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How Do You Decide Which BI Tool to Use?

When talking with service providers, you can easily get distracted by the potential benefits a new business intelligence tool could bring your company. Before moving forward, make sure your basic needs will be met by using the following checklist:

  1. How important is speed? Do you need reports that deliver information in real-time, or can you work with information that is, say, a few days old? Real-time reporting keeps you on top of what’s happening in the business up to the minute, but accepting a little data lag may allow more time for collaboration and interaction among business units. Either direction will have dramatic impacts on costs, implementation and supporting system selection. Which will be of more use to your company and will fit your budget?

  2. How far down will you need to go? How deep do you want to go in reporting? Do you want historical reports? Do you want to go to the SKU level, the sub-account level, or the meta-data level? Do you need strong analysis on current operations? Predictive capabilities? Automated, customized reports? Self-service or self-generated reports so that people in various departments can summon reports on just about anything they want to know? Do your employees need just text and numbers, or do you want data visualization too? Data visualization adds complexity to the tool as does self-generated (rather than IT-generated) reporting.

    Knowing in advance how much you need to know, how many ways you need to know it, and how dynamic you want the reporting to be will quickly help narrow down the universe of BI tools.

  3. What kind of breadth to you expect out of your BI system? How far do you want to go in terms of users and data contributors? Are you looking for reporting to be for internal use only, or do you want some outsiders to participate too, such as business partners, vendors, and customers? The wider you cast the net, the more you’ll need to think about accessibility, security issues, and control measures.

  4. How easy is it to use? If you’re opening up your BI system to many users, you’ll need to think about its ease of use. This is a key issue if you’ll be asking employees who don’t usually need to get involved with data gathering or analysis to be involved with a new process. Ease of use could be a deal-breaker for when you’re torn between two options. Even for experienced Excel users, a BI system can be highly complex and slow. Many companies use outside consultants to help set up initial and ongoing reports. It can be far from simple to get the most out of any of these systems.

  5. What will be the focus? If you plan to use the BI tool primarily for operations, you may need many reports on a daily basis. But if you’ll be using it more for making strategic decisions, you may need fewer, less complex reports per month. Depending on your needs, see how the system in front of you will handle output.

In addition to this checklist, consider how closely the vendors at the top of your list will assist you on the system moving forward and how much that work may cost you.