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Tips for using BI tools

And how they help your organisation.

How to get the most from BI tools and dashboards

Your business data has the power to shape the direction and profitability of your company. But without adequate software to identify trends and patterns, you might not be taking full advantage of the information you’ve collected. You might even miss significant business opportunities and ways to optimise revenue.

Business intelligence tools and dashboards can change that. These technologies enable you to efficiently store, automate, analyse, report on, and draw insights from your data as well as predict future business performance. By using BI tools and dashboards to gain a firmer grasp on the nuances of your data, you’ll be able to make more informed, confident decisions about your company’s current and future strategies and operations.

Why organisations use BI tools

Organisations of all sizes and industries use BI tools and dashboards for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common benefits gained by companies that use this technology:

  • Gather data more efficiently. Using BI tools helps you focus on growing your business rather than just running it. By eliminating the need for data entry, BI tools help companies save time, reduce human error, and free employees to perform more urgent tasks.
  • Improve the reporting process. BI tools use automation and AI to make reporting on and drawing insights from data much faster, simpler, and more accurate. Plus, BI tools and dashboards enable you to create vibrant, customised reports that feature charts, graphs, pivot tables, and other visual representations.
  • Streamline data analysis. Rather than pore over paper reports or hire an outside firm to make sense of your data for you, you can quickly analyse your data the way that makes the most sense to you by using self-serve dashboards. You can even use conversational language to ask your business questions and get quick, AI-generated answers.
  • See how well you’re selling. Access all data about your internal sales representatives, external sales partners, and products from one dashboard—and use BI to identify top and low performers and praise, train, or adjust sales tactics accordingly. You also can track customer demographics and incorporate your findings into your marketing efforts.
  • Identify opportunities to boost revenue. Having faster access to more accurate data enables you to quickly and faithfully pinpoint market trends, determine ways to increase your earnings, and even predict future wins in the marketplace.
  • Optimise business spending. BI tools enable you to monitor your operating expenses more easily with all your relevant data accessible from one dashboard. They also enable you to quickly detect places to trim costs, like excess stock and unused equipment and subscriptions.
  • Collect and analyse customer feedback. BI tools make it easy to learn what your customers really think of your products, services, and overall brand—valuable information to drive business decisions.
  • Improve corporate culture. Poll your employees on what they think of your organisation, its products, workflow, and the company culture. Then use that information to improve your business operations, products, and worker satisfaction.
  • Boost your brand online. Many BI tools have social media capabilities that enable you to interact with leads, customers, and influencers from within the tool. You can also use BI tools to understand how your customer base uses social media, which can help strengthen your social strategy.
  • Forecast future figures. Using built-in AI functionality, BI tools can draw on past and present data to help you predict essential numbers, including customer conversion rates, product sales, and revenues. Equipping yourself with this knowledge helps you make more relevant business decisions, whether you’re ordering stock, budgeting for new hires, or planning upcoming marketing campaigns.

Everyday business applications for BI tools

There’s no shortage of ways to use BI tools to help run and grow your business. Some of the most popular uses are:

  • Data collection. Built-in features like online surveys and questionnaires help you easily capture data from your customers, employees, business partners, and other stakeholders.
  • Data mining. Locate sales, revenue, and customer patterns in your datasets with the help of BI, machine learning, and statistics.
  • Querying. Use self-service BI dashboards to get answers to specific questions, like Which of our products drive the most revenue? and What’s the primary way our customers learn about us?
  • Benchmarking. Customise data dashboards to track your performance over a specified period of time against your target goals or metrics.
  • Analysis. Discover trends and patterns in your data and understand why they happened and how you can repeat them or improve upon them.
  • Data visualisation. Create visual representations of your findings that are easy for others to absorb by using charts, graphs, and maps—regardless of your technical skills.
  • Reporting. Package your findings into easily digestible formats and share them with colleagues, leaders, and advisors to help make more informed decisions.

Giving employees access to BI tools

You don’t need to be an IT professional or business analyst to quickly create insightful, personalised reports and visual interpretations of data. With user-friendly, self-serve BI tools and data dashboards, people throughout your organisation can easily model, interpret, collaborate on reports, and make decisions based on your data.

