This technical analysis of business intelligence (BI technology) is intended for IT professionals who want to advance their BI technology initiative in small business.

18 billion cells—just in your fingertips. A billion more in a strand of your hair. You’re not a lone entity. Your whole anatomy is a record-breaking company: 37 trillion cells working together. Right now, every moving part of you is reading this article. If there is a fraction of you unsure about how to adopt business intelligence (BI technology) for your SMB—then you’re in the right place.

Like you, small business is composed of many moving parts. Put business under the microscope and you’ll see that the building blocks of business is data.

The business leaders of the next decade will be IT professionals who are most effective at leveraging data assets for business value. The source of this competitive differentiation lies in software designed to analyze data for insight known as business intelligence (BI technology).

 CHALLENGE:  Gartner research suggests that nearly 91 percent of organizations have not yet reached a transformational level of maturity in data and analytics, despite this area being a top investment priority for 92 percent of small businesses (published in GetApp research).

 RECOMMENDATION:  Traditionally, BI adoption in small business has been cost prohibitive, requiring a steep learning curve, and offering disproportionate functionality outstripping small business need. To counterbalance these impediments to BI technology adoption, invest in SaaS BI (business intelligence cloud) as well as self-service business intelligence tools.

These actions are justified by the following Gartner predictions:

  • By 2020, the number of citizen data scientists will grow at five times the rate of traditional data scientists.


Master BI Technology in 10 clicks:

Goals and Objectives
Self Service
Selection Criteria
Implementation Plan

Business Intelligence Definition

What does business intelligence (BI technology) mean?

Business Intelligence (BI) software is any application designed to automate the retrieval, analysis, reporting, and presentation of business performance data in order to help organizations understand and visualize their key strengths and weaknesses. In practice, Business Intelligence (BI) software helps organizations make operational decisions by enabling analysis of historical performance data and other data sources.

As defined by GetApp, BI software is for general business data analysis. It’s important to note that tools that are limited to one or a few domains (e.g., sales analytics, SCM analytics, financial reporting, web/marketing/social media analytics) do not qualify. Additionally, BI is primarily focused on visual data exploration and presentation (via dashboards and reports) and not other types of data manipulation.

BI technology can be broken down into 6 fundamental actions:

  1. Gather key data and metrics
  2. Present information visibly
  3. Share access to teammates
  4. Evaluate analytics to determine trends
  5. Make data fueled predictions
  6. Take action with an informed decision

Business Intelligence Features

The following are features that GetApp designates as being core to a product identifying as business intelligence software. Any product that we recommend on our Business Intelligence (BI) category leaderboards will exhibit the following core business intelligence features:

Collaboration Features: Enables users to share and discuss information, analyses, analytic content and decisions via discussion threads, chat, and annotation. Dashboards can be shared with and consumed by others, and its insights quickly digested.

Collaboration features in Zoho Reports (Source)

Custom Dashboards: Presents a visual overview of key dimensions, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) enabling them to be examined at a glance by all manner of users before further exploration via additional business analytics (BI) tools. BI dashboards are customizable and surface a range of visualizations (e.g., graphs, charts, dials, gauges, diagrams). BI dashboards will either be fed by a data warehouse or by direct data source connections.

Custom dashboards in Klipfolio (Source)

Embedded Analytics: Enables users to access business intelligence (BI) and analytics capabilities that are self-contained within the BI and analytics platform itself or are available for import and integration from third-party tools. The integration of a business intelligence (BI) platform with the application architecture will enable users to choose where in the business process the analytics should be embedded.

Embedded Analytics in Microsoft Power BI (Source)

Self Service Data Preparation: Capabilities are designed for and usable by the end user of the platform; IT intervention is not required. The platform provides the ability within the tool itself to access various data sources, combine data sources, transform the data using arithmetic and logical operators and functions, and load the data into the self-contained storage layer.

Self Service Data Preparation in Tableau (Source)

Visual Analytics: Provides an interface for querying databases by using interactions with data visualizations (e.g., clicking on charts or graphs for a drill down). Visual analytics isn’t a dashboard, or visualization. These interfaces aren’t a presentation layer for data, but an interaction interface for the database intended for one-off analyses.

Visual Analytics in Tableau (Source)

Business Intelligence Goals and Objectives

At its simplest, the purpose of BI technology is to improve decision making. IT professionals need in-context insight about business performance and critical metrics to determine the right course of action, solve for bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and strengthen their companies’ or clients’ competitive advantage. Related activities include, data mining, Big Data analytics, reporting and querying.


