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12 questions to ask when evaluating business intelligence tools

Choosing the right business intelligence (BI) tool for your company can be a time-consuming process with many options that have similar features. A smart strategy for evaluating tools like business intelligence software is to have a clear understanding of why your business needs it and a solid set of criteria to help you review your choices.

These 12 questions will help you select a BI tool that’s right for your business.

1. Does this tool work with my data?

Since the main function of BI is to help you analyze data for decision making, this is an important question. As you evaluate business intelligence tools, you’ll need to know details about your data. Is it structured or unstructured or both? Will your business intelligence software deploy your analytics on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid of the two? What pre-built connectors does it offer?

Knowing these answers helps you evaluate if a BI tool has the ability to easily connect with all your existing systems and standardize data from different sources—saving you from having to purchase additional data management products in the future. This also ensures quick and accurate data access and analysis.

2. Can I use it with my existing business tools and software?

Much like with data integration, BI tools work seamlessly with software that users are already familiar with such as Microsoft Excel. Make a list of the commonly used tools that your BI software needs to connect with—don’t forget to include third-party apps, plug-ins, extensions, and connectors that your business regularly uses.

3. Does it offer the security and compliance features I need?

These are important factors to consider when evaluating business intelligence tools, especially if you work in a regulated industry like financial services or healthcare. Make sure your BI software includes features that:

  • Allow IT to create a secure, governed environment.
  • Offer management tools for data quality and consistency.
  • Enable data cleansing before information is fed to BI analytics tools.
  • Provide data protection that persists even when exported to other file types.
  • Support your organization’s policies and procedures for access and encryption.
  • Deliver geolocation data for enhanced insights and compliance.
  • Automate critical compliance processes.
  • Securely retain and archive data.

4. How does this tool support different types of users?

Because business intelligence is versatile and can be used across the organization, many companies prefer a combination of self-service and enterprise BI tools that work for technical and non-technical users.

Talk to stakeholders from both ends of the spectrum to find out exactly how they’ll be using BI and if you need to focus on features for self-service, enterprise, or a blend of the two. You may want to look for a single tool that scales to serve the needs of all users—from business operations to IT—and includes both types of BI solutions.

Self-service BI

  • Appropriate for employees in any operational area.
  • Technical skills are not required for building analyses.
  • Features AI-assisted automation and insights.
  • Interface has user-friendly features—drag-and-drop, filtering, drilldowns, and computed fields.

Enterprise BI

  • Most often used by analytics teams to more deeply investigate data.
  • Features advanced administration and deployment controls.
  • Includes big data support and on-premises reporting.

5. What are the data visualization capabilities?

Visual representation of data is a key element of business intelligence and one you should spend time learning more about during a demo or trial.

First, explore the data dashboards the tool offers and see how they can help your organization uncover new insights. Since these dashboards will be used daily by a wide range of users, they should enable users to visually explore data in ways that help identify and solve problems quickly.

Next, take a look at how findings are presented through data visualization and data storytelling. These features typically use charts, graphs, and maps to surface insights that are hard to see on a spreadsheet. The best data visualization tools have an intuitive interface that lets users explore and present data in multiple ways, regardless of their technical skills.

6. Can I easily share insights across my organization?

Sharing insights to drive action is one of the main benefits of business intelligence. As part of your evaluation, find out how users can collaborate to update, customize, and share reports.

For example, some BI tools let users make annotations right in the software, quickly embed reports into messaging and collaboration tools, and set permissions to distribute findings inside and outside of your organization.

Finally, don’t forget to explore how the tool handles automated communications, like emails and alerts, that notify users about regularly scheduled reports or unexpected changes in data.

7. Can I use this tool on the go?

Mobile features provide access to real-time data and allow you to make data-informed decisions on the fly when working remotely. Talk to your employees who work in the field or distributed locations to find out what level of mobile access they need. It could range from basic viewing of dashboards and reports to creating and editing analytics with mobile tools. You should also make sure the tool’s features are aligned to your company’s broader mobile strategy.

8. Does the pricing structure work for my budget and business model?

Software pricing structures can range from per-user plans to subscription models. As you look at your budget, consider how many users you currently have and how your business will grow in the future.

Keep in mind that additional capabilities and updates could cost more—make sure you know which features your organization must have and which ones are negotiable.

The goal is to find a cost-effective solution that provides business intelligence tools to your organization at the scale you need and has flexibility to grow with your organization.

9. What kind of training and customer service support is offered?

Any business intelligence tool requires training and support, initially and as new features are added. Explore what training options are available. Is training included or do you need to manage it in-house? If you need to deliver training to a distributed workforce at multiple locations, are online classes available? What kind of training is offered for software updates?

In addition to traditional training and education, user communities can provide tips and advice from peers and product experts. Before you select a business intelligence tool, look for forums, blogs, and user groups that help provide training and support.

Finally, make sure you understand how product support is provided. Find out if it’s free or paid, what hours and days it’s offered, and if it’s available online, via chat, or over the phone.

10. Does the vendor have a stable reputation?

Evaluating your business intelligence vendor is equally as important as reviewing features of the tool. Take the time to research their reputation and stability to make sure they have long-term viability and will be able to provide continuing support. When choosing a vendor, look for an industry leader who has a wide range of offerings that will work for your organization's current and future needs.

11. How are other companies using this software?

As you evaluate BI tools, look for customer stories and case studies based on company size and industry. As you review customer challenges and solutions, you’ll get a better idea of whether or not this tool is effective for businesses that are similar to yours. You may also discover new ways to use business intelligence after reading the success stories of other organizations.

12. Can I get a free trial?

Since all these features—from integration to collaboration—need to be easy for everyone to use, look for a trial offer to take the tool for a test run. If possible, have users from a range of functional areas try the tool and provide feedback. This is the easiest way to know for sure if a business intelligence tool is right for your organization.

Start exploring business intelligence tools

Now that you have these questions to guide you, you’re ready to start evaluating BI tools, such as Power BI, to find the software that best fits the needs of your business and users.