Top Business Intelligence Software

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The best business intelligence software offers a full complement of competitive advantages: snappy visual reports, deep data mining, automation, help with forecasting and other key tools.

As artificial intelligence and machine learning have become the buzzwords du jour, business intelligence might not seem quite as sexy as it once did. Yet there are still many companies that lean heavily on their BI platforms. And there are still plenty of companies shopping for a new business intelligence program, with an eye toward upgrading their staff’s data analyzing capabilities.

How to Select Business Intelligence Software

These are questions to ask vendors – and to insist on getting a clear answer:

  • Consider “ease of use” as well as “depth of data mining” Some applications tout their ease of use; others claim the deepest, most extensive tool set. These two qualities are rarely combined to the fullest extent. What's most important to your staff? 
  • Can it scale? So the BI program can service three teams doing a few projects each. What about when there are a dozen – or a few dozen – of projects? Can the application keep up? 
  • How much does it cost – really? Depending on the application and vendor, there are upfront costs, monthly costs, even perhaps hardware costs. What's the real dollar figure?

Top Business Intelligence Software

While this is far from a comprehensive list of business intelligence software, the following BI applications represent the leading edge of business intelligence today.

Microsoft Power BI

This Microsoft BI application offers simplified data mining, interactive reports, and the ability to embed visuals. It’s available as both the Power BI Desktop and the Power BI Mobile. The Desktop is an in-house application that ties into your cloud-based service, which allows convenient upload and sharing among teams of staffers. Mobile offers a similar comprehensive tool set.

Since this is a Microsoft product, its user interface is familiar to most Windows-based users. If you’ve worked with Excel, you won’t be lost with Power BI.

In keeping with the trend toward natural language processing (NLP), Power BI’s Q&A Question Box enables users to input questions in conversational language. Question Box offers autofills and alternate phrasings of queries to assist with your data mining.

Zoho Analytics

Focusing on ease of use – a particularly key attribute as data tools grow – Zoho analytics is a self service option. Meaning that users will not need the assistance of IT staff or professional data scientists to glean insight from data. Notably, the Zoho data software has an intuitive drag and drop interface, as well as a classic spreadsheet-style interface.

Recognizing today’s diverse data sources, Zoho Analytics allows connection to a broad array of data repositories. These include files stored locally, in cloud drives, many key business applications, databases, and even your company’s own custom-built applications. After a query, results can be viewed in charts, tabular views, standard dashboards, and KPI visualizations.

Also in keeping with Zoho’s focus on allowing ease of use: access to levels of data can be controlled through a series of permission levels. This means the platform can be accessed widely, from the data pros in the C suite to the sales reps who need data analytics trend lines on the run. Similarly, Zoho Analytics allows users to create a comment threat in the app, to facilitate collaboration between staffers and teams.

Zoho is a good choice for businesses that need to provide convenient, accessible data analytics insight to staffers at every level.

Sisense

As mentioned, the business intelligence/Big Data market has moved heavily toward a preference for “easy to use” interfaces, and Sisense is shaped by this trend. Installation and setup is considered easy. Even non-technical users can gain some insight from Sisense. Furthermore, results can be embedded into other environments with little effort.

Sisense includes a search box into which users can enter a natural language query – again, a nod toward wide user accessibility. On the other hand, Sisense, for those with the analytics skills to dig deep, offers the depth to provide deep analytics value.

Another strength: Sisense interoperates with other applications; it works well embedded in other environments. On a related note, Sisence integrates with cloud storage platforms and DBaaS solutions.

Tableau

Tableau touts its ease of use, its ability to offer deep insight to users who aren’t professional data scientists. Yet at the same time, the popular program – subscription revenue jumped 115 percent in the most recent report – enables fine-grained data mining at an advanced level. To be sure, though, truly understanding the program requires a substantial learning curve.

Its data analysis capabilities include sentiment analysis (a hot area these days, with social media), regression analysis and statistical modeling.

It accepts data from any number of sources, from cloud platforms to databases to Excel spreadsheets, including Amazon Athena, MongoDB and Google Analytics. Perhaps most noteworthy: its visualization tools provide an intuitive way to display your data for a broad audience.

SAP Analytics Cloud

The most likely group of potential users for SAP Analytics Cloud are businesses that are currently have an SAP-centric infrastructure. Say, they use SAP HANA or a similar solution. These users will already know the UI, or be able to figure it out with limited time investment.

However, SAP Analytics Cloud has value even if you’re not already an SAP customer. The price for this solution is reasonable enough to cater to the SMB market. Yet in terms of level of expertise required, this application is better suited for a true professional analytic user, as opposed to the lesser-trained “just need a fast query” crowd. It does, however, offer NLP (Natural Language Processing) so all hope is not lost for less technical staff.

SAP Analytics Cloud offers a feature called Smart Predict, which is a predictive analytics tools. It uses your past data to offer potential possibilities for future action.

Alteryx

Touting its BI solution “versatile enough to meet any specific need,” Alteryx’s solution has an UI that enables it to be leveraged by IT professionals to data scientists or by c-level executives. That is, you don’t need major analytics skills to mine data with Alteryx.

Alteryx offers both predictive analytics and the depth of statistical analysis, along with ARIMA (AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average) modeling; ARIMA is a predictive technology using an extensive series of existing data points.

Alteryx also enables users to apply machine learning, a key component as AI becomes ever more important.

Users have complimented Alteryx’s intuitive drag and drop interface – again, use of use is a key concern with today’s BI platforms. Also helpful: the software offers the ability to automate processes that are performed on a regular basis, so routine users can streamline workflow over time.

Salesforce Analytics Cloud

Not surprisingly, the leader in SaaS “any device, anywhere” computing offers a BI platform that is easily accessed in any environment, geared for a wide variety of skill levels. (You have likely noticed that this approach is near universal in BI applications these days. Companies are seeking to equip a larger percentage of their work force with analytics capabilities, so being “easy to use” is selling point Number One.)

The dashboards for Salesforce Analytics Cloud are useful out of the box, but can also be extremely customized based on your own company’s needs. Users can filter data based on a dynamic time query. Response time is short.

Additionally – and this is a key concern for non-Salesforce shops – the application can accept data from outside Salesforce software. That is, the Salesforce app will allow you to see all your data in one place.

IBM Cognos Analytics

IBM is known for its strength in business intelligence, so it’s no surprise that IBM Cognos Analytics is a robust platform. The application can help perform business forecasting and strategic planning, along with budgeting and financial operations. It’s useful for sales and marketing as well as in the HR department. In short, it’s a full-featured business intelligence program.

Impressively, the program’s Dynamic Cubes feature can query millions of rows of data in a very short time period. Naturally, it needs some hefty hardware to support this kind of data crunching – but if you give it the support, it can do the job.

Of course, if your business is already using other IBM programs – especially data programs – IBM Cognos Analytics interoperates with it. Automation capabilities are considered strong, and the tool can be customized based on industry or sector. It offers a wealth of modeling tools.

Vendor Comparison Chart

Features

Key Differentiator

Microsoft Power BI

Input questions in natural language

Interoperates well with Windows software

Zoho Analytics

Simplified ease of use.

Good for staff at every level

Sisense

Easy installation and setup

Embeds well with other platforms

Tableau

Offers sentiment analysis

Accepts data from myriad sources

SAP Analytics Cloud

Natural language processing

Interoperates with SAP software

Alteryx

Predictive analytics and ARIMA

Automates processes

Salesforce Analytics

Any device, anywhere computing

Highly customizable dashboards

IBM Cognos Analytics

Business forecasting and strategic planning

Deep, full-fledged program capabilities.



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