In the past, business intelligence (BI) was a field of interest to companies dealing with statistics and analytics. However, after some of the biggest corporations started to show interest in this area, and found ways to utilize on it, the use of business intelligence spread to small, medium and larger companies as well. Business intelligence is a process of analyzing data in order to improve overall performance. The key people collect, retrieve, store, and examine data so that they can later make better-informed decisions. The most important part of a BI analytics process is a self-service business intelligence tool that enables companies to assess its business performance, market trends and processes to improve internal operations and outside corporate strategies. There are three categories of self-service business intelligence tools #1. Reporting tools A reporting self-service business intelligence tool generates reports, which are in electronic formats that usually revolve around organizing and planning finances, performance management or budgeting. These tools can be quite basic report generators, like SAP Crystal Reports, or a piece of software that is combined with elaborate enterprise resource planning such as E-Business suite tool. #2. Querying tools These tools are used to run queries that are often used in order to give data analysis to a certain point. #3. Complex analytics tools These tools perform more sophisticated data analysis by approaching issues with methods such as predictive analysis. These tools are supported and surrounded by a business intelligence analytics infrastructure. This infrastructure is designed to enable access to a wide range of data, including public clouds and the Web. Business intelligence architectures usually include rapid query generation development tools, integration tools and quick infrastructure build capabilities, so that they can combine data that comes from multiple sources. How BI analytics can benefit your company Analytics and BI processes are the core of leveraging information in order to gain an advantage over the competition, determine and tweak a business strategy and reduce risks and operational costs of a business. Furthermore, well-built BI analytics systems will empower C-suite executives with an all-around view of the whole business organization, with alerts and updates that are usually almost real time. This valuable data will create a strong foundation for business process redesign and analysis, agile marketing and performance management on the fly. Additionally, a self-service business intelligence tool can allow you to incorporate feedback from external customers and internal users to help improve areas like customer experience management or help desk operations. A person that needs to use a self-service business intelligence tool the most is someone who has a role in upper management – a chief marketing officer or a CFO. Business analysts and people from their staffs in finances or marketing departments can also find great use for these tools. Features to consider These are the must-have features business organizations need in general: Comprehensive data sources: access to a wide range of file types and databases such as text files, XML and Excel are the foundation of every BI product. More and more BI analytics tools are giving access to specifically targeted applications such as NoSQL or Salesforce databases. Visualization: make sure that the BI analytics tool you choose has a line, bar, radar, area and pie chart types included. Also you should look to get a tool that can match and mix combinations of these charts. These visualizations will make it easier to overlook data and compare and that’s why they are so important. Data filters: the product you buy should have the option to give tabular reports or to filter visualizations by data values. Features like slicers, lists and search filters are best for proper filtering. The product should also have a drill-down option that can allow you to look at the data in summarized fashion, or in a detailed way. Drill-down is essential for both visualizations and tabular reports. Export and print: a good BI product should be able to print tabular and visualizations and export them to PDF or some other graphics. If you want readable tabular reports they should be exportable as text files at least, and even better as spreadsheets. Data exchange: your software must have the ability to export and import data with various products; the most essential ones include Microsoft office products, such as Excel. Client user interface which is web-based: having a web-based client user interface is a must have, no doubt about it. This is becoming an industry trend since it is more resource and cost effective than desktop interfaces. The feature can also come quite handy if your BI application administrator and creator roles are web-based as well. How to purchase a BI analytics software As a buyer, you should know that the difference between business intelligence software packages and similar markets like enterprise content management is not always clear. There are no “one size fits all” products that support analytics and BI applications. If you plan on contacting some larger vendors the negotiations will revolve around customization efforts and initial design both on seller’s and buyer’s side. Even when it comes to public clouds, it’s usually impossible to create a proper BI analytics system all by yourself, and you will be forced to go through vendor offerings. They include things that are far beyond business intelligence and analytics software. When you are buying more than just the cloud, implementations services and provisioning support are probably going to be included in the price. Summary If you are still wondering whether or not you should use a self-service business intelligence tool, the answer is yes. Still, make sure that you carefully assess and compare various vendor products, and how they fit your need. Also, consider if they should be able to support upcoming technologies. Determine your company’s needs first and then go looking for an adequate self-service business intelligence tool. 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