But what makes BI technology important for small businesses is the rampant growth of data. When left unchecked, data is a weed. It can get tangled up in your business by slowing down important processes and limiting your company’s ability to react to change. An overgrowth of information can cast a shadow over all of your data assets. The important information that goes unseen, forgotten, and falls between the cracks, is called dark data.

Our attention to—or analysis of—our dark data is like sunlight, and without it, the important insights it provides die off, and we lose a major competitive opportunity.

Don’t think of information as just information: it’s insight. And don’t think of insight as an intangible prism of knowledge: it’s far less mysterious. It’s revenue, it’s better customer engagement, its on-boarding the right hire or purchasing the right technology. Insight can be cashed out for real world business value—this is the goal of BI technology.

Some common objectives for BI practitioners include:

  • Discover untapped markets to drive new revenue channels
  • Identify hiring gaps and find suitable candidates
  • Justify technology investment to senior management
  • Learn why employees leave to improve retention rates
  • Map user navigation of your website to improve customer UX
  • Monitor your social media presence
  • Optimize operational processes
  • Quantify website quality with comparable metrics
  • Reengineer top performing content for repeat results

Insight: Turn lead into gold: child’s play. The continued success of your small business requires a higher order of alchemic feat: turning data into insight.

Business Intelligence Cloud

Cloud has brought BI technology to the masses. Traditionally, BI has been firmly an enterprise past-time—for no bigger reason than its expense. SaaS BI splits with tradition, and aims to limit the tech-burden and up-front costs associated with business intelligence. In the recent past, these were unassailable barriers of entry for small businesses wanting to get started with BI. Today, across every market, business disruption caused by cloud computing is undeniable in small business.


Business intelligence cloud deployments offer the following three main benefits that IT professionals need to be aware of:

  • Lower cost of ownership as compared to on-premise BI.
  • Quicker implementation time.
  • Elimination of staffing and IT real-estate needed to house BI infrastructure.

Security, data privacy, and concerns about data passing international boundaries are some reasons preventing small businesses from quickly adopting cloud BI. In addition, massive caches of business information still remain on-premise for the majority of small businesses.

Working up to the colossal task of migrating this information to the cloud holds IT buyers back from implementing SaaS BI, and is the main point of challenge IT professionals should expect to be flagged by project stakeholders. But according to Gartner, the forecast is cloudy.

Insight: “[This] reticence is abating and Gartner expects the majority of new licensing buying likely to be for cloud deployments by 2020.”

Business Intelligence Self Service

Business intelligence self service is a style of BI technology that enables business users— who are not data scientists by trade—to work with business data and BI technology tools despite lacking formal training in analytics. These workers are known as citizen analysts. The promise of self service business intelligence tools is that your analytics workforce is only limited by your amount of employees.

Business intelligence self service accomplishes two things:

1. Lessens pressure on data scientists and IT teams—individuals who typically create the lions share of BI reports—to work on more value added analytics campaigns: those projects which require greater expertise and are more centered on long-term business goals.

2. Allows workers—non-seasoned data scientists—to personalize or rapidly change their queries and which metrics they want to evaluate or track. They know best what questions they want to ask the data, and with this approach, the information needed to make the decision at hand can be precisely surfaced.

This has not been a fly-by-night phenomenon—but a gradual, disruptive change for BI technology. Gartner sees this as a trend with staying power.

Insight: “By 2019, the analytics output of business users with self-service capabilities will surpass that of professional data scientists.”

Business Intelligence Benefits

BI technology in small business creates a wealth of opportunities. Here are three core benefits of business intelligence, and three use cases to narrate the rewards:

Rapidly scale the business: Chris White, Co-founder and CEO of Shinesty, an online retro clothing company, used business intelligence to navigate the turbulent rapids of sudden internet fame after going viral.

“Our brand was unexpectedly featured by Al Roker on The Today Show. Overnight we went from monthly sales in the thousands to over $100,000 in sales in a single day. We oversold our products by hundreds of orders and had to hire all of my friends (and even my mom!) to help pack and ship orders. It was a nightmare! Previously, we tracked our meager inventory and order pipeline in a spreadsheet. After this tough lesson, we implemented new warehouse workflow technology and fulfillment KPIs to ensure we packed and shipped orders in a timely manner and thoroughly understood our inventory…”

Drive revenue: Zack West, director of marketing at Novomotus, a consultancy for search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing, explains how data analysis revealed an exciting opportunity to increase conversions.

