The dos and don’ts of picking new BI tools

Business intelligence software is critical for effective of data analytics. We run through the dos and don’ts of picking new BI tools.

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Choosing a new business intelligence (BI) tool can be a confusing, time-consuming and, frankly, exhausting process. It’s also an anxiety-inducing one: Companies are willing to shell out millions on business intelligence software, yet picking the wrong tool can set their business back months.

With so many BI tools on the market now, choosing the wrong one is far too easy. This is a big factor contributing to the fact that 87% of businesses haven’t reached business intelligence maturity yet.

Business intelligence doesn’t have to be so complicated. So, to help aid you in the process, let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of picking your new BI tool – and some key questions to ask yourself before you pull the trigger.


DO think about the actual use cases you need the BI tool for

Before picking a new business intelligence software, you need to sit down and figure out exactly what use cases you need it for. A great way to do this is to start by defining the problem you want the tool to solve, and to work from there.

Do you need to visualise data better? Then high-level, attractive visualization features might be high up on your list.

Do you need comprehensive data extractions? If so, make sure your new tool has these capabilities.

Do you need your reports to be more complex so you can get more granular detail, or do you need simple summarisations? Pick a business intelligence solution that fits these needs.

Once you know exactly what you need from a tool, then you can start to understand the features that are required. Some common ones include:

  • Data visualizations: This is the graphical representation of information and data using visual elements to see and understand your data better
  • Pivot table: This allows you to build a report from a list of dimensions and metrics
  • Filtering: This is when you can filter reports by different custom values
  • Drill down: The ability to drill down into a detailed report from a high-level report
  • Platform alerts through email, Slack or other communication tools
  • Scheduled email reports that provide daily or weekly updates


DON’T choose a tool too complicated for your team to use

Every SaaS vendor will sell you their product with talk of all sorts of brilliant, game-changing features. It’s what they do. But, no matter how brilliant and innovative their solution is, if your team can’t use it, then it has no value for your business.

Therefore, before picking a tool, don’t forget to evaluate how data literate your team is. For example, think about what kind of reports are going to suit them best. Are they technically capable, so would prefer a more fine-grained way to prepare reports using SQL queries? Or are they non-technical, and therefore better suited for a drag and drop interface? Make sure you include their needs in the decision-making process.

Getting an innovative tool with flashy features that no one can use is going to waste time and money. So make sure you pick a tool that fits the skills of your team.


DON’T assume it will solve all your data problems

The BI tool you select is only as good as the data it accesses. If you’re struggling with issues such as data retrieval, then even the best business intelligence tool can’t help you. Before you choose a new BI tool, make sure you’re getting the most out of your data by ensuring its accuracy, validity and completeness.


DO think about your data storage and ownership needs

Are you already using a database for reporting or warehousing purposes, or are you looking for a platform that will do this for you? This is an important question to answer before you go about choosing a new BI tool.

Some business intelligence tools integrate your existing database data into their software and use it to generate reports, meaning you don’t have to set up your own data infrastructure first. This is a model that works really well if your data is still small and fragmented. But as your datasets keep growing, the costs will also increase for most BI tools. It also means you’re limited to the tool’s functionality.

If you have too much data for it to use a BI tool for warehousing purposes, then you might think about building your own data warehouse. Check out Towards Data Science’s intro on the topic for more info.


DON’T forget to check data security

Data security is something that has a habit of falling to the back of your mind. That is, until there’s a disaster that shakes your business to its core.

So ensure that you don’t make the mistake of forgetting about data governance when picking a new BI tool. After all, when you hand over your data, you’re handing your companies most precious resource. Conduct a thorough check of how the company is storing your data by asking questions like:

  • What level of data governance is in place?
  • Who sees what and why?
  • Are they GPDR compliant?
  • Are there security and compliance features such as object and row-level security, single sign-on, and user access permissions by team or role?
  • Does the tool have compliance certifications such as SOC II, GDPR, CSA, CCPA, HIPAA, and Privacy Shield?

This can end up being a lengthy process but, when it comes to data protection, we’d recommend taking no risks.

RELATED: The death of business intelligence: How AI will wipe out BI


DO a hands-on evaluation of the tool

Product demos are always going to make the platform look brilliant, but you can only really know how well the tool is going to work by trying it. Fortunately, most BI tools offer a free trial so you can see if it’s a good fit before you pay (including our automated KPI tracking platform, Millimetric).

While conducting this trial, conduct hands-on testing of all the features that you’re going to need. Check for how effective tech support is, and whether it costs extra. Get to grips with how intuitive the platform is, and whether it suits all the needs of your team.



DON’T forget your existing infrastructure

We’ve already spoken about how business intelligence tools need to be compatible with your data warehousing needs. But, there are more questions regarding your infrastructure than this. You also need to consider how easily the tool will integrate with your current business processes. Ask yourself whether this new tool integrates with your existing digital platforms, your everyday office applications, ERP and more.


DON’T discount smaller vendors

The business intelligence software world is dominated by a handful of giants: Microsoft Power BI, Tableau and Sisense to name some of the biggest players in the industry. But just because these are the most popular tools doesn’t make them automatically the best fit for your company.

Today, some of the most exciting innovations in the business intelligence space come from the smaller, more agile players. And they may have created a tool more specific to your needs than the more established platform. For example, our BI tool, Millimetric, uses AI to detect anomalies in real time using AI and alerts users to issues in their data and the related metrics straight away so users can fix the problems before they have a chance to damage digital performance. This is a capability that you won’t find on many of the bigger platforms, but has saved our clients tens of thousands each month.

Smaller players may also be much more affordable, so don’t discount them just because they aren’t as well known.


Other questions to consider when choosing your new BI tool

Here are a few other questions to might want to consider while you’re making your choice:

  • Is the pricing worth it, or can you find the same capabilities in a cheaper – or even free – tool?
  • Can teams collaborate on the platform and build on each other’s work?
  • Does it have last-mile data prep capabilities?
  • How easy is it to analyse semi-structured data?
  • Is it built for cloud data warehouses?
  • Is self-service an important factor for you?
  • Is the tool able to scale affordably?
  • Does it allow for effective management of users?


Good luck with your search!


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