Which of these Business Intelligence tools should get your vote?

  • Richard Thelwell
  • May 4, 2015

business intelligence tools voteSo you’ve made the decision that your organisation needs to improve analytics and reporting? You’ll quickly realise that there is no shortage of solutions on the market, and that can make choosing the right Business Intelligence tool for your business a difficult task. It’s important to do your research and find the tool that best fits your unique requirements.

In this article we take a look at the six broad ‘families’ of Business Intelligence tools and analyse the pros and cons of each option.

Enterprise-grade Business Intelligence tools

business intelligence tools enterprise business intelligence

These enterprise-grade Business Intelligence tools often come from big name vendors in the industry such as Cognos (IBM), Business Objects (SAP), and Hyperion (Oracle).

They are undeniably very capable Business Intelligence tools, however they come with a very high high price tag! An entry level implementation of these solutions can often exceed the £100,000 mark, meaning they are very much targeted at larger organisations who can afford this kind of capital expenditure.

As you can probably expect, you get a lot for your money. These Business Intelligence tools come with a whole host of features and functionality, but they are often so complex that a high level of technical expertise is needed to operate them.

For: Very scalable, even to the very largest businesses. Every feature you could ever want and more.

Against: They’re expensive and complex to implement and run. Often, you’re paying for tools that you don’t want or need, and which don’t get adopted.

Data visualisation tools

business intelligence tools data visualisation

If all you are looking for is a way to make your reports stand out from the crowd, then a data visualisation tool could be perfect for your business.

Successful products in this area include the likes of Tableau and Qlikview.

These Business Intelligence tools are brilliant at creating powerful data visualisations, charts and dashboards. However, if you are looking to go beyond that, then you are likely to find the reporting capabilities of these tools limited in comparison to other solutions.

For: They’re really powerful graphically, and make great looking, complex dashboards and data visualisations.

Against: You need to install them on individual PCs as they’re client server tools. They don’t always have all the basic reporting capabilities such as scheduling, printing and self-serve report creation. Creating new reports is not an end user activity.

Report-writing tools

business intelligence tools report writingThese are very basic tools designed predominantly for formatting data into printable reports that can easily be sent across the business. These tools are great at formatting data, but they are not Business Intelligence tools.

One of the most common examples of these report writing tools is Crystal Reports, sold by SAP.

For: They’re cheap and effective for printing reports.

Against: They’re not Business Intelligence tools. They can’t analyse and drill down into data, and creating reports is time consuming and highly technical—often an IT task, and not for an end-user.

‘Home-grown’ Business Intelligence

business intelligence tools home grown

Home grown Business Intelligence normally takes the form of a Microsoft Excel, spreadsheet-based, reporting strategy.

Is it possible to use a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel for Business Intelligence? Of course. There are add-ons and dashboarding tools designed to let you do just that. But is it actually wise to use Excel Business Intelligence? That, in short, is a very different question.

For: There’s little capital outlay involved. And you’ve probably already got what you need already.

Against: It can take a long, long time to implement—and even longer to see any real ROI. Once staffing time is taken into account, the true cost is usually higher than a Business Intelligence solution. There’s also little by way of essential features such as security, self serve reporting, scheduling, and mobile support.

ERP ‘packaged’ reporting or Business Intelligence tools

business intelligence tools erp packaged

These days, most ERP solutions have some sort of Business Intelligence tool bundled-in. So if you’ve got a recent ERP system, then there’s likely to be a business intelligence module that you can licence.
ERP systems do a great job of running the core operations of our businesses reliably, but even their most passionate advocates will admit they are not great always at reporting.

Generally, they fall down in three particular respects. First, the range of standard ‘out of the box’ reports is not great. Second, the associated reporting tools require far more IT resource to be engaged on report writing than management initially imagined. And third, those reports – either standard or custom-written – must be run against the live database, slowing it down significantly.

For: They’re designed to work with your existing ERP or core system. No need to worry about integration costs or compatibility.

Against: They can only work with the data that’s in your ERP or core systems, and ignore data held in other systems. They’re often inflexible, as well, and can be difficult or expensive to modify.

Cloud-based Business Intelligence tools

business intelligence tool cloud based

With Cloud Business Intelligence tools you get a full enterprise-class BI solution, delivered on a monthly subscription basis, with no further hardware or software required. Everything you need is in the Cloud, delivered as part of that affordable monthly subscription.

For: Reduced risk of implementation because you “pay as you go”. Typically designed to be easy to use. No hardware or software required. Web-based, so accessible from anywhere. Usually faster to implement than traditional alternatives.

Against: Some cloud based business intelligence systems are just that, namely tools that happen to be in the cloud, and which may still require hard work such as data integration. Some customers have security/reliability concerns about the Cloud, although this increasingly isn’t the case nowadays.

For a more detailed look at these Business Intelligence tools, download our free eBook below