“A single link was getting clicks from 85% of all visitors to that page. This particular website was monetized primarily through ad networks but also had a few select affiliate offers as well. We were able to find a suitable affiliate offer to use for that link and, suddenly, that page was generating a considerably larger amount of revenue for the site. Done on a site-wide basis, analyzing click-through data can help identify opportunities such as this—just don’t go overboard!”

Boost efficiency: Andrew Becks, Co-founder and COO of 301 Digital Media, an advertising and digital marketing agency based in Nashville, TN, gives credence to BI technologies ability to sharpen business operations.

“Data analytics is at the core of everything we do…with a lean team of marketers and media buyers, we have developed automated systems that leverage data analytics to drive decision making and budget allocation while measuring return on advertising spend in a way that just would not be scalable otherwise. Leveraging the power of data analytics into what we do allows us to amplify our efforts by orders of magnitude that would otherwise be unachievable.” 

Business Intelligence Risks

Self service business intelligence isn’t permission to fire all your data analysts: Citizen analysts, average Joes or Janes given access to powerful—and just as accessible—data analytics tools are very good at creating spot analysis or getting relevant, timely insights quickly at the location of need. But often these citizen analysts lack the mindset (or skillset) to interpret data holistically, and view the big picture. Citizen analysts may ask the wrong questions of their data, or misunderstand the output of their queries. Skilled data analysts are still needed to lead interpretation.

Don’t let your analytics become a straitjacket: data is important, but should not be the only factor of judgement for business decisions. Data can mislead, as it’s only as good as the methods we use to collect it; or questions we ask of it. Use the data as a guide, but don’t neglect your gut feeling or convictions.

Don’t buy BI Technology before you’re ready: Before you purchase a BI solution, you need to make sure your small business or client has the following already in place.

1. The workforce is willing to change – Transitioning to a data driven approach to business requires an adjustment and you must assess your teams resistance to this change. An immovable staff can derail attempts at implementing BI.

2. Time – Business intelligence cloud and self-service business intelligence options have vastly improved the time it takes to implement a BI solution. However, to see substantial return on your investment you need time. Time spent learning how best to use BI tools to solve your unique business problems. Time spent solidifying the right metrics, queries to ask of your data, as well as how best to share and make it visible. And finally, time spent analyzing, making predictions, and taking action driven by your analysis.

3. A culture of trial and error – The formula for success with BI requires some experimentation. Every business is unique, and therefore you must find what analytics serves your business needs most profitably.

Insight: Flexibility, patience, and dedication are critical to being successful with business intelligence (BI Technology). With these in place, you can move forward, or recommend your client’s advancement with BI adoption.

Business Intelligence Leaders

If you are ready to begin looking at BI technology, there are many options on offer from a range of vendors. The following are the top seven vendors on GetApp Business Intelligence (BI) Category Leaders, a ranking of the top 25 cloud-based BI applications in Q2 2018.

  1. Domo
  2. Wave: Salesforce Analytics Cloud
  3. Zoho Reports
  4. WebFOCUS
  5. Klipfolio
  6. Tableau
  7. Microsoft Power BI



Business Intelligence Selection Criteria

When recommending a BI solution to your team or client, remember these BI tool selection tips:

Integrations: Ensure your chosen BI technology integrates with all your important applications. Business intelligence isn’t useful if you can’t connect your primary data sources.

Staff Skillset: The business intelligence software you choose needs to complement your staff skillset. Look to self service business intelligence tools to empower citizen analysts.

ROI: User experience and speed of implementation are major benefits of cloud-based BI solutions. Professionals avoid technology they don’t enjoy using, which can slow return on investment (ROI). Demo products with the intended users to find the best fit.

Use the following GetApp resources to help guide your business intelligence software search. Start browsing BI tools now or you can also follow this helpful guide.


GetApp Features: Identify your critical capability needs by viewing product feature summaries on GetApp’s features tab.



GetApp Alternatives: Discover other options similar to a specific product using GetApp’s side-by-side alternatives tool.



GetApp Comparisons: Compare up to 4 BI products based on supported platforms, pricing, reviews, etc—make the right choice for your stakeholders.



GetApp Integrations: Synch your BI tool with your essential apps. For integrations related to social media, pair your priority social media platform with a complementary BI tool: 5 Essential BI Integrations for social media.


Business Intelligence Implementation Plan



Products identified in this article were shortlisted based on inclusion in GetApp’s Business Intelligence (BI) Category Leaders Q2 2018. GetApp’s quarterly ranking showcases the top 25 Business Intelligence (BI) apps based in the cloud. Each app is scored using five factors, worth 20 points each, for total possible score out of 100. These factors include user reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security. Each app’s score is independent of commercial interests and existing relationships that GetApp has with app vendors.

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