Here's how to make that happen:

  • Select a BI tool that supports self-service. When shopping for a BI tool, ensure you choose one that is intuitive for non-technical users, supports self-service, simplifies data visualisation, and offers AI-based automation. If you’re unsure how your organisation’s various teams would use BI, ask. This will inform which tool you purchase and how you configure it.
  • Ensure your BI tool fosters collaboration. Choose a BI tool that makes it easy for users to collaborate with one another by sharing, editing, and otherwise collaborating on reports. A good BI tool will also automate alerts to collaborators about edits made to their reports, unanticipated data changes, and routinely scheduled reports.
  • Give employees access. BI tools—and the real-time insights that they yield—aren’t just for management and leadership. Empowering people throughout your organisation to use BI tools will help them work more efficiently and make more informed decisions. Not only can this boost employee productivity and morale (not to mention take some of the workload off management), it also can improve your bottom line.
  • Provide adequate training. Your people will need ongoing support and training for your BI tool and its features. Be sure the customer support offered by the solution provider you select meets your organisation’s needs and be prepared to offer supplemental training if warranted. BI solutions with robust user forums, blogs, and other community support will be a great help to your own users.
  • Track how your people use BI. Your IT team still needs to be involved in your company’s use of your BI tool. By monitoring which employees are using the tool, which data sources they’re accessing, and how they’re using the tool, your IT people can track and adjust any aspects of your BI solution that might need improvement.

Tracking meaningful data

BI software tools can radically transform how your company analyses the past and present and predicts the future. But without a comprehensive plan for collecting and interpreting your data, even the best BI tools will fall short of helping your organisation mine its data for the insights needed to make well-informed decisions.

To make sure that all the sales, marketing, customer, financial, and other business data you collect is as meaningful as possible:

  • Ensure your BI tool plays nice with the data you want to track. Before you make a purchase, determine whether a BI tool will easily connect with all of your existing systems, standardise data pulled from disparate sources, and offer the level of security you need.
  • Use KPIs to drive business decisions. Let your data free you from throwing spaghetti at the wall or “spraying and praying.” Create realistic, data-based KPIs on your BI dashboard to measure the efficacy of your business initiatives and strategies. For example, based on what you learned from last year’s data, you might set a KPI of increasing your net profit by 10 percent this year.
  • Involve key stakeholders. Reach across departments rather than working in silos. For instance, your sales team will likely have input on how to track and report on your top-selling products for the quarter, so be sure to include them when setting up KPIs and distributing reports.
  • Outline your project goals. Carefully consider and map out your project timeline and milestones. Outline the steps that you’ll need to perform for each phase of the project, the expected results for each, and what a successful project would look like.

Connect the dots between your data and decisions with BI tools from Microsoft

Quickly find the insights within your data that help you make better business decisions with business intelligence tools from Power BI. Find and select the right BI tools for your needs, customise data dashboards to track your performance, and build rich, visual analytic reports with data visualisation tools.

Frequently asked questions

What are the top tips for using business intelligence (BI) tools?

Use BI tools to store, automate, analyse, report on, and draw insights from your business data as well as predict future metrics. These tools can help you extrapolate critical insights from your sales, marketing, customer, financial, and other data, which you can use to make more accurate, informed decisions about your company’s operations and strategies.

What are some real-life applications of BI tools?

BI tools use AI and machine learning to help you operate and expand your business in numerous ways, including:

  • Collecting data with built-in features like surveys and questionnaires.
  • Mining data on customer behaviour for patterns and predictions.
  • Using self-service dashboards to focus and research specific questions.
  • Tracking performance over time using KPIs and customised data dashboards.
  • Analysing your data to detect trends to make agile and informed decisions.
  • Transforming raw data points into maps, charts, and graphs with data visualisation.
  • Creating reports of your findings to share with colleagues and key stakeholders.

How can you track data with BI tools?

One of the best ways to track data with BI tools is to create KPIs on your dashboard by which you’ll measure the success of your business decisions, campaigns, and strategies. For example, you might set a KPI of driving 25 percent more traffic to your website this year. Be sure to involve key stakeholders when setting these dashboard metrics.

How are BI tools used within organisations?

BI tools make it easy for people within organisations—even those without much technical experience—to see, analyse, understand, share, and collaborate on their data. Organisations often use BI tools to automate data reporting, track sales revenue, pinpoint new business opportunities, optimise operational spending, identify operational issues that need adjusting, collect data about customer preferences, and analyse customer demographics, to name a few.

Should employees have access to BI tools?

Yes. Granting people at all levels of an organisation access to BI tools is simply good business. In fact, self-serve BI tools and dashboards make data modelling, reporting, and analysis accessible to even the most non-technical of workers. Giving employees access to BI tools equips them with real-time insights they can use to work more productively and make more informed decisions about their projects.