One of the biggest problems with large and small organizations nowadays is the fact that they are rich in data, but extremely poor on insight. Sure, they may be collecting information from all channels and customers, business processes and technological layers, but they don’t really know how to transform that valuable information into actionable strategies. If the words “extract, transform & load” sound like alien talk to you, you’re not the only one.
In the following guide we will be talking about the main concepts that define business intelligence and business analytics, specific software, and how you can take advantage of their capabilities to improve your strategies. We won’t lie to you, business intelligence and analytics aren’t easy concepts to grasp, even for tech aficionados. However, before you dive headfirst into your next business venture, it is of the utmost importance to understand how these components work. Let’s get started.
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Business Analytics & Business Intelligence: What’s the Difference?
The two terms are a bit confusing, and even practitioners who have been working in the field for decades are having a difficult time agreeing on a concrete definition for each. As you may have noticed, when talking about information, and how it can be utilized for strategical purposes, a lot of confusing terms get tossed around. B.A. and B.I. are arguably the most popular ones, and there are many theories behind them.
There are some who believe that the two are interchangeable, or that they refer to the same thing. There are others who believe that they are completely opposite concepts which cannot be combined. We believe that business intelligence and business analytics are complementary, meaning that one cannot be effective without the other, at least not in this day and age.
To put it simply, business intelligence refers to the process of extracting information and transforming it into data that will support your future decisions. It can be achieved through data examination and cataloguing of past actions and decisions that represent the fundament for benchmarks and statistics. On the other hand, Business Analytics focuses on data that comes from new insights. In other words, B.A. deals with present information and makes it easier for you to forecast imminent results.
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The interesting thing is that business analytics stems from the failure of business intelligence. You see, in the past, B.I. referred to applications, people and processes that were used to extrapolate meaningful data (which was later used to support targeted decisions).
The inherent problem of B.I. was the fact that it severely limited an individual’s ability to foresee the future, by always turning to historical data. Business analytics appeared, and thrived, after its failure, and this is why some consider it the evolved form of business intelligence. Instead of always looking back, business analytics is capable of interacting and collecting information at the speed of your business.
In an ever-changing digital landscape, freshness and currency are vital. In the face of these changes, companies have started to implement hybrid & advanced strategies that would bridge the gap between the needs of the present, and the value of B.I. insights.
Right now, business intelligence is gaining a larger foothold in the business sector because it is fast and effective. It is easier for businesses to create eye-catching visuals and data mashups than to spend countless nights on interminable statistics and boring Excel sheets.
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Latest Trends in Business Intelligence & Analytics Software
While it may be true that each organisation has its unique approach to the implementation of analytical processes, it is worth noting that business intelligence and analytics have broad applications. Right now, BI and BA are expanding in order to englobe more intuitive and interactive data.
“By 2015, ‘smart data discovery,’ which includes natural-language query and search, automated, prescriptive advanced analytics and interactive data discovery capabilities, will be the most in-demand BI platform user experience paradigm, enabling mainstream business consumers to get insights (such as clusters, segments, predictions, outliers and anomalies) from data.” – Garner.
Here are a few trends that you should keep in mind:
- The Continuous Expansion of Analytics: in the digital age, analytics seem to have taken over every sector. More and more tools and applications have been developed that can quickly prescribe strategies and actions, which enterprises and businesses should take.
- Business Intelligence Simplification: although BI vendors continue to improve and develop tools, it feels like they are also trying to reduce their complexity and latency.
- Flexibility of Data Scientists: we will not be talking about data science (which includes unstructured data, mathematics, investigation and big data), but it is worth noting that field experts are now trying to acquire new skills that will make it easier for them to convert scientific data into information that can be used by non-technical audiences.
Let’s take a look at the best B.I. and B.A. software and tools that smart companies use.
Types of B.I. Software
The primary goal of B.A. software and business intelligence solutions is to extract quantifiable data from raw one, in order to obtain meaningful insights that will lead to educated decisions. The best software usually integrates data from the entire company, and delivers it to users through reports and analysis. There are several features including visuals, data mining, statistics, predictive analysis and data warehousing that were designed to identify certain patterns. When it comes to B.I., there are three main components you need to cover:
- ETL (extract, transform and load)
- Data Warehouses
- OLAP (online analytical processing)
1. Extract Transform & Load
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As you probably expected, ETL also has a few functions worth noting:
- Loading data onto a warehouse for future reference
- Extracting data from multiple sources like CRM or ERP applications
- Transforming meaningful data in formats that are compatible with other data
Seemingly simple in nature, ETL comes with its unique set of challenges. First of all, because data comes from multiple sources (examples: SAP, Microsoft, Oracle etc.), it also has different formats and forms of data manipulation (merging, splitting etc.) that must be transformed into a common format, which will then be uploaded on the warehouse.
