In today's Business Intelligence thriving market there are thousands of providers and solutions out there, so if you are looking around for a suitable solution for your business you will find plenty of options. But what makes a BI application the right solution for your organization? There are a lot to choose from: some are flashy, others are plain, some are expensive while others are available in free but limited versions.
In order to answer your question, you must first remind yourself what stands at the basis of Business Intelligence. A good BI application will provide simple access to any aspect of your data whenever it's necessary, ultimately leading to insightful business decisions. How can you tell this is achievable with the application you are reviewing? Can you be sure that an application will answer your business specific needs before acquirying it? And also, what are the key features and properties you should look for in a BI application?
To answer all these questions, we must look at some of the most valuable functionalities that established and reliable Business Intelligence solutions have to offer and note why each functionality is either a must-have or an optional feature for your business needs. At a first glance you might overlook some features that are essential to a good BI application so we will review each one, from the most basic to the more complex, in order to help you gain a better understanding of their usability.
Who has the spare time to wait one hour for a report to run, which might not even give the answer they were looking for? Having the answer in an hour might be a good thing, but never the less, that sluggish report might only bring you one step closer to the answer or it might just trigger another question that needs to be answered. This is why performance is so important. Luckily, today's technologies and methodologies allow fast querying and processing within seconds, even for large databases and billion dollar businesses; technologies such as Massive Paralel Processing (look at Netezza, Teradata, Hive/Hadoop) and methodologies such as summary to detail tables, semantic layers, physical and logical partitioning make it all possible. You want a BI app that offers you timely reports and blazing fast performance.
Usability improves when Business Intelligence applications react to the user's input. This is why it is always very practical to have your selected items highlighted as filters are triggered, indicating your current selections. For example, when a user filters by a customer, the application should show all the relevant items in a highlighted color. This avoids confusion and helps the user, no matter what his level of expertise is in using the application, to feel confortable while using it and be diligent with each reporting and data analysis task.
Interactive charts convey a key feature, making BI web applications more intuitive for the end users. These charts help transform the raw data, which can rapidly proove itself to be quite overwhelming, into clear and ease to read visual aids that show users the answers to their questions. Moreover, users should be able to hover over any aspect of the graph to reveal more information. Also, the graphs and charts must readjust each time a new filter is applied for a different visualization. One final aspect that is always nice to include when comparing data analytics applications is the look and feel of these charts. Are they well designed? Do you easily understand their meanings? If so, then that's the app for you!
BI applications are purposed to empower the end users to quickly and efficiently analyze data. This is why a reliable application must instantly refresh itself when selections are made instead of always reloading a new page or forcing users to click the refresh button over and over again. When you think about today's data analysis complexity level, you quickly realize that wasting a few precious seconds every time an emoplyee hits refresh can have a strong negative outcome on your organization's productivity. For this significant reason, we recommend choosing a BI application that works seamlessly and ensures efficiency amongst your company's workers.
The ability to save any of your reports is a great time saving feature, especially for those who frequently sort and filter by the same criteria. Rather than making the same selections and calculations every time, saved reports let you store that criteria for easy access in the future. The ability to work on a previously saved report and make new modifications is just as important, just be sure to save the altered report as a different version if you wish to keep them both.
As mobile devices become more prevalent, Business Intelligence applications must be available on the fly, both on your office work station and on a smaller device that you can easily use in a meeting or board presentation. For instance, the application that you decide to purchase should automatically display your data seamlessly, whether you are viewing it on your computer, on your laptop or on your tablet. Just imagine the benefit of showing some insightful stats, charts or report conclusions to your co-workers and board members without having to drag your computer around with you and without hurting the environment by printing pages after pages. Having your Business Intelligence application available for you any time you want on your tablet is ideal because it keeps you connected to your valuable data and it offers you a great way to visualize it at any time you desire.
Intuitive, easy to use interface
Possibily one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing the right BI solution for your business is it's usability. Nowadays it is faster to give the analysts the power of creating their own reports, the power of defining the problem and answering their own questions too. Long are gone the days when the IT department could allocate people and time to be debriefed and then create a sales report or to figure out what items to include on a sale. In today's expeditious world, the questions are significantly more complex, such as identifying customer behaviors or understanding shopping trends and seasonability. These demanding inquiries oftenly require several report development iterations and updates. The most successful BI tools are giving the analysts the means to put together their own report without help or assistance from anyone else and this should definitely be a must for your BI application as well.
Choosing the optimal Business Intelligence application to answer your organization's needs can be a demanding task if you don’t know what you should look for. Keeping in mind that your final choice should largely depend on your industry, your organizational business needs and your data structure, this list of essential features should serve you as a handy checklist of the main aspects to look for before deciding on the right solution.
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