Best business intelligence tools in 2018

Every business is in a competitive environment, and each is trying to gain and maintain that competitive edge. Businesses have a variety of metrics they track, from accounts receivable to market share. Traditionally these parameters were tracked in ledgers, and this was subsequently transitioned into spreadsheets.

However, both methods involved manually entering data, and specifying calculations, with analysis done by the user- a lengthy and involved process. However, business intelligence tools are hardly new, as they can be traced as far back as 1958 to Hans Peter Luhn who is considered the father of this field for his work at IBM. 

Business intelligence tools seek to apply a ‘big data’ approach to this business data. The goal is to apply these tools, so that analysis can occur in real time with less input from the user, and results can be applied faster, which ultimately improves the business. With the rise of data in the cloud, business intelligence has seen a recent increase in growth, with current adoption estimated at an all time high of 49%

Let’s take a look at different business intelligence tools to find some great choices to make your business smarter, and take it to the next level. 

Zoho Reports is the business intelligence tool from the folks that have plenty of experience with web-based business tools, namely the venerable Zoho Office. Zoho Reports is a robust solution, that can integrate data from a variety of files, including Microsoft Office documents, URL feeds, and databases, such as MySQL, along with applications, of course from Zoho, but also outside their ecosystem including data from the cloud from Box, DropBox, Google Drive and other applications (for example Salesforce, Quickbooks and Google Analytics).

Data can then be blended via integrated mathematical and statistical formulas, for example marketing costs in an Excel file, with sales data in a cloud database, to create a visually attractive and informative report. This is all done via a simple online interface, and functions can be applied via a simple drag and drop, with reports that can be easily viewed via the portal, or also printed or emailed.  

After the short fifteen day free trial, there are several pricing plans. The least expensive basic plan, which as a limit of only two users is $22.50 (£16.80) monthly, billed at an annual rate. Their most popular Premium plan with fifteen users is $112.50 (£84) monthly, again billed at an annual rate which requires more commitment than some smaller businesses are looking to make. 

Microsoft Power BI

Software behemoth, Microsoft, also plays in the business intelligence tool space, and their offering is Power BI. They even have a “Microsoft Business Applications Summit” that features their Power BI, and not surprisingly other Microsoft business applications. Unlike some of their competition that take a totally web-based portal approach, Power BI takes the downloadable software approach, at least for the desktop version.  

There is a generous sixty day trial of the software, which promises to “Connect hundreds of data sources,” including Microsoft applications, and other sources such as Facebook, Sybase and Oracle which can then prep data for subsequent data analysis on the fly, allowing reports to be created in just a matter of minutes.  

Pricing begins at the Power PI Desktop tier for a single user, which is fully functional, and free. The next tier up is Power PI Pro and supports collaboration between users, and real time data analysis, and after a 60 day trial costs $9.99 (£7) per month for each user. 

Tableau Desktop

Tableau Desktop endeavors to do more than make charts, but rather to show “live visual analytics.” A slick interface with drag and drop buttons allows the user to quickly be able to spot trends in the data. There is a lengthy list of supported data sources, including Microsoft Excel, Google Analytics, Box and PDF files.  

Tableau Desktop becomes an expensive option for a single user as it costs $70 (£52) per month that is billed on an annual basis, making this more expensive than other competing solutions. On balance, it also includes the associated application of Tableau Prep under the Tableau Creator package. 

Dundas

Dundas is a browser based business intelligence tool with 25 years of experience. It is designed to be a single tool to transform data into visual data analytics with “granular control over almost all visual design elements.” Data files can be incorporated with drag and drop functionality allowing end users to analyze data without involvement from IT. The HTML5 interface allows it to be used across a variety, including mobile, devices.  

There is a free 45 day trial, but after the pricing is opaque and requires a quote, but there are options to lease annually, or own for perpetuity. 

Sisense

Sisense is a business intelligence tool that seeks to simplify the complexities of data analysis by building in IoT, machine learning and AI into their platform. They claim it is so simple and streamlined, that you can go from “data to dashboard in just 90 minutes.” While we can argue the validity of that claim, their list of clients, including the likes of GE, Philips, Fujitsu, NBC and Airbus would back up that this is a top tier product.  

Their custom pricing is based on an annual subscription model, but it requires a price quote, and is unfortunately not available on their website.