Once the transformation is complete, data is uploaded row-by-row or in batches. Most ETL software is sold as bolt-on tools or in bundles. Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, for example, offer certain Extract, Transform & Load capabilities. You should also know that, nowadays, ETL can be used in conjunction with CRM, ERP, and other databases.
Online analytical processing is equally important to ETL. Whereas Extract, Transform & Load refers to “back end” processes, OLAP refers to the ‘front end’ aspects of reporting, querying and analysing data. Simply put, OLAP is what gives us the beautiful data visualizations, tables, and charts. But there’s more to OLAP than pretty graphics. It also offers some in-depth functions such as schemas or cubes, which are representations of data. Cubes are, arguably, the most important components of OLAP systems.
They offer unlimited combinations and quick responses for complex queries. For example, if you want to find out how many units of Product 1 you will be selling in Store 4, four years from now, you can pull out this information in a matter of seconds with the OLAP cube.
3. Data Warehouses
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As previously mentioned, data warehouses compile and store information from multiple sources. But it’s more complicated that it seems, because the warehouse has to pull-out data from your supply chain management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) operating systems in order to complete complex processes. Data warehouses are designed so that they facilitate complex analysis and data extraction from multiple sources.
They are different from operating systems, which support daily activities, because they handle huge volumes of functions and transactions. For example, the POS system does not have all the data it needs to perform operations in its system, so if you are trying to draw insights from it you should know that it has limited capabilities. Data warehouses were designed for huge volumes of data processing, and are usually built on RDBMS (relational database management systems) or specific platforms.
Best B.I. and B.A. Tools
With these notions in mind, let’s take a closer look at the best B.I. and B.A. tools that will definitely help you expand your business and gain important information.
1. SAP BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE
If you’re looking for a full-featured tool that can handle every aspect of your business and offer you a better perspective on things, then you should consider using SAP NetWeaver. This is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive tools that can satisfy the needs of software engineers, IT specialists and managers alike. Some of its features include, but are not limited to, the ability to pull reports from various sources, visualization tools to make graphics and statistics easier to understand, performance indicators and all collaborators insights.
Price: You can try SAP out for free, and contact the company for personalized pricing.
Official site: SAP Business Intelligence
What we like most about SiSense is the fact that it was designed for users who don’t have any IT training. This business intelligence solution has a friendly interface that will make data preparation, collection, storing and reporting feel like a walk in the park. The learning curve for the software is lean, so in next to no time you will be able to share your company insights through Sisense’s robust dashboard. Besides the user-friendly reporting tools, Sisense also promises 100% data accuracy, even while drawing from multiple resources, and a fully customizable dashboard.
Price: 30-day free trial, must contact the company for a price
Official Site: Sisense
3. SAS BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE
Another excellent B.I. and B.A. software is SAS. According to the company’s profile, the software adds up to better knowledge and better insight. SAS is basically a self-service tool that can be used by IT specialists and tech enthusiasts alike. We mentioned that it is a tool for intelligence and reporting, because it has in-depth features that characterize B.I. software, but also reporting tools that will provide with real-time insights for the entire organization.
Among its many features we will mention auto-charting that eliminates the need for coding, IT solutions for businesses and enterprises that make it possible to centralize metadata and scale it, and data visualization tools for comprehensive reports.
Price: as is the case with most B.I. software, SAS has a free trial and once it expires you have to contact the company for a price estimate
Official site: SAP
4. MICROSOFT SHAREPOINT
If you’re not new to the B.I. and B.A. software market, you have probably already heard about Microsoft Sharepoint, one of the most popular management and analytics tool available. Most enterprises turn to the services of Microsoft Sharepoint mainly because it incorporates all the necessary features for reporting and because it also has a good integration with data stored on SQL servers.
Another thing that we like about Microsoft Sharepoint is the fact that it makes collaboration between teams easy through its suite of addons and apps. Moreover, Microsoft Sharepoint integrates well with tools like Yammer, and can be accessed anywhere because it also has a cloud solution.
Price: You have to contact the team for a price estimate
Official Site: Microsoft SharePoint
5. ORACLE HYPERION & OBIEE
No list would be complete without Oracle’s suite of tools. The Oracle Hyperion and OBIEE have separate functions, but I will be talking about both. The Hyperion planning system supports spectacular business intelligence features that will allow you to complete enterprise-level planning, forecast future projects and set budgets. It is arguably one of the most accurate financial forecasting tools which will save you a lot of money. The Hyperion system can be deployed independently through the cloud or remotely, but it is recommended to synchronize it with other Oracle Tools like the OBIEE.
