What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence (BI) is a set of tools and techniques that help a company gather, consolidate, and make sense of their raw data. BI tools allow companies to analyze their data in depth, improving decision making from the C-suite level down.

To help you make the best business analytics decision for your company, we’ve created a BI guide, complete with features and reviews of top-rated BI tools to help you get started.

What are the benefits of BI?

Business intelligence reporting and data analytics provide your company with a wide array of benefits.

  • Better business decisions
  • Faster and more accurate reporting
  • Improving operational efficiency
  • Identifying new revenue opportunities
  • Gaining a high-level view of operational efficiency
  • Streamlining internal decision-making and processes
  • Pinpointing areas for improvement
  • and more

Key features for business intelligence

Business intelligence combines a complex set of analysis tools to help you streamline company operations. When you’re on the hunt for business intelligence software, keep an eye out for these must-have features:

Real-Time Data

Don’t settle for anything less than data on demand. It’s time everyone has access to fresh, reliable data. Drill deeper. Ask more. Share easier. Integrate new data, keeping key decision makers informed, minute by minute.

Data Visualization

Business intelligence software should make data as easy to understand as possible. BI analytics software should include the ability to transform data sets into charts, graphs and tables with beautiful data visualization.

Security

Data security and data governance should be central to any BI tool set, where one single source of truth is available to all users. Choose a BI software solution that prioritizes user safety and privacy, keeping hackers and competitors at bay.

Reports & Dashboards

Reports and dashboards take your company’s raw data and transforms it into crisp visuals for easier decision making. Save time and focus on what really matters with better data visualization.

Customer & Technical Support

Confused about a feature? Looking for a quick answer to a pressing question? As with any software or tool, at some point, you’ll need extra support. Select a data analytics software program that gives you reliable access to technical and customer support.

Ease of Use

Not everyone is a trained data analyst. From C-suite executives to account managers -- the easier your software is to use, the more they’ll use it and continually gain fresh insights as a result.

Evaluation criteria for business intelligence & analytics platforms

Every company is different and has different needs. When evaluating business intelligence and analytics platforms, keep in mind your company size, as well as long-term and short-term goals when choosing a BI platform.

Company Size

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Small Businesses and Startups

Entrepreneurs and their teams are pressed for time and resources. Find a BI solution that scales, flexes, and adapts as your company and business environment changes and grows.

Mid-Size Businesses

As your business grows, you’ll need to make certain that your data workflow stays organized and efficient. You’ll need a business intelligence tool that can meet the needs of your company’s business users, analysts, and developers while simultaneously helping speed up analysis with interactive visual dashboards and reports.

Enterprise Businesses

Enterprise businesses need to support massive datasets from a wide range of sources. Whether you need to answer an investor question in a matter of hours, understand your customers, or scale productivity of business users and data analysts, you’ll want a business intelligence platform that allows your team to take immediate action.

Infrastructure & Architecture

Technology is changing quickly - don’t get left behind. Choose a BI platform that is fast, scalable, and continuously incorporating new features and technologies as they emerge.

Self-Service Analytics

Market trends have shifted toward tools that are easy to access and encourage collaboration among users. Seek out software that allows for self-service BI. You’ll also need ad hoc querying, which allows you to obtain data and analysis as needed.

Integration & Connectivity

Whether this is your first foray into BI or if you’ve used other software in the past, you likely have databases or applications you’ve created in house. Seek out BI software that gives you the ability to integrate current and future data sets. It will save time and energy, and ensure a quick transition into your business’ workflow.

Advanced Analytics

Access to predictive analytics, data mining and semantic and text analytics are important to any growing business. Look to the future with BI software that can mine company data and use that information to predict growth, areas of concern and opportunities for improvement.

White-Labeling/OEM

The ability to white label your business intelligence software is an excellent opportunity for your company. After all, BI is a tool, and you’re making it your own. You should be able to present it as your own, too.

Embedded Analytics

Embedded analytics are essential to any BI program. These powerful tools work within your current systems - and seamlessly integrate those systems into one another to help navigate your company’s data.

Scheduling & Alerts

You can’t afford to spend your days clicking through BI reports and checking for changes. Operationalize insights with automated alerts and actions, choosing BI intelligence software that that lets you know when underlying data and business operations have changed.

