What to Look for in a Business Intelligence Tool

Business intelligence (BI) is an essential step for any enterprise looking to democratize data and unlock clear insights and visualizations from the various data sources in their business. Modern BI tools easily sync up to your data warehouse and generate visualizations that make it easy to understand your data when it is queried.

However, no two (or more) BI tools are alike. They differ around data democratization and sharing, reporting intelligence, last mile modeling, and visualization capabilities. When faced with the task of choosing a BI tool for your company, here are some.

What is Product Intelligence, and what does it have to do with Business Intelligence? Learn more here!

Factors for Consideration

Report Building Capability

Different BI tools let their users build reports in different ways. When considering which BI tool is right for you, take a moment to think about your end users. What do their skill sets look like? Are they comfortable with SQL queries or prefer a drag-and-drop interface? Some organizations prefer a drag-and-drop interface for report creation and formatting. This is a fast and convenient process, especially when your data is mined correctly. However, it can fall short and become distorted if your data is unclean. This is one of the key reasons why technical personnel prefer a more robust way of building the reports, where they can use specific SQL queries for data extraction purposes.

Approach to Modeling

What is the scope of the BI tool you’re looking at? Is it mainly focused on visualizations, or is it a full stack offering that performs data modeling in a company’s warehouse? For instance, a BI tool may stand out for its modeling layers like Looker, its collaboration features like Mode, or its dashboard functionality like Periscope Data. Ask yourself whether you want control over the initial stages of modeling, or want to leave it to the technically apt to proceed via SQL. If a tool doesn’t contain modeling layers beyond SQL, decide if you and your team can live without them.


Most BI tools offer both user and role-based user security, prescribing who can create, use, publish, administer, or modify its applications. However, some organizations may want a BI tool to integrate with pre-existing security programs or operating systems. Hence, see if the BI solution you like can use its security along with the various mechanisms from the databases, networks, and operating systems. Put simply, the solution’s security should align with your existing and future info security policies.

Real-Time Accessibility

Your BI tool should not only offer flexible ways to present relevant information, but also have the capability to present data on any device. Because a lot of decisions are now made on the go, the solution should include visualization options that can be displayed on any smartphone and tablet. Analyzing your data on the smaller screen should be a matter of tapping a few buttons, ensuring that users have all the relevant visuals and reports, regardless of where they are at that time. Most leading BI tools offer mobile-friendly business intelligence applications that can be accessed from anywhere, but it’s worth verifying that your tool of choice will be able to meet your particular accessibility needs.

Sharing & Permissioning

When you’re considering a BI tool, ask yourself if it’s simple to integrate existing dashboards and make them accessible to the appropriate managers and users in your company. Most BI tools come with sharing, versioning, and permissioning functionality. The scale of these functionalities become more and more crucial the bigger your company gets and the more you deal with mission-critical data. Data democratization empowers all key stakeholders in your company to get the data and insights they need to uplevel their performance and make well-supported decisions.

Visualization Capability

Does your company require more intuitive dashboards and visualizations, or do you place less value on the presentation and aesthetics of data? Some vendors may outperform others in certain aspects. For example, Tableau is widely recognized for beautiful and powerful visualizations, whereas Domo is great for granular-level operational data. Additionally, some tools will allow users to apply a filter on the data present in a visualization, or drill down into the small details for creating high-level reports.

Collaboration & Social Integration

Does your BI tool enable the creation of an internal community? Can members share and discuss their reports in real-time? Organizations that are big on collaboration will get value out of a tool that allows users to share and reuse data with external departments. This may involve annotating analysis to share insights and social features, which can support chatting and discussion threads. For example, Mode offers excellent collaboration and sharing features. Users can carry out as much analysis as they like with Python and share them at will. In contrast, Tableau’s sharing and collaboration features aren’t as mature as other offerings in the BI space.

Type of Training

See what type of training material is being offered with the solution. Some business intelligence tools are intuitive with short learning curves, but some require deeper understanding and technical depth. Make sure to determine how much time and effort you are ready to put into learning. Are paid courses available? Does the vendor offer self-paced courses? Does the training delivery method fit with the learning style of your organization?

Cross-Database Functions

If you aren’t storing data in a warehouse and instead have multiple disjointed SQL databases, you should look for a solution that allows users to extract the data from them seamlessly. For instance, Tableau makes it a breeze to retrieve data from disconnected database, whereas solutions like Microsoft BI don’t come with as smooth of data extraction capabilities. In the case of using a third-party data extraction tool, most of these solutions have vendor lock-in; they won’t integrate swiftly with offerings outside of the vendor ecosystem.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, by now you have a good understanding of what factors to consider when picking a BI tool for your needs. Generally, cloud-based BI solutions are the most suitable for the majority of businesses outside of the Fortune 500s. And with a well-established data warehouse, they can display dashboards of your whole customer datasets that can be used to make data-driven decisions.

If you’re interested in learning more about BI tools or other areas of the customer data tech stack, we wrote an ebook that explores each layer of the stack and how to go about choosing the right solutions for you. Read it here.