With the increasing trend in enterprises becoming data-driven, business intelligence is becoming more integrated in business processes, and is more vital to the success of an enterprise now more than ever before.
With this trend showing no signs in slowing down, it may be time your organization investigates investing in a business intelligence solution. Regardless of the industry your company is in, there are a plethora of business intelligence solutions at your fingertips.
When evaluating and comparing the myriad number of options, it is critical to keep several things in mind:
- UI and UX
Is the Business Intelligence Solution Compatible with Your Data?
This first point may seem obvious; however, it surprising how limiting some business intelligence solutions can be with the data sources they support. Moreover, with the rise in data’s role in day-to-day business operations, there are more data sources increasing in popularity.
Considering whether the business intelligence solution is compatible with your data is really a matter of individual use-case.
- If you want your BI solution to plug directly into your CRM through an integrated connector, then your options would be more limited than if you are simply bringing in data from more common data sources such as SQL Server or XML files.
- If your data is stored in a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS), then you need to ensure the BI tool will support this - look for support for Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, Postgres, SQLite, etc.
- If your data is file-based, then look for Excel, JSON, CSV, and XML support. RDBMS and file-based data storage seem to be popular in today’s data climate, but we may see trends indicating otherwise in the near future. As data becomes bigger, bulkier, and harder to manage, the demand for storing this data will increase, so it may be worthwhile to look for a business intelligence solution that supports data sources that can host big data, such as Hadoop.
This point about data compatibility, like the other points that follow in this blog, is really all about the use-case.
You know what data connectors you need - so ensure the business intelligence tool you are evaluating supports them!
2. UI and UX
Is the Designer User-Friendly?
What good is a robust business intelligence tool if your end-users cannot utilize it to create ad hoc reports and dashboards? One of the most important things to take into consideration is your end-user audience who will be creating BI reports and dashboards with this solution. Are they technical power users, non-technical business users, or a mix of both?
Often times, the spectrum of end-users’ abilities in report and dashboard creation is not black and white, so it’s important to choose a visual business intelligence solution that will be able to be utilized by document authors in all roles with a clean, organized UI, intuitive UX, and versatile report/dashboard designers.
When it comes to being user friendly with a visual BI tool, one of the primary factors to take into consideration is the UI and UX of the product.
Evaluating the UI and UX of a Business Intelligence Solution
When evaluating such a solution for your organization, take a look at the UI and consider the following:
- Does it look familiar to other applications your end-users are used to interacting with?
- Is everything the user needs to best utilize the tool easy to access?
- Is the layout across different pages consistent, clean, and easy to understand?
- Is the color scheme easy on the eyes? If not, can you change it?
The UX of the solution is also important to consider, as it lies very closely with the UI. Take into consideration the following points when it comes to the business intelligence solution’s UX:
- Is it clear what process the end-user needs to follow to utilize all features of the tool?
- Is this user process logical, or will it confuse the average end-user?
- Does the product place more importance in ease of use rather than how aesthetically pleasing it is?
- Are there any barriers that may block or prolong user actions, or otherwise confuse the end-user?
Both UI and UX are critical when evaluating a business intelligence solution. While a fresh, clean, and clear UI is important, it is even more essential that the tool has a natural UX that won’t confuse end-users.
Even more critical than both UI and UX is the final result of using the tool- at the end of the day, will it allow end-users to create the business intelligence reports and dashboards that will help drive the success of the organization?
Is the Business Intelligence Solution Embeddable?
This point to consider may be dependent on your individual use case and requirements in some situations. If you are looking for a stand-alone business intelligence solution for internal use, then it may not be a requirement that the solution be easily embeddable. However, if your project involves embedding the business intelligence tool within an existing application, then this is a critical aspect to consider.
Whether embedding the BI solution in an application for internal enterprise use or embedding it in a SaaS solution, it is vital that the solution be easily embeddable.
It’s important for a solution to be easily embeddable for multiple reasons. Firstly, you don’t want your developers spending any more time than necessary working on integrating a solution within your application. This is one of the key benefits of using an external BI tool vs building your own in-house BI tool.
Next, embedding the solution typically allows for single sign-on in your application, so end-users have a seamless experience when navigating from your application to the embedded business intelligence solution. This is vital to the end-user experience because you do not want the end-user to have to leave your application for any reason- everything that they need to do should be able to be done without leaving the application.
