Best Business Intelligence (BI) Software and Platforms for Small Businesses – Online Tech Tips

No matter what type of business you run, you can benefit from business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA). The larger and more complex your operation, the more it can benefit from BI and BA.

Whether you’re trying to tap into the power of “Big Data” or need to help your data analysts develop better insights into your operations, analytics platforms packed with data analysis tools will do 90% of the work for you when you’re faced with decision-making challenges. How can they do this? That’s what we’ll explain in this article while also highlighting some of the best business intelligence software out there today.

Table of Contents

Business Intelligence vs. Business Analytics

While some people may use these terms interchangeably, there’s a world of difference between BI and BA. At the same time, they are like two sides of the same coin since one is only truly valuable with the other.

The “intelligence” in Business Intelligence doesn’t mean “smart.” It means information about your business. The people who manage a business can only make decisions as good as the quality of their information. If they lack information or have the wrong information, they are more likely to make poor decisions.

Therefore, business intelligence is not a new idea, but in the context of a connected, high-tech world, it’s taken on new life. It’s difficult to record most activities within a business, such as stock losses, employee performance, or sales patterns, in near real-time. The problem is dealing with a flood of information so much that it becomes noise.

That’s where Business Analytics comes into the picture. The term “analytics” is quite broad, but it refers to the knowledge and methods used to gain useful information from raw data. That makes it a perfect match for BI. BI technologies accumulate masses of data, and the BA systems parse that data into information that business decision-makers can gain insights from.

When you have BI and BA implemented in your business, you get a view into exactly what’s going on. 

Keeping a Finger On the Pulse with a Dashboard

For most people who have dealt with BI and BA at work, the first thing that comes to mind is the dashboard. Just like a car’s dashboard instruments, your BI dashboard shows you what’s going on at a glance.

Dashboard indicators take BI data and then run it through BA algorithms to produce indicators. The specifics of these indicators will vary from business to business since no two businesses are the same. Of course, this means that you can’t just take a default dashboard template and run with it. You’ll have to develop and customize your own.

Using Predictive Analytics to Avoid a Crisis or Anticipate Opportunities

You don’t just want to know what’s currently happening in your business. You also need to know what’s going to happen in the future. Predictive analytics isn’t exactly a crystal ball. Still, it can help you spot patterns and predict challenges and opportunities that would have been invisible without deep scrutiny of your BI data that’s beyond a human’s capacity to replicate.

You Can Supercharge Customer Data

Whether you make a product or offer a service, it’s vital to know everything you can about your customer. How do they use your product? Are they happy, or is there room for improvement? With BI, you can build data collection points into your customer interactions with your business, product, or services.

BI Platforms You Should Know About

Now that we’ve covered what a business intelligence solution is, it’s an excellent opportunity to highlight some of the best business intelligence tools on the market today, including BI tools that cater to small businesses.

Microsoft Power BI

Power BI is Microsoft’s suite of tools that are designed together, connecting different sources of data in your business to one another. Power BI can generate clear, interactive visual insights from these different data sources that show you exactly what’s going on in your business.

There are three main components to Power BI. On the user side, there’s a Windows application called Power BI Desktop and mobile apps for iOS and Android. There’s the Power BI service on the back-end, which runs in the cloud and serves the various apps on the front-end.

Power BI offers an intuitive report builder tool that lets you craft custom reports and then publish them for access on the standard end-user apps included with the service. Power BI also provides APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that let you push data from Power BI into your own custom apps.

SAS Business Intelligence & Analytics

SAS’s BI software has developed a reputation for being simple to use, even for non-technical users. According to the user reviews we’ve seen, there’s a strong emphasis on data visualization, and this is one area SAS excels in. It offers far more than a few hard-to-understand graphs.

While there will always be a need for trained data scientists, SAS uses machine learning and natural language explanations to create insights that are easy to understand for anyone without hobbling its functionality as a full-fat advanced analytics solution.

SiSense

SiSense’s main claim to fame is an integrated and embedded business intelligence platform. The company offers a white-label product to build your branding on their analytics tools.

Data integration, in this case, means infusing data collection and analytics into every process, workflow, application, or anywhere else business users can insert the SiSense API.

ZoHo Analytics Self-service BI

ZoHo’s approach to analytics is fresh and free from some of the legacy baggage you’ll see with long-time players in the BI market. It makes connecting disparate data sources intuitive and allows its clients to start gaining insights and building BI monitoring tools rapidly.

The self-service tools reduce reliance on specialist data scientists and help you clean, organize, and otherwise prepare your data independently. ZoHo has also developed a smart AI assistant that can generate insights for you after having a conversation with you and getting a sense of what you need.

ZoHo has also judiciously trimmed the amount of coding necessary to embed BI components from ZoHo in your software and websites. It’s rapidly gaining popularity, and in general, the praise is plentiful. So if you’re intimidated by the idea of complex BI implementations, ZoHo’s self-service model may be for you.

Dundas BI

Dundas BI claims to be “the first fully programmable, end-to-end BI platform of its kind.” and their open API allows users to do virtually anything. Dundas also offers fast analytics thanks to its real-time data connection capabilities. 

If you have a data warehouse, odds are Dundas can hook into it and include data in its analyses as it’s collected. Dundas technology is now partly owned by Microsoft, so if you’re invested in MS SQL or products like Sharepoint, there’s a lot to like here as the two product lines are becoming ever more integrated.

IBM Cognos BI

IBM hasn’t been in the spotlight as much after moving out of the personal computing market. However, the company is still killing it in cloud computing and artificial intelligence. IBM Cognos BI leverages what they’ve been doing in their artificial intelligence research over the decades, which is also where amazing projects such as IBM Watson come from.

Cognos consists of various specialized components. For example, Cognos Query Studio manages ad hoc queries, whereas Cognos Workspace Advanced foes ad hoc queries and data exploration.

Qlik

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While most modern BI solutions offer a relatively short turnaround before you see new data reflected in your dashboards and reports, Qlik markets itself on real-time delivery of insights. With its QlikView and Qlik Sense services, you’re covered for data visualization and cloud-based analytics software, with oodles of horsepower to back it up without hardware investment from you. 

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence

SAP offers a huge suite of enterprise software tools as part of its Business Technology Platform. The BusinessObjects BI suite represents the on-premise data analytics component that’s layered over all the sophisticated back-end systems.

One key aspect of this BI solution is scalability. SAP have made a point of catering to clients with small numbers of users and those with thousands, with the same platform metrics, data sets, features, data discovery tools

BI and BA Come With Risks!

There’s little doubt that any moderately complex business that doesn’t implement some form of BI and BA will be at a significant disadvantage. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone should rush in. Doing BI and BA right is more important than doing it quickly. Doing BI and BA wrong can do more harm than good if it’s set up to give you irrelevant or inaccurate data.

Predictive analytics also comes with caveats. No prediction is 100% accurate, and there’s always the chance that crucial data is missing, creating predictions that overlook key issues. BI and BA are potent tools, but they cannot ever substitute human judgment.

Finally, it’s important to remember that data privacy is an ever-present challenge. There are complex legal and ethical considerations whenever you work with personal information. So this is one avenue of risk that using BI and BA can expose your business to if you aren’t careful.

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