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In today’s landscape, data drives all business decisions. Companies rely on big data for decision making such as cutting costs, understanding how to compete in their industry, and identifying business opportunities in the current economic climate. Business Intelligence Software can be an effective way to make these high level business decisions.

What is Business Intelligence?

The Definitive Guide
to Business Intelligence

BetterBuys Definitive Guide to Business Intelligence Screenshot
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Business intelligence refers to the methods and technologies that businesses use to gather and analyze raw data to help companies make business decisions. Business intelligence is not a new concept – the term was first introduced in the late 1980s but didn’t gain widespread usage until the early 2000s.  In the beginning, the IT department would run complex  business analytics reports and share them with top executives. Now, thanks to a wide range of BI tools, any business user can create reports with a click of their mouse. Most BI tools provide a self-service model that allows users the ability to customize their reports with different data sources and data visualizations.

Business Intelligence Software also gives businesses convenient storage of their data where it can be viewed and combined into reports. Rather than each department and functional area keeping its own databases and documents, business intelligence software collects all of that information and combines it in one tool where it can easily be accessed, organized, and used to make business decisions.

Benefits of Business Intelligence Tools

Businesses today have access to more data than ever.  But collecting and analyzing that data and turning it into useful information is a big challenge.  Business intelligence can help decision makers get access to the data they need so they can quickly adapt to changing conditions and identify new opportunities.

That Information might be used in any number of different ways, including:

  • Creating reports about their customer groups and use that to identify the most effective segments of their market to target
  • Looking more closely at spending to identify unnecessary costs
  • Tracking the performance of different marketing campaigns or sales strategies
  • Forecasting future revenue and spending to formulate budgets, and
  • Analyzing business processes to look for opportunities to cut costs

Common Features of BI Software

Dashboards – Dashboards are a tool that displays all of the important data a user needs on a single screen. From this dashboard, a user can make edits, arrange information, and pull data from different sources. Dashboards can also be customized for individual users or departments. Vendors that offer BI dashboards include First(see below), Oracle, and Microsoft.

Data Analytics – Data Analytics analyzes raw data sets for trends and information that can be converted into metrics for decision makers. The metrics play a key role in making informed decisions that improve business processes.

Data Warehousing – The purpose of a data warehouse is to store current and past data for retrieval. A Company can also access real-time data, archive older reports, and set up templates to run reports.

Data Integration – A Key function of business intelligence tools is pulling data from various sources throughout the company and integrating it together so users can view it all in the same place, in a single format.

Mobile BI – Almost all BI Tools offer a mobile app to track your data in real-time. This is especially handy for sales teams, business owners, and other end users who need to access data sets or data-visualizations remotely.

Flexible Deployment Offerings –When implementing software, companies have different deployment options they can choose. Primarily, organizations must choose between a traditional software installation, in which the system and all the data is stored on the company’s own network, and a cloud computing option, in which the company pays a subscription to access a system stored on the vendor’s premises.

What to Look For

There are many options to choose from when selecting business intelligence software. Some companies offer web-based access, while others allow you to store information in the cloud, access BI data via mobile applications, or utilize open-based sources.

Before purchasing any solution, companies need to first figure out what their goals and strategies are for utilizing business intelligence – i.e., is the goal to find new business opportunities or focus on specific product offerings?

These are the top things companies should consider when purchasing a BI solution:

  • Cost –Even though BI software costs have decreased in recent years, depending on your company’s size, it can be expensive. You’ll want to do a pricing comparison among different vendors. Some vendors provide open-source platforms, which can be cheaper. Also,factor in number of users per license and what deployment option your company needs – i.e. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) versus the traditional client / server model.
  • Scalability – Does your company anticipate making any changes to its procedures or systems in the future? If so, you’ll want to find a solution that offers the ability to scale up or down, especially if any additional employees are expected to use the software.
  • Ability to work with existing hardware / databases / systems – You’ll want to make sure that the BI software is compatible with any other hardware or systems your company uses, and that your system has the ability to generate reports.
  • Training / support after software deployment– Does the vendor offer training remotely or onsite? You’ll want to choose a vendor that can provide training at your company’s convenience, if feasible – i.e. having a rep conduct training sessions to multiple users at the company’s site.

Also, you’ll want to view any demo of the software before purchasing. And finally, make sure if the vendor provides support after the software is deployed and what kinds of support – i.e., 24/7 tech or customer service support via phone or online.


What is the best BI Software?

All BI tools produced by the large companies are comparable, so it’s hard to choose the best BI tool. They all generally provide similar data-visualization tools, self-service opportunities, and data analytics features. Three of our top reviewed BI software are listed below.

Power BI:

Good: Familiar, easy-to-use interface similar to Excel with the ability to create and import simple visuals.
Bad: No way to publish reports and associated data together with Power BI Desktop; software is under development, so functions like data sharing are subpar.
Bottom Line: A free, cloud-based business intelligence service that’s simple to use, correlates disparate data and gives full visibility of business performance.


Good: Robust drill-down and visualization tools make data approachable for all types of users.
Bad: Customers have mentioned a steep learning curve for executives and the high cost for smaller businesses.
Bottom Line: Tableau offers intuitive business intelligence tools to enhance data discovery and understanding.


Good: Google-like search protocol for finding data, ability to combine data sources, no need to rely on IT.
Bad: Self-service difficulty for non-tech users, some filtering issues at the end user and developer levels.
Bottom Line: Qlik’s in-memory processor vastly speeds up the application and allows it to refresh in real-time, providing insights as data is added.

Check out our extensive reviews and definitive guide to business intelligence software here.