With all of this in mind, it is up to you to decide if embedding the solution falls under your requirements - if it does not, you will have an easy time finding a stand-alone visual business intelligence tool.
If being embeddable is a requirement of yours, then you will want to spend some time looking at the documentation, SDKs, API, and other resources for each product being evaluated to understand any challenges you may face when looking to embed the solution into your application. This may require a substantial time commitment during the evaluation phase, but it will be worth the payoff later down the road when you are able to easily embed and integrate the business intelligence tool into your application.
Is the Business Intelligence Solution Customizable?
I wanted to include this point because many business intelligence solutions in today’s market do not support extensive customization. If you are embedding this solution within your application, it should be on your list of requirements that the BI tool support white-labeling.
If you are embedding a business intelligence solution within your application, it’s imperative that you check if the solution supports the many aspects of white-labeling.
First, take a look at color schemes. If red is the primary color in your organization’s or app’s color scheme, then you need to be able to customize the embedded solution to match the same color red so that your app maintains a feeling of immersion when users navigate from the application’s home page to the business intelligence section, where your tool is embedded.
Arguably even more important than the color scheme when it comes to white-labeling is the ability to change logos used throughout the solution. No matter what BI tool you choose, it will have its own logo displayed throughout the UI. You’ll want to change these logos to match your app’s logo or your organization’s logo so that end-users are not aware they are using a third-party software. A highly customizable solution will offer your own custom logos for a login screen, page header logo, mobile logo, and favicon.
Advanced white-labeling as described above should be a requirement for anyone looking to embed the business intelligence solution into their application. If part of your application does not fit in with the rest of the application, then the end-user will sense a disconnect and the overarching user experience will not be as exceptional as it would be with a solution that can match your own look and feel.
Is the Business Intelligence Solution Within Your Budget?
The final point I will cover in this list is arguably the most important for you to consider when evaluating visual business intelligence solutions. Budgetary constraints are one of the top driving factors in settling on a BI tool. In a situation where your budget cannot afford the perfect BI tool, you will need to prioritize each solution’s features and capabilities and take into consideration the licensing and pricing aspects of each product.
When it comes to finding the right business intelligence tool, you will need to factor in how the solution is licensed.
There are typically two different options when it comes to a license: annual subscription based, or perpetual. The former is typically a less expensive up-front cost, but remains the same cost year over year, or, in some cases, can even increase after a certain number of years. For large enterprises with a reliable and consistent revenue stream, annual licensing should not be a turn off. However, for start ups and smaller organizations, annual licensing may seem intimidating, as it should.
If you have a down year and cannot fit the product’s annual fee in your budget, you risk losing the product’s functionality in your application. On the other hand, perpetual licenses will typically cost significantly more up-front, but significantly less year over year.
With a perpetual license, you only need to worry about the initial purchase- any fees after that (annual or otherwise) should only be an optional add-on since the license is perpetual. Some BI solutions will have both licensing options available, but most will only be one or the other. As with most other items listed in this blog, the type of license to go with is fairly subjective, but it is wise to thoroughly research the licensing models before making a final decision.
Total Cost of Ownership
The other critical factor when it comes to finding a solution within your budget is user-based fees. Solutions with concurrent user limits are generally not sustainable because it will cost you more to scale up the number of end-users accessing the solution. You should always look for solutions with no concurrent user limits or user-based fees so that you can continue growing the number of end-users using your application without additional costs.
Look into the total cost of ownership (TCO) and how it will influence pricing. A software offering's TCO may be low while they have 50 users, but what will the TCO be when they have 251 users?
Explore BI solutions that offer server-based licensing. With server-based licensing, as your application scales and you add users, your licensing fees remain consistent. Server-based licensing allows for predictable annual budgeting with no hidden fees.
Indeed, there is more to choosing a business intelligence solution than just picking one that has aesthetically pleasing demos on the website. There is a great deal to consider before investing in such a solution, and most of it will be dictated by your own personal requirements. One thing is for certain: the growing trend in visual business intelligence is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
If you’re still on the fence about whether BI is something worth investing in, take the time now to do your research. Without a business intelligence tool, you may be missing or overlooking critical insights in your data that could completely change the course of your organization’s success.
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