Best Business Intelligence Software and Tools

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The phrase "business intelligence" has meant a lot of different things over the decades it has been in use. In general, it refers to the practice of analyzing data related to a business's operations. Today, business intelligence companies of all sizes rely heavily on software to help them perform that analysis, and most modern business intelligence, or BI, platforms have a fairly well-defined set of capabilities:

  • Data preparation
  • Data mining
  • Reporting
  • Benchmarking
  • Data visualizations

Some business intelligence software also incorporates other capabilities like advanced analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) features.

Business Intelligence tools are very similar to analytics platforms, but the key difference is that BI software generally primarily utilizes structured data that resides in databases, while analytics tools can ingest and analyze unstructured data as well.

In addition, BI software is meant to be used by ordinary businesspeople, while many analytics tools are more tailored for data scientists or specialized analysts. In keeping with this trend toward greater usability, BI software is also generally easier to deploy and more affordable than an analytics platform.

While more enterprises are investing in advanced analytics, most also continue to use BI tools for a lot of their day-to-day analysis and reporting.

How to Select BI Software

If you're shopping for a business intelligence (BI) platform, you will have no shortage of vendors to choose from. Many dozens of different software companies offer BI software with a wide range of capabilities. The following tips can help you narrow down your list of contenders:

  • Understand your integration needs. Where will the data that feeds your business intelligence software come from? Does it reside in the cloud or on-premises? Are you particularly reliant on enterprise software from a particular vendor? You will need to make sure that whichever business intelligence software you choose is able to easily ingest data from your sources without adding a lot to your total costs. You may also want to feed data from your BI tools into other applications, which will add to your integration needs.
  • Determine your deployment preferences. Most BI software is moving to the cloud, and some tools are available only as software as a service (SaaS). If you need or want to host your own application on premises, that will reduce your available options. If you need flexibility, consider a BI tool that can run anywhere — on premises or in a cloud.
  • Think about scalability. How many people in your organization will need to access your BI application today and in the future? Also, how quickly is your data growing? And are you adding new business applications that will need to interact with your BI software? Some business intelligence software scales better than others, so consider how the size of your operations could impact performance.
  • Evaluate the total cost of ownership. With any BI tool, the list price is only part of the story. You might have additional fees for add-ons, integration, support, training and other services. You should also consider ease of use and how the tool will impact productivity. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples and not just judging software based on the stated monthly fee.
  • Consider which type of vendor you prefer. The various BI vendors fall roughly into two different categories: large, well-established technology vendors with mature but predictable offerings and small, young startups with innovative capabilities but less full-featured products. Both types of vendors have strengths and weaknesses, and you may need to demo some of both kinds of products to determine which is a better fit for your situation.

With those factors in mind, here are ten of the best business intelligence tools you might want to consider:

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Best BI Tools

Amazon QuickSight

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world's leading cloud computing vendor with about a third of the infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and hosted private cloud market. For the second quarter of 2020, Amazon reported that AWS generated $10.8 billion in net sales, a 29 percent year-over-year increase. AWS has hundreds of thousands of customers in 190 countries, and it has data centers in the U.S., Europe, Brazil, Singapore, Japan, and Australia. Amazon is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.

Because so many organizations rely on AWS for their other needs, Amazon QuickSight has a ready customer base, particularly among those that use the cloud service to store their business data. It also offers a unique, pay-per-session pricing model that means organizations only pay for their use of interactive dashboards. Other key features include scalability, the SPICE in-memory calculation engine, ML Insights, embedded analytics and a mobile interface.

Pricing starts at $18 per user per month for authors (people creating dashboards) and $.30 per session with a max of $5 per user per month for readers (people using dashboards). A free trial is available.

Pros

  • QuickSight integrates easily with other AWS services, including RedShift, S3, Athena, Aurora, RDS, IAM, CloudTrail and Cloud Directory.
  • Pay-per-session pricing means you pay only for what you use, and costs are low compared with many alternatives.
  • Integrated machine learning (ML) capabilities makes it easy to perform advanced analytics even if you are not a data scientist.

Cons

  • Some users say the interface isn't as easy-to-use as it could be.

IBM Cognos Analytics

Founded in 1911, IBM has been an enterprise IT supplier for so long that it really needs no introduction. Headquartered in Armonk, New York, the company serves customers in 177 countries. For 2019, the company reported revenue of $77.14 billion.

IBM describes its Cognos Analytics platform as "an AI-infused business intelligence solution that accelerates data prep, analysis, and reporting for smarter business." One of the best-selling tools in the BI market, Cognos Analytics incorporates features like mobility, fast performance, AI integration, the ability to ingest data from a variety of sources, data cleansing, dynamic dashboards and more.

Pricing for the cloud-based On Demand version of Cognos starts at $15 per user per month. Pricing for the Enterprise version is available on request, and a free trial is also available.

Pros

  • Cognos integrates with a lot of different data sources, including data from the IBM Cloud and IBM databases.
  • The solution scales easily with simplified pricing for the On Demand version.
  • The BI tool incorporates IBM's considerable AI expertise.

