5 minutes

How to Choose a Business Intelligence (BI) Tool

There are many business intelligence tools on the market, but how do you know which ones to go with? What features should you look out for? Here we'll break it down for you.

Why Use BI Tools?

BI tools make it easy for anyone to create visualizations, reports and interactive dashboards to help organizations make real time, data-guided decisions.

Why waste your time having to manually create a report every time your team or CEO asks for one? Instead, a BI tool will allow you to automate this process by creating an integrated dashboard that updates automatically in real-time.

If your CEO needs to get a quick overview of how things are going, all they have to do is open a web link to see the dashboard.

Business Intelligence tools save loads of time.

How to Evaluate a BI Tool

When choosing the best business intelligence tools, here are features to keep an eye on:

1. Data Connectors

One of the main advantages of BI tools is that it can save you dozens of hours from having to manually export data from every source and putting it together using Excel.

Imagine being a senior marketing analyst. Your job requires you to collect data from multiple sources including Google Analytics, Search Console, Google Sheets, Google Ads, Salesforce, Salesforce CDP and many others.

Your team and executives are asking to you to create some reports for the day. Normally ou'll have to manually go through each site, go into their settings and find the export button for each one. Then you'll need to compile the data together, visualize it and then present the data.

Now imagine having to do this multiple times each week - whenever someone requires a status report. This can easily take at minimum, several hours per week, and up to 40 hours per week.

This is where data connectors come in. With data connectors, this process is completely automated. You just have to find a BI tool that can connect to the data sources you need, and these will update in real time.

Now, not all jobs are like this. Sometimes you just have a few data sources and just want a good visualization tool. However, if your job requires taking data from multiple sources and daily reporting, make sure to find a tool that has the data connectors you need.

2. Specific Graphs/Charts

Most BI tools are capable of basic data visualizations - stuff like bar charts, pie charts, time series and scatter plots. These are often the “bread and butter” of data visualization which are used most of the time. 

However, perhaps your job requires some special types of charts like "map visualizations" or "sliced bar charts."

This entirely depends on what kind of datasets you’ll be dealing with.

Make sure you have an idea of what you’re looking for. In most cases, just the basic graphs should be enough though.

3. Design

Some BI tools allow for more advanced customization of design. This will allow you to have more control over how the graphs and charts look, but at the cost of user friendliness. Having more customization options will make the UI more clunky, and the tool harder to understand.

Meanwhile, if you’re just looking to create good-looking graphs/charts without much effort/learning, then you’ll want a tool that allows you to create visualizations based on a set of templates you can choose.

Some jobs require you to make pixel-perfect graphs and charts, so you’ll want to find a tool capable of doing that. 

4. ETL

Does your job require multiple datasets to be joined into one? This is a complicated procedure which requires a tool with ETL (extract, load, transform).

ETL takes data from multiple sources, cleanses and manipulates the dataset in order for it to be combined for data analysis and reporting purposes. Finally, this new dataset is loaded onto a data warehouse, ready to be analyzed.

5. Data Analytics

Many jobs require you to not only present data, but also analyze and extract valuable insights from it. This is where you want to find a BI tool with in-built analytics features.

Some tools have very fast and powerful data analytics capabilities, whilst other tools are more focused on creating graphs/charts. 

You also have to consider your level of expertise. Are you willing to learn a complicated tool? Are you willing to learn basic programming? Or are you already familiar with using R or Python? If so, then you might want to consider a tool that integrates with them. 

6. Big Data

Not all tools are capable of handling big data. And not all tools operate at the same speeds.

In order to choose a tool, you need to consider how large the datasets you’ll be working with are.

7. Pricing

Finally, pricing plays a big role in determining which tool to choose. Usually, the more expensive the tool, the better it will be, and this rings true for BI tools. However, not all expensive tools will be suitable to your needs. 

Perhaps you just want to create reports and pretty visualizations. In that case, it’s pointless spending $70/month on Tableau when you can do the same thing on a free or much cheaper tool.

However, if you need faster handling of big data and more advanced data exploration, then it’s worth paying more.

Which BI Tools Should I Use?

So which tools should I use? What are the current best options on the market?

Polymer Search

Business Intelligence Dashboard Example

Polymer Search is both a BI and data analytics tool that uses AI technology to allow your everyday person to analyze their data without having technical knowledge or a stats background.

If your job entails reporting, real-time interactive dashboards and data analysis, Polymer Search is the ideal tool for that, as not many tools offer data analysis features.

To build a dashboard with Polymer, all you need is a spreadsheet.

Connect your Google Sheets to Polymer, or upload an Excel file, and it’ll transform that spreadsheet into an interactive web application where you can analyze your data or create “views” for presentation. 

Views allow you to create a URL which you can share with members of the team. These can also be password protected.

If using Google Sheets, the dashboard will update in real-time.

Here’s an example:

https://app.polymersearch.com/vrheaven/supermarket_sales_-_Sheet1/628594acad4d668c9dfa0551

Polymer Search is designed for beginners with no technical knowledge of programming or stats. It’s often used by salespeople and marketers, but also many data analysts and finance people.

Power BI

With plans starting at $25/month, Microsoft’s Power BI is a great budget option that offers many advanced features such as ETL, data manipulation with the DAX language and data modelling.

Power BI is more than just a BI tool. It’s a tool for data cleaning, analytics and forecasting. 

Power BI requires an intermediate level of expertise in order to operate. In order to use the tool to its fullest potential, learning the DAX language is a must. 

Power BI also supports Windows OS only. For other OS support, you'll need an alternative to Power BI.

Tableau

Tableau is the gold-standard for business intelligence and this is reflected in its cost: $70/month.

What Tableau offers is very similar to Power BI: You get access to 60 instant data connectors, ETL features, integration with R/Python, pretty graphs/dashboards, data modelling and predictive analytics capabilities and finally, it’s easier to use.

What makes Tableau different from PowerBI is three things:

  1. Performance: Tableau is significantly faster.
  2. Visualizations and interactions: Dashboards on Tableau are significantly quicker and easier to set up. It’s also got more customization options for interactions.
  3. Better analytics: There are more options to explore your data and perform real data analytics

Of course, this comes at a higher price. If you’re looking to simply create visualizations, then Power BI can do it at a cheaper cost. However, for data analytics, speed and efficiency, Tableau is the superior tool.

Similar to Power BI, Tableau requires an intermediate level of knowledge to operate.

Other Tools

There are many BI tools on the market, and which tool you choose will depend on your budget and use case. For those who just want to create pretty graphs/charts, any tool will do the job.

However, for more complex tasks like data analysis, the top 3 choices are Polymer Search, Tableau and Power BI.

For a comprehensive list of BI tools, read our article on Top 10 BI Tools.

Posted on
June 28, 2022
under Blog
June 28, 2022
Written by
Ash Gupta
Former Tech Lead for Machine Learning at Google AdWords (6 years) and a quant developer on Wall Street. Co-Founder & CEO of Polymer Search.

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