Having the data about your business is not the same thing as knowing about your business.
When I worked in corporate strategy, we were also asking, “What story does this data tell us?”
Business intelligence tools are specifically designed to help you get to the story in your data more quickly. Instead of looking at a seemingly random set of numbers, BI tools give you reports and dashboards that combine relevant data into a seamless narrative.
Even small businesses can benefit from having additional insight into their data. Here are four tools focusing on small businesses that can give you a leg up on the competition.
DBxtra helps the non-technical among us generate the sort of insights traditionally reserved for coders and Sherlock Holmes. The software integrates with all sorts of databases in all sorts of locations, and lets you dive in without knowing SQL. The data it retrieves can then be turned into tables, charts, or five hour long PowerPoint presentations with pictures of cats scattered throughout to keep the audience awake. It’s totally up to you.
DBxtra is a suite of tools, with report generation being just one of its many features. With other flavors, you can generate interactive dashboards, pull data right into Excel, or auto-generate and distribute reports.
Due to its modular format, DBxtra can run you anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 as a one-time fee. Luckily, there’s a free, fully functional 30 day trial so you can try before you buy.
One of Sisense’s defining features is its ability to drag and drop data sets to combine them. Say you’ve got customer data in your CMS and sales data in your accounting software. You can simply open the two databases in Sisense and link the customers together using a visual connector system.
By easily connecting all your back end data, you can then run much more powerful reports. Dig into which state you spend the most money shipping to, which products account for the most overtime, or what product line is the most popular with customers you contacted via phone.
Like DBxtra, Sisense’s strength is in its ease of use for non-technically minded folks. It’s also designed to scale, with features that mean adding more and more data won’t slow down processing times.
Pentaho is a BI solution with both an open source and a paid version. Limitations on the open source version are real, though, so consider it with a grain of salt. On the other hand, the software is free, and if your needs are basic or you’re just interested in trying something out, Pentaho’s community version might be for you.
Like the other packages on this list, Pentaho allows you to connect your databases and run reports on them without having to have a degree in computer science. Pentaho also features a big data integrator it calls an “adaptive big data layer.” The layer insulates data from data analysis tools, so that changes in the data or tools don’t affect your system.
For larger businesses and data sets, Zoho‘s business intelligence solution is more hands on than others listed here, with the trade-off of more control over what’s being processed. The company has also taken a tailored approach to pricing, with Zoho offering five different pricing tiers based on need — and yes, there is a free version.
While Sisense, for instance, prides itself on its drag and drop capability, Zoho requires users to insert code into some locations in order to sync up the data you want to analyze.
Even at Zoho’s free level, you’ll have access to your data online and you can integrate reports with webpages and other online accounts. While things can be more complicated at the high-end, as a starting place for a small company, Zoho might be the easiest to get your head around. While you will probably need help integrating large online databases, working with all those spreadsheets you’ve got on hand should be a breeze.
Taking it all in
Once you’ve made the leap to data analysis, you have to do something about it. Knowing more about your customers is simply the first step to building better relationships with them. If you’re going to take on a business intelligence plan, make sure you budget time to do something with the insights you unearth — otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time.