Cons

  • The Cognos BI software is very complex and can take a long time to learn.

Microsoft Power BI

Another large vendor that will be very familiar to nearly all enterprise users, Microsoft is the largest software company in the world. Its best-known products include Windows, Office 365 and its Azure cloud computing platform. Founded in 1975, it has its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. For fiscal 2020, it reported $143 billion in revenue.

Power BI gets very strong reviews from analysts, and it is one of the best-selling tools in this category. Companies that use it include Adobe, GE Healthcare, Heathrow Airport and Meijer. Power BI's noteworthy features include advanced data protection and governance capabilities, integration with other Microsoft applications and cloud computing services, self-service analytics, fast data preparation, streaming dashboards and more.

Power BI comes in three different versions: Desktop is free. Power BI Pro starts at $9.99 per month per user. Power BI Premium starts at $4,995 per month. A separate embedded version makes it possible to incorporate Power BI into other applications. A free trial is available.

Pros

  • Power BI will be very attractive to global companies that have significant data protection, governance and compliance needs.
  • The tool integrates easily with other Microsoft applications (such as Excel) and cloud computing services.
  • Its user-friendly design makes it easy for business users to create interactive dashboards.

Cons

  • Taking advantage of all the Power BI features will require some training.
  • Integrating with analytics and BI software from other vendors can be difficult.

Qlik Sense

A pure-play vendor focused on BI software and analytics, Qlik was founded in 1993 in Sweden and later moved its headquarters to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. It boasts more than 50,000 customers, including BP, Bridgestone, Cisco, Lloyd's, Samsung, Planet Hollywood, Lenovo, KitchenAid, Deloitte and many others. The company is privately held.

Qlik's flagship BI software, Qlik Sense incorporates a unique AI-based associative analytics engine. Other key features include fast performance, suggested insights, advanced automation, mobility, open APIs and multi-cloud deployment options.

Qlik Sense business starts at $30 per user per month and Qlik Sense Enterprise SaaS starts at $70 per user per month. The client-managed version starts at $65 per user per month. A free trial is available.

Pros

  • Qlik's AI and augmented intelligence capabilities differentiate it from many of the other BI applications.
  • The company is focused on making analytics accessible to all, and accordingly, its platform is very user-friendly.
  • Multi-cloud support gives enterprises a lot of flexibility in deployment.

Cons

  • Some customers complain about poor customer service and a lack of good documentation.

Salesforce Einstein Analytics

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Salesforce achieved fame as a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) vendor. It has also branched out into other kinds of software, including its Einstein AI platform, which includes the Einstein Analytics BI software. For fiscal 2020, the company reported $17.1 billion in revenue.

As you might expect, Einstein Analytics incorporates easily with Salesforce's CRM and other products. Salesforce also has purchased Tableau (see below) and while the two products are still separate for now, the acquisition could be helpful for both. Key features include out-of-the-box connectors to many data sources, incorporated ETL, visual data prep, no-code AI, pre-built templates, proactive alerts and more.

The tool comes in three different versions: Sales Cloud Einstein starts at $50 per user per month. Einstein Predictions starts at $75 per user per month. And Einstein Analytics Plus costs $150 per user per month. Free trials are available.

Pros

  • Organizations that use the Salesforce CRM will be attracted to Einstein Analytics for the ease of integration.
  • It incorporates advanced AI capabilities that are easy to use.
  • The Tableau acquisition seems likely to expand its feature set.

Cons

  • Connecting to non-Salesforce data can sometimes be cumbersome.

SAP Analytics Cloud

The fourth largest software vendor in the world and the largest in Europe, SAP offers a wide range of enterprise applications and services, including its flagship enterprise resource planning ERP software. Founded in 1972, the company is headquartered in Walldorf, Germany. For 2019, it report €27.553 billion in revenue.

SAP Analytics Cloud combines business intelligence tools with augmented analytics and planning capabilities. It incorporates AI abilities like machine learning and natural language processing but also offers a user interface suitable for people without data science training. And as you might expect, it connects easily with other SAP applications, including ERP.

You can subscribe to the Business Intelligence version of SAP Analytics Cloud for $22 per user per month, and the company also offers a free 90-day trial. Pricing for the Planning and Custom versions of SAP Analytics Cloud are available on request.

Pros

  • With SAP Analytics Cloud you get an end-to-end system that can do both BI and analytics.
  • The service includes advanced AI capabilities.
  • Companies that use other SAP software will find it easy to integrate their existing applications with the BI software.

Cons

  • Like many other BI tools, SAP Analytics Cloud is complex and requires training to master.

Sisense

SiSense is a pure-play BI and analytics vendor founded in 2004. Its customers include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, The Salvation Army, Philips, Nasdaq, Motorola, Fujitsu, GE, Verizon and others. Headquartered in New York City, the company is privately held and boasts more than $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

The SiSense platform takes an API-first approach, making it easy to use BI data to create new apps that can be embedded wherever you like. You can deploy it on any cloud or your own servers, and it offers self-service capabilities for business users. It receives very high ratings from both users and analysts.

