Choosing the right business intelligence (BI) platform is critical for getting the most utility from your data so you can make faster and better decisions.

But with so many options, how do you know which to choose? 

Do you self-host or store your data in the cloud? Do you choose a browser or desktop-based solution? Do you need to have an IT department to run your data processing? What does your ETL process look like? 

This guide will take the guesswork out of picking a platform and help you find the analytics tool that best fits the needs of your organisation.

Table of contents 

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What is business intelligence and why is it essential?

Business intelligence is about more than just collecting analytics. It’s the process of creating actionable insights. It’s more than turning historical data and real-time updates into eye-catching visuals. It’s the way those visuals tell a story about where your organisation has been and where it’s going.

The benefits of an effective business intelligence strategy are multi-faceted and reach into all aspects of your organisation. Business intelligence:

  • structures your data allowing for more intelligent and informed decision-making
  • provides deeper insights into customer behaviour
  • super-charges productivity and eliminates information bottlenecks that can hamper your goals.

Business intelligence also improves data accuracy, which is critical as more countries adopt stricter laws regarding the handling and use of customer data. Without an effective strategy for data processing and data warehousing, any business can easily find itself failing to meet these standards and risk receiving an unwanted visit from government regulatory bodies.

Business intelligence vs. business analytics 

There’s some debate over the difference between the terms “business intelligence” and “business analytics”. Many people use them interchangeably, but some consider business analytics to be a subset of business intelligence. 

While they have many similarities, there is a subtle difference. So, let’s define these terms to help illuminate the different qualities and functions of each within your business:

  • Business intelligence is about looking at where your business has been and where it is now. It looks at historical trends and tracks changes over time.
  • Business analytics is predictive. It’s about divining where your organisation may be headed in the future. 

Therefore, while both are forms of data analysis, they differ in that business intelligence informs the decisions you take today while business analytics are for planning what decisions you may take tomorrow, next week, or even years from now.

How companies and departments use business intelligence 

The possible uses for business intelligence tools are virtually limitless. 

Large companies process and store their raw data in data warehouses and data marts, then distribute it to teams through reports and dashboards. Many modern businesses of every size use BI tools to compile CRM metrics, track human resource data, and display financial KPIs and other performance indicators at a glance.

There are healthcare organisations using automatically-generated tables and graphs updated in real-time. These allow ER nurses to track their remaining stocks of personal protective equipment and see their average daily use as well as the number of days remaining.

Every one of your business decisions can benefit from the increased efficiency and productivity of a well designed and well-implemented BI strategy. 

But first, you must pick the right tool for the job.

Selecting the best BI tool for your business 

Picking the most appropriate BI tool is about more than just comparing prices. You must consider your current and future needs, whether you have a data management team, and the types of data you’ll be using along with from where it will be sourced.

The first major decision: will your data storage will be in the cloud or on-premise?

Cloud vs. on-premise business intelligence 

What considerations must be made when debating cloud vs. on-premise business intelligence? 

The most often-cited reason for choosing self-hosted BI is data security. If your business manages sensitive data, especially within regions that have restrictions on how data can be handled, like in the UK, then a self-hosted option might be best.

On-premise BI solutions also have an edge on speed and availability and security. Without a doubt, huge data transfers put a strain on remote infrastructure and can create bottlenecks within your workflow. Not to mention the possibility of remote server failures or even internet outages limiting access to your data.

However, on-premise BI requires a higher upfront cost due to the investment in servers and the need for an IT team to manage them. This can put a strain on the budgets of start-up organisations.

Cloud-based BI is faster to set up and has a lower up-front cost. This makes it a practical choice for a small operation (with no IT team) that doesn’t foresee a large spike in data in the future. However, there are hidden costs associated with scaling up later if it becomes necessary. 

Why on-premise BI is right for you

On-premise BI (like Trevor.io on-premise or Trevor.io self-hosted) is ideal for fast-growing companies that expect to make use of large data sets

A cloud-based BI has some advantages when it comes to the initial setup. However, migrating data and retraining staff with new programs and processes is a costly and time-consuming endeavour. With an on-premise solution, you won’t have to make an ad-hoc switch if your business needs outgrow the capabilities of a cloud-based solution. 

The best tools for on-premise BI

We’ve examined all the options to give you the top on-premise business intelligence tools:

Trevor.io

The fantastic security features and its intuitive format is a great fit for non-technical users.
Trevor.io

Trevor.io has fantastic security features and its intuitive format is a great fit for non-technical users. This is because no coding experience is required to get full use of its powerful tools. It’s an ideal solution for fast-growing companies due to its flexibility and ease of use. 

