Business Intelligence Reporting Tools

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 09, 2012

Business Intelligence Reporting Tools

Business intelligence is the field of the future. With ultra-competitive companies striving for dominance, and more consumers migrating to computers, smartphones, and tablets to satisfy their purchasing needs, the ability to gather and analyze customer data is essential.

However, the rise in demand for business intelligence means that more vendors are offering tools for BI, in an increasingly complex array of suites and configurations. Deciding how much BI you need, and which tools you should use to gather it, can be tough.
Here are a few things you should consider while scouting business intelligence tools.

How can BI tools help you?

  • The primary objective of business intelligence is to determine what drives your business activity. The data that's gathered and analyzed with BI tools will allow you to:
  • Improve your strategic and operational planning
  • Make decisions based on facts instead of guesswork
  • Grow your customer knowledge, identify new markets, and improve customer retention
  • Monitor the execution of new plans for improvement
  • Business intelligence tools can help to increase revenue, reduce costs, improve communication, and enhance both employee and customer satisfaction.

Evaluating your BI goals

When selecting any tool, the first step is to define the job. You should develop a list of objectives that you want to achieve through your BI practices, and seek out tools that will let you meet those objectives.

In addition, it's a good idea to consider both your existing IT infrastructure and your company's internal culture. Business intelligence tools should be easily integrated into your system. They should also provide reporting capabilities that complement the way your company does business, both internally and externally.

Tool types: A brief overview

There are different types of business intelligence tools. Your business may need one or more of these types in order to achieve your objectives:

  • ETL: Extract, Transform, Load. ETL tools bring in data from outside sources, transform it to meet your specified operational needs, and then load the results into your company database.
  • OLAP: Online Analytical Processing. These are multi-dimensional analytical tools, typically used in data mining, that gather and process vast amounts of information into useful packets.
  • Reporting tools: This type of tool is used to arrange information into a readable format and distribute it to the people who need it.
  • Metadata tools: As the name suggests, these tools gather and analyze metadata, helping to increase data quality.

Features to look for

Once you've decided which types of tools will work for your business, it's time to start comparing software. As with any investment, it's important to review the features of business intelligence tools before you commit to buying. Live demos or trial periods are the best way to test out features.

You should also consider:

  • Cost. This includes the licensing cost, but it's a good idea to also consider implementation and training time, and whether you'll need to upgrade your infrastructure.
  • Platform. How well does it integrate with your current systems? Look for the ability to upgrade or expand as your business grows.
  • Access. Most of today’s companies can benefit from high accessibility, so it's a plus if you can use the tool from your PC, through a browser, and with a smartphone or tablet.
  • Vendor support. Make sure you have full access to support and training. It's helpful if the vendor or reseller has a local presence.

The right tools for the job

With some planning, preparation, and testing, you can ensure that your business intelligence tools are the ideal fit for your business. What do you need from your BI tools?

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