If you take the word of websites that compare business intelligence (BI) tools, it’s hard to know who the top contenders are. Many of the posts that recommend one BI tool or another are sponsored, so their reviews will be biased. It can be helpful to look at what the companies say about themselves, but they’re sure to showcase all their best features while avoiding the topic of potential shortcomings.

Find an impartial head-to-head analysis of multiple BI tools

If you want an unbiased comparison of BI tools, you should see what the analysts say. Research firms like Gartner evaluate vendors based on objective criteria, not on how much they’re getting paid for a favorable mention. Gartner’s 2022 Magic Quadrant Business Intelligence report provides a 42-page analysis of 20 different analytics and business intelligence vendors, plus key trends that are driving today’s marketplace.

The report goes deep, and you’d need several hours to get through the entire thing. If you just wanted to learn about the highlights, simply look at their two-dimensional matrix that maps vendors based on specific criteria. First, they consider “Completeness of Vision”; this includes innovation, product strategy, and market understanding. They also look at “Ability to Execute”; this includes customer experience, company viability, product capabilities, and pricing. Based on how each vendor scores on these two criteria, they’re assigned a place on the graph. “Leaders”, the highest-rated vendors, are in the top right quadrant; “Challengers” are in the top left quadrant; “Visionaries” are in the bottom right quadrant; and “Niche Players” are in the bottom left quadrant. In Gartner’s 2022 report, there were only 3 BI tools that rated highly enough to be put into the “Leaders” category.

Looking at the key features in a top-rated BI tool

If you’re looking for the right BI tool but aren’t sure what your options are, Gartner’s report could point you in the right direction. By comparing the top 3 BI tools named “Leaders”, you’ll be able to see which capabilities are available and in demand. Here are some of the features you should be looking for:

Ease of Use

  • Data literacy is necessary if stakeholders of all different skill levels are going to use a BI tool. More natural language and a user-friendly interface enable users to interact with the data directly without a steep learning curve beforehand.
  • A single interface keeps the user experience consistent, including everything from exploring huge data sets to generating basic reports.
  • Embedded analytics use interactive dashboards, data visualizations, analytical capabilities, and real-time reports to bring data to users no matter what part of the BI tool they’re working in. This enhances accessibility and makes workflows more efficient.

Managing Data 

  • Data integration enables users to access existing data sources quickly, without the need for custom code or investment in additional products.
  • A flexible cloud strategy may not be necessary when you start using a BI tool, but having the option to update your data storage solution in the future is vital. Without a BI tool that offers multiple-cloud storage, you could find yourself locked into an inadequate data storage solution.
  • Scalability is important because otherwise your organization’s use of the BI tool could be held back by user limits or other restrictions. Analytic scalability lets your organization grow by using data to analyze and solve many different problems.
  • Governed self-service protects data integrity while allowing access to all users within the organization. Permissions are managed based on what data each user needs to access, so there’s a lower risk of accidental data corruption.

Analysis

  • Fully functional mobile compatibility gives users the chance to stay up-to-date even if they can’t access their main desktop. The top BI tools let you use all their features with mobile-optimized dashboards, no matter what device you’re on.
  • Augmented analytics uses machine learning automation to enhance data profiling and overall data quality. Users are alerted to changes in data (such as outliers or anomalies), and they can easily detect trends, variances, associations, or correlations without the need to explore the data directly.
  • Data visualization presents complex data sets so that users can understand the big picture at a glance. A good BI tool will have several choices for data visualization since many data sets need a lot more than a simple bar graph or pie chart.
  • Interactive dashboards bring real-time data to users, even with large or complicated data sets. Users can quickly see performance overviews, engage with data, create customized reports, and more.

Additional factors to think about when considering BI tools

  • People who are looking for the right BI tool for their organization usually focus on data analytics capabilities first and foremost. Those are key, but they aren’t the only factors that should influence your decision. A BI tool might have every feature you want and more, but it still might not be the best one for your organization. Here are a few other factors to keep in mind:
  • Passive vs. active data means the difference between getting real-time data or reading about “passive BI” in a report generated from historical data. If you want your organization to act on real-time data, you’ll need a BI tool that delivers data via established analytics pipelines.
  • Data integration combines multiple sources of raw data into a format that can be leveraged by the BI tool’s analysis capabilities. Without the transforming, cataloging, and combining included in data integration, you wouldn’t be able to see all your data as a coherent whole.
  • The total cost of ownership adds up, especially once you’ve considered additional expenses like set-up, administration costs, hardware, or scaling up data volume. Even if the cost of the software is reasonable, the total cost might be too much.

The takeaway

When choosing the best business intelligence tool, you should consider two things. First, how do the top vendors compare to each other? And second, which will be the best fit for your organization? Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll have a lot more clarity when picking the right BI tool.