Launching a startup is kind of like agreeing to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in a half-finished boat.
You’re going to get hit with waves, outclassed by other competitors, all while still trying to finish building the vessel.
But, it’ll be exciting as hell.
The first startup I worked at in the digital age was a company that wanted to provide an easier platform for companies to order office supplies. The end goal was to sell office equipment that would be connected to the internet and fully capable of ordering supplies whenever it sensed that supplies were running low.
We had a compelling piece of hardware that could plug into existing equipment.
But we had no idea how we could effectively reach decision-makers and design future products that met a real need, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing, market research, and useless prototypes that would likely miss the mark.
What we needed was to find a way to leverage business intelligence more effectively.
What is business intelligence?
Business intelligence (BI) is the process of leveraging technology to gain a deep understanding of whether your company is operating effectively.
The insights provided are compiled in a way that makes it easier for decision-makers–regardless of their tech savvy—to understand the data so they can quickly make effective decisions.
Hitachi Solutions explains business intelligence (Source)
Vernor Vinge, a professor of mathematics at San Diego State University, states, “[in the modern business climate] what we have is a data glut.”
Failing to make sense of that glut is the business world’s equivalent of sending a cargo vessel on an overseas journey without GPS or navigation equipment.
Effective business intelligence software tools allow us to analyze data in a compelling way.
So how do you find the business intelligence tool that will work best for your company?
5 factors that influence the BI software shopping process
In the end, the startup I worked for chose to leverage a BI platform developed by one of the largest tech giants in the U.S.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons we chose to trade up and a few of the alternative options. This isn’t to tell you which BI solution is best for your company, but explaining our reasoning will hopefully assist you in your efforts to find the best system for your team.
1. Pick proven performance instead of hype
With every new BI tool or platform that enters the market, there’s a flurry of hype. Some promise to finally give you strategic insights from all of your data silos, while others claim to offer visuals that are 500% easier for executives to understand and act on.
The strongest performers, year-over-year, are the solutions that fully integrate with the software and tools that corporate teams use daily.
We chose a subscription-based tool that allows you to leverage data in a consistent, powerful way—and that has periodic updates for optimum functionality. This solution is best for companies that already leverage other products from the same vendor to gather and maintain their data.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Time-tested functionality and usability should be a major factor in your software decision.
2. Pick a BI platform that plays well with others
Most companies have data that is stored and networked across multiple storage solutions. If you can only access data from certain sources, how are you supposed to deliver actionable insights that are contextually accurate?
Looking at data from one or two sources is like trying to paint a landscape while looking through a toilet paper tube.
During our demo period, we rigorously tested how well each BI system interfaced with all of the places we stored data—including Microsoft’s Office 365, Google Analytics, SalesForce, and Oracle’s platforms.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Test how well your top BI software choices work with your data storage platforms.
3. Understand the platform’s long-term costs
Our CFO and legal counsel helped delve into the nitty-gritty details of each service contract from the vendors that we were considering. It’s important to step back and look at these aspects of any solution.
So many leaders get hung up on specs, capabilities, and hype. Remember, when it comes to software service contracts, the sales rep giveth and the small print taketh away.
Define the limiting factors in your contract.
These are the things that will cause your solution to be outpaced by your company. Is there a limit on the total amount of data that can be analyzed at a time? What is the planned obsolescence date from the developer—and what will they do for you on pricing if you need to upgrade to their newer solutions at that time?
Does the system have advanced security features to help minimize the risk of becoming a cybercrime victim? Remember, as your company grows, you’re going to become a juicier target because your data stores are going to swell.
We realized the importance of data security within the platform when our network came under attack. We hired an outside contractor that became disgruntled. They left behind an access point to our network.
Though our network had been penetrated, no confidential customer or product data was successfully accessed. Why? Our BI platform encrypts all data and requires additional credentials before information can be decrypted. In addition, real-time user access allowed us to see which accounts were compromised and immediately adjust their access levels.
Even if all of the above failed, two-factor authentication would have blocked outside access to our proprietary insights.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Read the fine print on your BI software contract to ensure that the terms will allow the software to grow with your company. Also be sure to fully enable the encryption, layered permission, and two-factor authentication features in your platform of choice.
4. Lean on your business contacts when choosing a solution
Virtually every company is taking the dive down the BI rabbit hole. Don’t be afraid to ask your contacts what tools they’re leveraging.
The best advice can come from other players in your industry or from trusted contacts in parallel industries. Don’t just ask for a recommendation–ask for specific pros and cons.
Don’t be surprised if you get referred out to their data science team, which is a good thing. The insights from those closest to the tech can be the most valuable.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Prepare a list of specific questions to ask your industry contacts about their experience with their BI tool.
5. Dive into third-party reports
There are numerous market studies available online. If you have the budget, you might want to engage a consultancy firm that specializes in data technology to recommend a tailor-fitted solution to meet your company’s needs.
A McKinsey&Company report states that the cost of deploying predictive analysis solutions is plummeting. And the companies that engage these tools are seeing more than a 19% increase in operating profits.
In a Forbes article, Louis Columbus says that, “reporting, dashboards, advanced visualization, end-user ‘self-service,’ and data warehousing are the top five technologies and initiatives strategic to business intelligence.”
KEY TAKEAWAY: This technology is mission critical for your company. Whether you enhance your existing BI platform or completely overhaul it with a new, more comprehensive solution, a penny spent on BI is worth hundreds of dollars in losses caused by poor decision-making.
Have you shopped for BI software?
Are there any factors that influence business intelligence software shopping that your company has struggled (or excelled) with?
If so, let us know in the comments below!