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Selecting the Right BI Tool for Your Organization

Business Intelligence (BI) can be defined as the set of tools, technologies, applications, and practices used to collect, organize, process and then present raw data to produce insightful information. BI uses both data analysis and data analytics techniques to consolidate and summarize this information which is specifically relevant to mission-driven organizations. 

Data analysis is a discipline that has been around for decades, but it’s due to recent technological advances that it has transformed into what we now call BI. Terms such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), historical analysis, and future forecasting are at the core of BI as they provide organizations with a holistic view of themselves and the markets within which they operate. But how does BI apply to mission-driven organizations?

Simply put: if your organization collects and creates data from multiple sources scattered across departments/policy/issue areas, then you need BI to make sense of it. And if you find that your existing data stack lacks structure and you’re struggling to use it to make data-informed decisions, then you will definitely benefit from implementing BI strategies.

BI has many benefits for nonprofits, foundations, associations, and government agencies. It helps to improve decision making, identify issues with the organization’s internal processes, and spot market trends and forecasts, which can give the organization a head start into new focus areas and priorities. 

What is a BI tool?

A BI tool is a software solution that processes raw data into dashboards and reports. These dashboards and reports offer a dynamic way to keep track of internal and market data. The BI tool pulls raw data from diverse sources, both internal and/or external (e.g., production line reports, marketing tracking tools, sales department information, and market research).

IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Information Builders, Tableau, Sisense, QlikView, SAP, and Birst, are among the top providers of BI software in the market; all of which offer tailored solutions with a broad scope of features and capabilities.  

Selecting the right BI tool for your organization is a process that requires resources, discipline, and commitment. To help you embark on this path, here are some key variables to consider before making a final call on a specific technical solution.

Select a BI tool that meets your needs

Each organization has its own particular processes, systems, and, “ways of getting things done.” The right BI tool needs to prove that it is capable of flawlessly integrating within your organization’s existing systems, especially when it comes to reporting. Seamless integration saves your organization money, resources, and time, and ideally includes support for data coming in from spreadsheets, CRMs, and any other data sources.

You also want to be certain that your organization’s mission and strategy align with your BI tool choice. In other words, it is critical for a BI tool and/or vendor to have a clear understanding of your organization’s strategy so you can connect mission goals to data support functionalities.

Managing your BI solution 

Based on the organizational criteria you have defined, you can further narrow your BI tool choices based on how much control and involvement you would like to have with the tool. Traditional BI solutions are very cost-intensive because of the need for specialized personnel to produce scientific reports; however, many modern BI tools provide organizations with out-of-the-box reporting tools which makes it much easier for non-data-experts to use.

If you are looking to have a more hands-on approach to a BI tool, self-service solutions give you direct access to analytical tools to be able to adjust and create processes and reporting that fit across your staff skillset to produce customized data management, analysis, and reporting.

Data hosting and availability

Hosting your organization’s data on-site gives you the ability to handle unstructured data such as images or fast-growing data sets; however, it requires investing in the right infrastructure to maintain it. Cloud and SaaS (software as a service) solutions reduce the investment costs of hosting and securing data and are generally a better fit for geographically-dispersed teams.

Prioritizing features

Dashboard and report customization, user access, and collaboration features are important elements to consider when evaluating a BI solution for your organization.

If a BI solution is able to integrate correctly with your organization’s systems, it should, in turn, be able to handle its data sources and, most importantly, be able to integrate easily within your organization’s growth. This gives you the ability to filter information through predefined  KPIs, integrate with third-party tools, and share across your organization’s structure.

It is also important to be realistic with your needs in order to avoid paying for features that would have little or no use in your overall goals and mission.

Ensuring security

The risk of losing or having data tampered with poses a serious threat to your organization’s wellbeing. When it comes to security, the decision revolves around who is responsible for providing security. Data solutions require you to build the right infrastructure to maintain security internally, while cloud and SaaS solutions put this responsibility on your provider. There are pros and cons to both, so you’ll need to clearly outline what makes the best and most secure sense for your organization. In an age where data breaches are a reality, this consideration cannot be taken lightly.

Defining your budget

All the aforementioned variables will eventually converge onto a single question: how much should/can you invest in a BI solution? Ultimately, you need to be able to compare the cost of investing in a BI tool versus running your organization without one. 

Some key questions to answer before deciding on a particular tool or vendor: 

  • What internal processes can you streamline were you to have a BI tool to facilitate them? 
  • How quickly do you need this solution to be up and running? 
  • How realistic is it for your team to commit to a project like this?

Practically speaking, there are four main fees that you will need to include from the get-go: Licensing fees, maintenance fees, hardware fees, and implementation fees. Cloud and SaaS solutions generally have lower hardware fees, while traditional BI tools will require a higher investment in hardware and implementation. And don’t cut corners that might help you in the short term, but hurt you in the long term, e.g., if you only budget for implementation or licenses fees, you may get hit with an unforeseen expense later on that goes beyond your budget.

Next steps

The selection of a BI solution is an exercise that requires a thorough look within and beyond your organization. While it can be a major change management endeavor to take on, a BI tool can ultimately uncover new opportunities and define growth for your organization.

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