The Oracle Business Enterprise Edition software (OBIEE) was designed specifically for enterprises with significant B.I. needs. The OBIEE is probably one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, tool of its kind. Some of its main features include the BI Delivers, BI Answers, BI Publisher, BI Dashboards, BI Server, SQR reporting, financial forecasting, analysis and plugins. To put it simply, it can do almost anything for your business. What’s even better is the fact that it was designed as a collaborative tool, to make it easier for companies to streamline their efforts.
Price: contact for pricing, be warned that it might be quite hefty
Official Site: Oracle Hyperion, Oracle OBIEE
Hubspot is the prime example of business analytics done right. Instead of focusing on data such as financials, or clients’ behaviour, it takes a closer look at your inbound marketing strategy and performance. I consider that Hubspot is the best tool for determining rate-of-investment (ROI) for specific tactics (examples: optimizing landing pages, blogging, social media etc.).
Considering that more and more businesses are trying to promote themselves online, tools which report data pertaining from this channel are vital. Another thing that Hubspot does brilliantly is that it integrates with countless social monitoring and SEO (search engine optimization) tools to give you a broader perspective on things. Keep in mind that Hubspot will only help you with your online campaign.
- Besides the tools available in your Hubspot suite, you will also gain access to the countless webinars, eBooks, videos, guides and articles about internet marketing. So, even if you are a beginner, you will be able to grasp the basic concepts of I.M. in no time.
- Ability to optimize landing pages, email outreach campaigns, and branded pages or forms.
Price: $185/month – basic package, $740/month – pro package, $2,200/month – Enterprise package
Official Site: Hubspot
7. DATRIC AGILE DATA SUITE (ADS)
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Are you looking for an easy-to use and versatile tool for data management and integration? DATRIC Agile might be the perfect solution. This is an enterprise-level software that is capable of standardizing data traceability, data modelling, company-wide mapping and more elements that will help you implement business strategies more efficiently.
DATRIC’s key features include the capacity to create a complete data warehouse in less than six months, inter-linking between business elements and technical aspects and speedier implementation of data (roughly 25-50% more efficient than other software).
Price: You have to contact DATRIC for more details on prices.
Official site: DATRIC Agile Data Suite
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InsightSquared made our list because it is one of the few full-featured business analytics tools for medium and small businesses. If you’re looking for a reliable and reasonably priced software to empower your business efforts through data-driven strategies, then InsightSquared is the perfect tool for you. What makes this tool truly shine is the fact that it can compress big data into beautiful and accessible visuals that will give you a better idea about your financial, marketing or sales status.
- Up-to-date reports that will help your company evolve organically (doesn’t rely too much on historical data)
- Possibility to analyse trends and other metrics that will lead to accurate forecasts for future strategies
- Historical financial information with specific timelines
Price: $45/month for each user – basic plans, also has a free trial period.
Official Site: InsightSquared
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IBM made its own contribution to Business Intelligence software market with its Cognos tool. Interestingly enough, this is a web-based solution that will provide you with in-depth company analytics. While some software are designed for specific industries, Cognos can work with any type of vertical. It is fully equipped with extensive dashboards, analysis and collaborative tools, which will help you demystify raw data through user-friendly reports and statistics.
You should consider purchasing Cognos if you need to analyse data from multiple angles, determine the scalability of a future venture, monitor and manage your metrics, automate tasks or collaborate with team-members in order to reach decisions.
Price: You have to request a quote.
Official Site: Cognos
10. ACTIMIZE PLATFORM
Our last pick for business intelligence and analytics software is Actimize, a simple all-in-one solution for scalability, risk management, protection against money laundering, fraud prevention and more. Unlike other tools, its focus rests on pre-emptive measures that might spell disaster for your enterprise.
Actimize functions according to a clear risk-management cycle: model, execute, investigate, monitor. One of the best things about Actimize is the fact that it is highly customizable, meaning that you can create your own analytical models. In addition to this, it is capable of detecting anomalies and issues as they happen. Lastly, Actimize integrates well with other processes and data sources.
Official Site: Actimize Platform
Honorable Mention: WIRES
There is one more tool we think you will need to be able to complete all the tasks related to your business strategy. WIRES is a COREP / FSA / BoE regulatory reporting solution that provides users with comprehensive audits, operational dashboards that integrate across different OSs and workflow control. It fits into the business analytics category because it provides regulatory control on short notice, making it possible for your business to overcome situations of dynamic nature. Arguably the most important features of WIRES are that of analysis and performance, which can be done on all levels and from different sources. As far as performance goes, WIRES was built on a SQP server which means that it benefits from the latest Microsoft technology.
There are many tools worth mentioning for business intelligence and analytics, but the vast majority contain the features found in the ones above. You should take a look at more options on the market and decide on a software that is best suited for you. Not using one or more business intelligence tools will severely cripple your business efforts. If you want to gain the competitive edge in an overcrowded market you should utilize as many resources as possible.
What are your thoughts on the matter? We would love to hear your opinion!
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