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Business intelligence tools

Just gathering a bunch of data is useless . If there's one thing the Geocities era taught us: we need to visualize our data.

Once upon a time there was a trend of showing the amount of visitors of your website at the bottom of your page. Gathering data and visualizing it the medieval way. Let's call this the Geocities era (for obvious reasons). Fast forward two decades and we see data hubs popping up everywhere. Tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Hubspot, and many, many more. With so many specialist tools available, gathering terabytes of data is easy. Just gathering data is useless however. If there's one thing the Geocities era taught us: we need to visualise the data.

Visualize your data
Although most data hubs provide their own dashboard to visualise their content, this is not true for all. Data stored in your local database for instance doesn't have a fancy interface. Another issue with data hubs is the lack of inter-connectivity. This is where Business Intelligence (BI) tools come in, or as Gartner defines it: business intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimise decisions and performance (source).

Build, measure and learn
A proper BI tool serves a very specific purpose in your marketing mix. At Bravoure we believe in the Build-Measure-Learn loop which is at the core of the Lean startup methodology. We build a product, measure its effect and learn enough to start our next iteration. By using a Business Intelligence tool we are able to learn quicker, thus improving the iteration speed. We create custom dashboards which give our clients insights into relevant (customer) data.

Which Business Intelligence tool should I use?
Just Googling for 'business intelligence tools' will give over 40 million results so finding what you need can be a daunting task. What should you look for in a tool? Let's take a closer look. BI tools can be roughly categorised into online, offline and hybrid tools. Online tools include Google Data Studio, Datorama and Domo, while tools like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau and Qlik offer both offline and hybrid versions. All these tools share the same three key features:

  • Import data
  • Connect data sources
  • Provide insights.

Import data

One of the problems a Business Intelligence tool solves, is the scattered data hub landscape. A good BI tool should support many important data hubs. Which it supports depends on your needs, but it's safe to say there’re a few which cannot be dismissed. Connections to Google Analytics, SQL databases and Facebook Insights are essential for us. If you're looking for a BI tool, the 'import data' step is the one where you'll see the most difference between tools.

Connect data sources
An API of a third party might provide JSON, while your MySQL database returns rows and columns. A good BI tool helps you connect data sources. All BI tools we've reviewed provide some sort of data modeling which allows you to tell the tools which data sources are related through which column. Some of them even recognise relations automatically. There's not much difference between tools in this step.

Provide insights
OK, let's be honest, after going through steps 1 and 2 you will not get insights in some magical way. You actually need to build up your dashboard yourself. If the data is simple enough, all tools will allow you to select some data and a nice graph will be shown. However, most of the times you will need to prepare the data. Preparing data can be as simple as telling your tool which data type is selected, or it can mean writing a custom query to simplify data.

With the prepared data at hand, creating a visualisation is usually as simple as dragging one to your canvas and dropping your prepared data into it. The range of visualisations offered doesn't differ that much between tools. It's not uncommon to have widgets which can be placed in reports, which in turn are used in dashboards. The way dashboards are built up does differ sometimes.

Other features

After a dashboard has been created it should be available to the correct person. Most tools allow some sort of method for sharing dashboards with others. The level of control varies. Some tools offer the ability make a dashboard public, or viewable only through a specific URL, while others only allow sharing between users of the tool. One note about Microsoft Power BI: the desktop tool can be seen as the builder tool, while its dashboards are mostly web-based. Keep in mind the desktop tool is only available for the Windows operating system.

Users & data usage
Most tools have some limitation in the amount of users that can view the dashboards and how many data can be transferred per subscription.

No matter how nice the tool, in the end you should ask yourself whether the investment is worth the cost. Prices are hugely different between tools. While Microsoft Power BI starts at € 8,40 per user per month (per 10 gb), other tools will set you back at least € 1.750 per month.

So, which one should I use?
Our research resulted in a shortlist of tools to consider:

  • Datorama
  • Google Data Studio
  • Microsoft power BI
  • Tableau

To be honest you can't go wrong with any of these tools. There are some differences in specific areas, but they all provide you with the insights you need. At Bravoure we chose Google Data Studio and Microsoft Power BI, mainly because of the price (Data Studio) its wide support of data hubs (Microsoft Power BI).