Business Intelligence Tools: What Are They and What Do They Do?business intelligence tools

Before understanding the need for business intelligence tools, it’s critical to know: what is business intelligence? Business intelligence is a set of processes, theories and methodologies that transform raw data into information that companies can use for business purposes.

This is why business intelligence tools are so vital: they retrieve and help analyze data in a way that makes it meaningful and useful. They also store the data in an accessible way so that it can be easily referenced.

BI tools are commonly standalones or suites of tools that are targeted to a certain industry. A few examples are:

  • Spreadsheets. A spreadsheet is a computer application program designed to calculate values, store data, organize content and create formulas. Microsoft Excel is among the most recognizable spreadsheet programs available.
  • Reporting and querying software. Reporting software is a business intelligence reporting tool used to create readable reports from a variety of data sources. Examples include ActiveReports, Actuate, InetSoft and Oracle Reports.
  • OLAP. Online analytical processing, or OLAP, is a way of answering multi-dimensional analytical questions quickly. Common applications of OLAP are business reporting for sales, management reporting, marketing, financial reporting and more.
  • Digital dashboards. A business intelligence dashboard is a visual, graphical presentation of the current status and trends of a business’s key performance indicators. This enables viewers to make an instant and informed decision at a quick glance.
  • Data warehousing. A data warehouse is a database used for reporting and data analysis. It stores current and historical data and is used for generating trending reports.
  • Decision engineering. Decision engineering is a clear structure that incorporates a number of best practices for organized decision making. It improves decision making because it helps companies navigate much more easily through complex systems.
  • Business performance management. By enabling businesses to define their strategic goals and measure their performance against those goals, business performance management makes financial planning, operational planning and business monitors much easier. BPM makes this possible through a set of management and analytic processes sustained by technology.
  • Local information systems. The primary function of a local information system is to report statistical data through supported geographic reporting. It’s built with some of the best business intelligence tools in order to store and retrieve date and documents.

Before deciding on a specific tool to use, be sure to make a business intelligence tools comparison. Doing so will help you visualize which tools will be the most effective in gathering and analyzing data for your projects. A business intelligence tool that might be right for one company may not be the right fit for you. It depends on what your business’s goals are and how you want to accomplish them.

What are the Benefits of Using Business Intelligence Tools?

It’s one thing to understand the need for BI tools like business intelligence dashboards and spreadsheets, and it’s another to know the benefits that come with using them.  Any business intelligence analyst would recommend thoroughly understanding the benefits of such tools before pursuing them in order to have a reasonable expectation for the results. The following list outlines eight ways that B2B business intelligence tools can help an organization become more efficient and successful:

  1. Complex tracking and monitoring business activities are simplified.
  2. Updates about competitors, customer trends and potential markets are easily tracked.
  3. The analysis and presentation of large volumes of transaction are made possible with the help of a simple program.
  4. Corrective and preventive measures are evaluated in a timely manner.
  5. The KPI is effectively measured which helps in effective decision making.
  6. An analysis of business processes are run to better define which industry standards and best practices to adopt.
  7. The future behavior of prospects, customers and the micro-economy are predicted more easily and quickly.
  8. The integration of processes, operations, systems and data are effectively addressed.

Business intelligence reporting and business intelligence research produce so much more progress and information than simple reporting and research without the help of BI reporting tools. However, many companies hold off on implementing tools like BI dashboard tools because the thought of incorporating new tools into their strategic system can seem overwhelming and confusing. How do you know which tools to use or purchase if you don’t have any business intelligence insight? That’s when it’s time to recruit the help of business intelligence services that can point you in the right direction.

What are the Top Business Intelligence Trends?

Knowing the most recent business intelligence trends can also help you decide which BI tools and programs to look into. Here are a few of the top trends for 2013:

  • Dashboards. BI dashboards were rated the top priority for innovation and expansion in the 2012 Successful BI Survey. Dashboards provide a focus on the right metrics through in-memory processing, KPIs, faceted search and the ability to combine insight and action.
  • Self-Service BI. Visual-data-discovery tools, which have become synonymous with self-service BI, empower users to explore new data sets without much help from IT support. They are growing three times the rate of the overall BI market.
  • Big Data. Web clicks, tweets and genomic data are examples of big data that are critical in certain industries. Companies have begun embracing new solutions from big data startups like Datameer, Platfora, Karmasphere and SiSense. Other companies will influence their big data connectors with the BI tools they already have. Thus, big data will continue to be important.
  • Cloud. Although Cloud only accounts for 3% of total BI revenues, it’s getting a lot of attention. Many CIOs want the chance to outsource infrastructure maintenance problems and focus more on high-value IT investments. BI in the cloud offers that chance and it makes handling variable workload demands much easier.
  • In-Memory. In-memory technology had several huge releases in 2012 which has made it popular among the leading BI platform vendors. These leading platform vendors are all using this business intelligence solution to help run core transactional applications like OLTP.

Taking note of the top business intelligence trends is not only smart, but critical, as it can help in developing a system that’s both efficient and effective.

Considering the Importance of Time to Value in Business Intelligence

When determining what BI tools to invest your time, efforts and resources into, it’s important to decipher where their real value lies. This is another reason why making a BI tools comparison is absolutely necessary. You should make a decision based on what is going to be the most profitable for your company. When looking at time to value, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Identify what “time to value” means to you. What level of value is worth spending large amounts of time on? Is something more valuable if it takes less time to see results? How much time are you willing to spend to see valuable results? Answering these questions will help you determine what value and time in relation to each other mean to you.
  2. Set realistic expectations related to initial implementation times. This depends on new implementation or upgrade, technology used, complexity of data, delivery platform and the development of business rules. You can’t expect to see amazing results in a certain amount of time if it’s just not realistic with the setup you already have.
  3. Recognize what you can accept based on realistic expectations, as some solutions may increase in value over a longer period of time. Once you’ve determined your realistic expectations, take time to consider if you can accept that. Are you willing to accept the fact that it’s going to take a while to see the results you want to see now? Accepting the reality of time and progress now will make things much easier when results don’t come as quickly as you think they should.
  4. Make a list of the factors you will need to consider once you implement a solution. It’s not enough to simply integrate a new solution into your system and walk away thinking things will get worked out without any issues. Preparing for problems before they happen will make solving them that much easier. Make sure you have a list of things to consider once you “press start” so to speak before you implement a solution.
  5. Evaluate the level of value based on the targeted audience. Who you’re targeting your product or service at does make a difference in what your ROI will be. Make sure you understand this before setting any expectations, because the level of value will differ based on the audience you’re marketing you’re targeting.

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