To learn more about establishing the goals and how to ask the right questions when evaluation BI software, download the No-Nonsense Buyer’s Guide to BI.

BI software comparison tools & reports

Make the best decision for your organization by comparing products using trusted resources we’ve organized below, including rating and reviews from real customers and industry experts.

Gartner for Analytics and BI Platforms

Gartner regularly produces reports on business intelligence, among other topics. Sift through their unbiased analyses for better business intelligence comparison of platforms. Criteria include critical capabilities, leaders in the field, research on BI vendor abilities and more.

Learn More

Forrester Wave Report

Forrester focuses on business analysis, producing reports on everything from artificial intelligence to branding, cloud computing to business intelligence. They provide an in-depth view of BI firms and developments in the field.

Learn More

G2 Crowd Grid Report

G2 provides consumer-focused reviews for business capabilities across a wide array of fields including staffing firms, legal service providers, cybersecurity firms and BI intelligence providers.

Download Report

BARC's The BI Survey

BARC’s The BI Survey is the world's largest and most comprehensive survey of business intelligence (BI) software users, providing feedback from over 3,000 respondents across 95 countries using 36 BI solutions.

Download Report

Top business intelligence tools compared

You’ve taken the time to look at reviews, unbiased reports, business websites and pricing to help make the best decision for your company. Now, compare the top business intelligence tools and their features and see why Looker stands out among the best.

Tableau vs. Looker

Tableau’s design focuses on visual analysis of in-memory data extracts, which can become difficult to manage and govern over time. Looker’s centralized, agile modeling layer creates a trusted environment for all users to analyze data and collaborate on findings. Because the Looker modeling layer doesn’t extract any data from the underlying database, deployments are easier to maintain and scale.

Compare Tableau & Looker

Power BI vs. Looker

Power BI’s limitations around creating and sharing dashboards offset its ease of use. And, it’s only deployable in Microsoft’s Azure cloud, which limits a customer’s choices in the future. Looker’s multi-cloud flexibility is an ideal solution for today’s modern cloud and on-prem SQL databases.

Compare Power BI & Looker

Sisense vs. Looker

Sisense’s proprietary in-memory ElastiCube architecture requires significant maintenance by skilled technicians. Sisense deployments often grow cumbersome as customers attempt to scale and the need for additional ElastiCubes grows over time. Looker’s centralized modeling layer defines business rules in one place that is accessible by all users and downstream processes.

Compare Sisense & Looker

MicroStrategy vs. Looker

MicroStrategy’s centralized semantic layer leads to complex deployments that often require highly skilled IT resources. The semantic layer can only be changed by one developer at a time, creating bottlenecks for end-users and limiting agility. Looker’s centralized modeling layer, LookML, is based on SQL, which makes it accessible to more users who can collaborate in a git version-controlled environment.

Compare MicroStrategy & Looker

Why choose Looker?

Looker was created with businesses in mind. We provide accurate, reliable analytics for everyone -- from data analysts to C-suite executives, program managers to department heads. Looker was built from the ground up as a modern data platform to not only use, but to seamlessly incorporate the latest technological advances to improve your business. Count on Looker to help you make sense of your data when you need it most.

  • Define and update metrics with ease. When you change a metric, our BI tools will update across reports and dashboards to keep your information up to date
  • Streamline reports and internal communication
  • Distribute reports on 3rd party apps like Slack or Google sheets using Looker’s API
  • Explore data freely and easily
  • Leverage looker’s unique modeling language to make all of your data available to everyone in the organization
  • Harness the power of data and encourage company-wide use
  • Process data with beautiful, meaningful visualizations
  • Customize dashboards to suit your needs
  • Connect to your information with data blocks to accelerate analytics
  • Store your data in a performant, less-structured database

Find out more about the Looker difference.

From start-ups to enterprise organizations, all businesses are becoming more data-driven. In order to thrive in an increasingly competitive market, decision-makers need to have real-time data to make fast, informed decisions. Business intelligence tools can help them do just that.

Eager to take your data and transform it into actionable insights? Harness the power of BI software to start making better decisions and stay ahead of the pack.