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What are the Features of a Comprehensive BI Solution?

by | Buying BI, Dashboards & Data Viz, Reporting

Even organizations with niche requirements find security in comprehensive BI solutions. Since it’s virtually impossible to anticipate the myriad use cases that will arise for all users now and in the future, teams look for business intelligence platforms that cover all the basics. 

But what’s considered “basic” when it comes to BI? It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish fleeting trends from core essentials. Without a clear answer to this question, organizations run the risk of adopting either a limited solution or one so bloated with features that no one can figure out how to use it.

To alleviate confusion, we’ve compiled this list of seven features you can safely expect from any comprehensive BI solution, whether it’s embedded or standalone.

1. Data Connection 

All BI solutions need to connect to data, and a comprehensive BI solution should give you plenty of data integration options. Organizations sometimes make the mistake of simply verifying that their data source type is supported, failing to consider that they may want to migrate their data to a different platform or add additional data sources in the future.

Note also that some BI solutions require you to migrate your data to a proprietary database before connecting to it. This can present data privacy issues, particularly to organizations in highly regulated industries.

A comprehensive BI solution will give you freedom and flexibility in how you connect to data, allowing you to make changes as your needs evolve. 

2. Data Combination

It’s hard to demolish your organization’s data silos without the ability to combine data from disparate sources, and a comprehensive BI solution should make this process as frictionless as possible. Look for a platform that will allow you to combine data from different types of sources — for example, spreadsheet data with a MySQL view, or a .NET assembly with a stored procedure. As long as you have the key fields you need to form a join, a comprehensive BI solution should allow it.

3. Dashboards and Data Visualization

Given that most associate BI with dashboard creation, this one likely comes as no surprise. Dashboards play an essential role in any data-driven organization, providing high-level summaries of key trends and metrics. A comprehensive BI solution should allow you to add existing data visualizations to a dashboard as well as build new ones on the fly. 

4. Reports

Basic tabular reports have been a staple of comprehensive BI solutions since the beginning, and according to Business Application Research Center (BARC) founder and managing director Carsten Bange, their importance is “still very, very high.” 

Dashboards are akin to the tip of an iceberg, giving teams a sense of their efforts’ cumulative effects. This high-level analysis is important, but so are the diagnostic reports that shed light on what’s happening under the surface.

Many BI solutions offer only light reporting or none at all. A comprehensive BI solution, by contrast, will give users at least as much power and control as they’re used to having over spreadsheets.

5. Self-Service BI

Self-service BI tasks, “those that business users carry out themselves instead of passing them on to IT for fulfillment,” remain a high priority for enterprises in 2021. Fostering data independence means not only giving BI users access to ad hoc report and dashboard authoring tools, but also making it easy for them to consume and modify existing assets. 

These modifications can be as superficial as applying conditional formatting to a column or as substantial as redefining a data model. The goal in all cases is to prevent IT bottlenecks by empowering casual users to perform their own analyses.

6. Collaboration

Whether it’s through a shared folder system or other mechanism, BI users need a way to collaborate on data assets. Like graphics and copy, reports and dashboards improve with revision, and revision is made easier by tools that allow multiple users to access the same work. This is especially true for remote teams. Comprehensive BI solutions include means of collaboration.

7. Dissemination

BI users need ways to send, share, and present the data assets they create. A comprehensive BI platform will offer myriad exporting options as well as a way to send freshly executed reports and dashboards on a schedule. Consider, also, how IT departments and data analysts will make their reports available to consumers and stakeholders. Data asset dissemination sometimes takes a back seat to asset creation, but it’s every bit as important to business operations. 

If a business intelligence solution is strong in these seven areas, you can be confident it’s comprehensive. The more comprehensive your BI platform, the less likely you are to be derailed by an unforeseen use case, making your organization resilient to technological and operational changes. Such stability is well worth the hunt for a solution that checks all the boxes.

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