For a young business in today’s data-driven world, understanding the state of your operations, customers, and market is easier than ever before. Business intelligence tools, which were strictly in the purview of enterprise-level firms just a decade ago, are increasingly accessible via SaaS platforms and cloud-based analytics suites.
For tech entrepreneurs, using a BI tool means automating a large part of their job without sacrificing the insights and results that come with it. Especially as apps start collecting significant amounts of data once users hop onboard, BI can help entrepreneurs constantly refine and improve their services.
Nevertheless, success with BI isn’t as simple as choosing a platform. Instead, it depends on finding the right BI tool to fit both your product and organisation’s needs. If you’re unsure where to start, this guide will take you through the process of choosing the right BI suite for your growing business.
Start by auditing your data needs and capacity
Before investing a dollar (let alone possibly thousands) into any BI tool, you need to start by understanding exactly what you need from your data and your analytics. Most suites today are sprawling in their capabilities but require the right guidance from you to deliver the most value. This is because, while they often share features and tools, many BI tools are custom-built for specific industries or requirement sets.
Moreover, an entrepreneur, even one with some capital in the bank, may struggle to pay for a service that promises the moon but costs an arm and a leg every month.
The first step in choosing your BI solution is, then, to make a serious audit of your current data capacity and needs—how much data are you collecting, and what is it used for? Additionally, you should understand your budget and what is feasible. Remember, the most expensive doesn’t always translate to the best fit. Instead, the right platform is the one that fits your requirements best.
Decide what type of business intelligence you need
Business intelligence is an umbrella term for a variety of services that are unique in both how they’re deployed and what they offer. Therefore, the kind of BI tool you choose will also have major implications on parameters like costs, the ease with which you can access your data, and its connectivity to other sources.
There are two primary directions to consider when selecting a BI software solution:
- Traditional BI centralises much of the analytics process, using teams of data scientists to parse and curate data to provide reporting and analyses to users who need them. These systems are useful if you need to exert greater control over the analytics process (for security or other reasons), and can be more customisable, but it does slow down your team’s access to data.
- Self-service BI goes the opposite direction, democratising access to BI reports and dashboards for every team member while providing greater ad-hoc analysis capabilities and much more interactive tools. Additionally, it reduces your costs for data scientists and IT, although at the expense of deep and curated analytics.
Beyond these considerations, you can choose to host your BI tools in different locations:
- On-premise tools are installed on physical servers in your office. For entrepreneurs, this is a less appealing concept, as it involves significant upfront costs and adds maintenance expenses to your overheads. However, it delivers greater security, quicker access to data, and grants more control over your BI.
- Cloud-based (or Software-as-a-Service) BI is hosted online, reducing your maintenance costs to the monthly subscription fee you pay. Moreover, it removes the need to keep staff on hand to manage your application, as well as administer it. It’s also fast, scalable, and better for small teams which need flexibility both in terms of costs and resources.
Understand the features you want and need
Once you know what kind of infrastructure you need, it’s time to focus on the nuts and bolts—the features that you’ll be using every day. As we mentioned before, today’s BI tools have myriad features that give you unprecedented control over your data, but there can be too much of a good thing.
Indeed, having too many features that you don’t utilise or need can create bloat across your tech infrastructure, making it harder to scale when your business is ready to grow. Instead, make a list of the specific things you need to do accomplish and extract from your data. Are you looking for sales-oriented analytics? Do you need drill-down reporting? What types of data are you typically interacting with?
Understanding your specific data needs helps you pick out the right features while helping you avoid cost bloat and irrelevant tools.
Map out your future needs
Finally, you not only must consider your present needs but also how your business will look in the future. It’s easy to find a cheap, workable solution for now, but your company will (hopefully) not remain a small startup for long.
Today’s functional BI platform may not be so effective when it has 20 more requests, or 100. The key is to employ your growth projections to uncover solutions that are flexible enough to grow with you without adding significantly to your overheads.
While on-premise solutions may offer some benefits, they tend to be harder to scale since your costs will rise directly proportionate to your growing data needs. On the other hand, cloud solutions may have some downsides, but do grant you the flexibility to grow as needed.
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Find the right fit
Ultimately, there isn’t one right BI tool that fits all, and you shouldn’t be dazzled by any such claims. The right platform will fit your specific data needs and give you the right tools and features to make the most out of your existing capacity while leaving ample room to grow in the future.