SiSense doesn't disclose pricing on its website, but it does offer a quote tool. The company says that it provides very low total cost of ownership.

Pros

  • SiSense's API-first approach makes a lot of sense for organizations engaged in building their own apps.
  • The company gets top marks for its customer service.
  • Support for Kubernetes and a wide variety of deployment options give enterprises the flexibility they need.

Cons

  • Like many other BI tools, SiSense is complex and requires training to master.

Tableau

Founded as a pure-play data visualization company in 2013, Tableau was acquired by Salesforce in 2019. However, Tableau continues to sell its BI software under its own brand name, and it appears to be managed as an independent company. Its customers include NYC Health + Hospitals, Red Hat, Whole Foods Market, Nissan, Verizon, USAA and others. Tableau has its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The Tableau platform comprises a wide variety of elements, including Desktop, Browser, Mobile and Embedded versions of its BI software. It incorporates data preparation, governance, content discovery, analytics, and collaboration capabilities, and you can deploy it in the cloud or on premises.

Pricing for Tableau Creator, which includes data preparation capabilities and the desktop app, starts at $70 per user per month, and a free trial is available. The company also offers its software for free to academic programs, non-profits and anyone who wants to make their data visualizations publicly available.

Pros

  • Tableau offers very powerful data visualization capabilities and creates very attractive dashboards.
  • The acquisition by Salesforce seems likely to improve the product's capabilities.
  • The company has an extensive library of online help and active public support forums.

Cons

  • The price tag for Tableau can be somewhat high if you don't fit into one of the categories for a free license.
  • Performance gets slow when working with a large dataset.

ThoughtSpot

Founded in 2012, ThoughtSpot is a pure-play business intelligence software provider with an emphasis on search and AI capabilities. Its customers include Haggar, Nationwide, Progressive Leasing, Cisco, Walmart, CAT, Tracfone, Canadian Tire and others. The company is privately held.

While most business intelligence applications focus on creating dashboards, ThoughtSpot allows users to ask questions in natural language and get answers. It also has AI capabilities that suggest additional questions that can lead to new insights. It does also feature standard dashboard capabilities and boasts very fast performances.

ThoughtSpot comes in Enterprise or Extended Enterprise versions. Pricing is available on request.

Pros

  • ThoughtSpot's natural language search capabilities make it unique in the market.
  • The platform offers very fast performance.
  • ThoughtSpot is also highly scalable with support for unlimited users and pricing based on data capacity rather than seats.

Cons

  • Integrating with data sources can be difficult and time-consuming.

Yellowfin BI

Founded in 2003, Yellowfin BI is a pure-play BI vendor that emphasizes storytelling and collaboration as well as beautiful data visualizations. Its customers include Honda, Kodak, AT&T, Telstra, Vodafone and numerous healthcare organizations, among others. Privately held, the company is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with offices in Japan, the US, the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

The Yellowfin Analytics Suite includes its Dashboards, Data Discovery, Signals (automated analysis). Data Prep and Data Storytelling BI Software. Key features include self-service reporting, automation, threshold-based alerts, management reporting tools, closed loop analytics and more. The company also offers a mobile app.

Yellowfin offers two versions of its BI software: Enterprise for Business and Embedded for Software Companies. Prices for both are available on request.

Pros

  • Yellowfin's incorporation of user stories and storytelling capabilities is unique in the industry.
  • The platform makes extensive use of automation, which makes it easy to use.
  • Dashboards and reports created with Yellowfin have a lot more visual appeal than those created by many other BI applications.

Cons

  • Some customers say that the tool does not have adequate documentation.

BI Software Comparison Table

BI Software

Pros

Cons

Amazon QuickSight

·   Integration with other AWS services

·   Low, pay-per-session pricing

·   Integrated machine learning


·   Interface not user-friendly

IBM Cognos Analytics

·   Integration with many data sources

·   Scalability

·   Advanced AI


·   Complexity


Microsoft Power BI

·   Excellent data protection and compliance

·   Integration with other Microsoft products

·   User-friendly


·   Requires training


Qlik Sense

·   Advanced AI

·   Multi-cloud deployment

·   User-friendly


·   Lack of integrations


Salesforce Einstein Analytics

·   Integrates Salesforce CRM data easily

·   Advanced AI

·   Tableau acquisition


·   Difficult to connect to outside apps


SAP Analytics Cloud

·   BI and analytics in one platform

·   Advanced AI

·   Easy integration with other SAP applications


·   Complexity


Sisense

·   API-first approach

·   Excellent customer service

·   Flexible deployment


·   Complexity

Tableau

·   Powerful visualization capabilities

·   Acquisition by Salesforce

·   Extensive help


·   No major AI features

ThoughtSpot

·   Natural language search

·   Fast performance

·   Scalability

·   Difficult data integration

Yellowfin BI

·   Storytelling capabilities

·   Extensive automation

·   Beautiful dashboards and reports


·   Inadequate documentation



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