Spreadsheets only take you so far, even with pivot tables, V-lookups, and charts. When reviewing your company data, a story is much more powerful than a list of numbers. Business intelligence takes your data and transforms it into a story; you can see where and how things fit together (or don’t fit together). It is a powerful resource of information, but how does one get started with business intelligence?

 

What is Business Intelligence?

In a nutshell, business intelligence (BI) collects, stores, and analyzes company data. It includes gathering the data, processing it, adding benchmarks, and also “descriptive analytics.” Combining these pieces, BI often has data visualization features to bring the data to life.

The concept of business intelligence is credited back to 1865 when author Richard Devens introduced BI in his book of commercial and business anecdotes. Devens explains that “understanding the market and the conditions surrounding it better” allowed a financier to beat the competition.

BI continued to grow in use as years went by, including cracking codes in World War II, and then IBM took BI to new levels in 1956 by inventing the hard disk drive. According to datapine.com, this development is “the foundation for modern business intelligence.

Leaping forward through the innovations over the following decades, BI today has dramatically evolved. In addition to storing the data visually, the 2000s saw real-time processing enter the mix and currently evolved into the modern systems we enjoy today.

Investopedia describes the different tools and software used with BI to include: spreadsheets, reporting software, data visualization software, data mining tools, and online analytical processing (OLAP).

Let’s compare two of the more prominent players in the BI software market: Power BI and Tableau.

 

Power BI Pros and Cons

Power BI from Microsoft is one of the most popular software resources available in today’s market. Because it is a Microsoft product, it integrates directly into existing Microsoft software and systems like Excel, SQL, and Azure.

 

Pros:

Cost-effective: If your business already uses Microsoft Office products, it is lower price than bringing in separate software.

Data visualization: It is easy to get your visualizations and meaningful insights with user-friendly report-building options.

User-friendly: Power BI includes help and resources to get started on the right foot. It also allows you to connect through an Office365 Admin interface, making it a more familiar experience from the start.

 

Cons:

Increasing Costs: As your business needs grow, the enterprise pricing may prevent your business from expanding Power BI over using another software. Pulled from subscriptions and user counts, pricing may escalate pretty quickly with a growing company.

Data visualization based on multiple data points: It takes more data points to create your visualization, so it may take longer to piece together the story you want to tell.

Slower performance: Power BI accesses the data on your servers, not from the cloud, making large data volumes slower to process.

 

Tableau Pros and Cons

Tableau offers a free trial and also brings data visualization to your fingertips. It is quickly growing to be a significant player in the continuously expanding industry of BI. With Tableau, companies create “interactive dashboards and stories.

 

Pros:

Simple setup: starting with a free trial gives you full access to begin right away.

Speed and Growth Potential: because Tableau is designed for larger companies, it is more adaptable to quickly handle medium and large companies’ data.

Data volume: Tableau, working with cloud data, handles large data volumes quickly, with better performance.

 

Cons:

More expensive: Because Tableau focuses on capturing larger corporations, the software is not as cost friendly. While there is a free version, it has limitations and may not provide what you need in a BI tool.

More difficult to learn: While Tableau is very powerful, it does not have the same “intuitive” design as Power BI. Tableau is built more for people with BI experience.

Embedded reporting: Tableau struggles with this feature, while Power BI provides this functionality with ease.

 

Getting Started with BI

Adding BI into your business can help you create visualizations for more informed decision-making from hiring to marketing. When researching which BI tool is best suited for your company, there are some key factors to keep in mind:

  • The users: who is using the software the most determines who needs what resources. If it is a data analyst, then Tableau is a better option, but Power BI is a viable option if it is for other staff.
  • The purpose: what do you want to get from BI that you are not already getting?
  • Staffing: do you already have the staff in place to use the BI system? Do they generally require training in BI, or do they come with experience?
  • Hardware and software requirements: check with your IT department to ensure your software choice will integrate with your existing systems.
  • Customer support: read online reviews and check with other people who use the software; what was their customer support experience?
  • Business growth: choose software that incorporates where your business is at right now with data and resources, plus it is adaptable to where you plan to grow.
  • Upgrades and maintenance: research what is included with your initial purchase; does it include ongoing maintenance and software upgrades? Are the software updates included in the purchase price, or are they an extra fee?

Both Power BI and Tableau offer pros and cons based on your business size, user experience, and learning opportunities. In some ways, they both provide a user-friendly experience. But, ultimately, you will need to evaluate both options and make the right choice for you and your business.

Whether your business opts for Power BI or Tableau, time spent on research, asking questions, and exploring your options is well worth the investment for long-term success. Start creating data stories to tell the picture of your business with data visualization tools and gain new insights into your business operations like you’ve never experienced beforehand.