to use it to its fullest potential, you’ll pay $175/month/user, which is billed annually. Those who are interested in Enterprise level plans must contact the company’s sales department for a customized quote.
Birst is a BI platform that combines data discovery, reporting, and analytics in a single platform. It integrates data from a lot of the systems you already use, such as Marketo and Salesforce, and it allows for a number of highly customizable dashboards.
Analytics and report generation is as simple as pointing and clicking. There is a free trial, but you must contact the company for pricing.
Finding the BI That’s Right for Your Business
No two BI tools are exactly the same. Which one you should choose depends on what your business needs and the kind of data you have on hand. You might find a dashboard tool like Cyfe effective, or you might learn that something with more robust features, such as Sisense, is more appropriate.
Regardless, it’s worth noting that companies that make use of analytics are five times more likely to make faster decisions. And faster decisions can make a world of difference in your outcomes.
Big data is everywhere—and its uses are nearly limitless. Barack Obama used it in his 2008 election. Samsung uses it in smart TVs to recommend content to viewers. Progressive uses it to learn more about driver behavior and to determine customer risk in order to keep pricing competitive.
Why not put big data to work for you? BI will help you see how.
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