Who should use it? Trevor is a great option for companies on a fixed budget due to its flat-rate pricing with no hidden costs.

Tableau Server

Tableau Server
Image source: Tableau Server

Tableau Server is among the leading on-premise BI tools which is a great choice for small-to-medium businesses which already have an existing IT structure. It is scalable and integrates well with third-party applications. There are three pricing plans available, charged per user, with different levels of features available.

Who should use it? Tableau Server is a good choice for small to medium organisations with an established IT structure.

PowerBI Report Server

power BI report server
Source: Power BI report server

PowerBI Report Server is the on-premise version of Microsoft’s PowerBI. Users can view reports on mobile devices, web browsers or through email. It also has industry-leading security features like real-time access monitoring and end-to-end encryption. PowerBI Report Server is a relatively expensive option because it is only available in the PowerBI premium package. There’s no option to access it separately.

Who should use it? PowerBI Report Server is best suited for large-scale enterprises or fast-growing SMEs with an existing IT structure.

Metabase

metabase
Image source: Metabase

Metabase is an open-source BI application for creating dashboards and visualisations through either an easy-to-understand drag-and-drop interface or directly in SQL using notebook editor. It has an embedded analytics feature for creating interactive insights.

Who should use it? It’s a great choice for startups or businesses with a limited BI budget due to its open-source plan being free for all users. 

Looker

Looker
Image source: Looker

Looker is a popular browser-based business intelligence tool. It gives users access to real-time reporting and data visualisation across devices. Looker offers customised pricing to its customers that varies based on the number of users and options utilised.

Who should use it? Looker works well for anything from small to large organisations that would rather avoid the work of maintaining desktop-based BI tools.

Zoho Analytics

Image source: Zoho Analytics

Zoho Analytics is a self-service BI platform that can connect to a multitude of data sources. It can create dynamic dashboards and visualisations using analytics processed through artificial intelligence. It has options for drag-and-drop creation of reports, dashboards, and visualisations and an exclusive workspace for collaboration. There is a free option available for a single user or a paid option that varies depending on the type of hosting server used.

Who should use it? It’s a phenomenal option for organisations that only need a single user due. Though it’s also a strong contender for organisations of every size due to its small learning curve.

Domo

Domo
Image source: Domo

Domo is a business intelligence tool that comes with hundreds of pre-built connectors to popular data sources like Google and Excel. It aggregates and processes raw data from these sources and can deliver automated reporting suggestions directly from data sources. Its pricing structure varies based on factors like the number of users and volume of data.

Who should use it? Domo is a great fit for organisations with an experienced IT team looking to automate reporting processes.

Dundas BI

Dundas BI
Image source: Dundas BI

Dundas BI is a browser-based business intelligence software that lets non-technical users have real-time access to visualisations with one-click report generation. It’s a highly customisable tool with the freedom to create eye-catching data presentations with animated transitions right on your mobile device. After a 25-day trial period, users can request a custom quote to fit their BI needs.

Who should use it? Dundas BI is a great choice for large businesses that will appreciate it being available on mobile devices.

The importance of dashboards and data visualisation 

A picture is worth a thousand words. Choosing the best data visualisations to tell a story is an integral part of modern business intelligence systems. That’s how you make sense of your data.

All the data in the world won’t help if you aren’t using it to tell a compelling story. 

According to Coffeebreakdata.com, “a good graph showing the profitability of a company or business over the course of ten years at a glance—with the use of colour, red in years where losses were incurred and black where the business was profitable—is worth a thousand pages of numerical and textual data showing the same set of facts. That’s where the magic that turns into effective business insights comes in.”

The best on-premise dashboard software for business intelligence will help visualise your data in an engaging way that adds value for the user.

Related article: Business Intelligence (BI) Dashboards: Everything You Need to Know

What to consider when choosing your on-premise business intelligence tool 

Choosing the best tool for your organisation requires taking an honest inventory of your business needs and resources and envisioning how you see a business intelligence tool fulfilling those needs.

Follow these steps to help you choose an on-premise business intelligence tool

  1. Clarify your goals. What do you want to accomplish? This requires understanding how you want to use your tool and how you will integrate it into your existing workflows. 
  2. Consider your audience. Who is your end-user and what do they need? Will it be for an existing IT department or for non-technical users? What sorts of queries will your teams be making? This will vary greatly depending on the type of organisation you’re running.
  3. Establish a budget. Remember to consider hidden costs like implementation, maintenance, and training.
  4. Map your current business goals and consider how they might change in the coming years. Some tools are more scalable than others, so better to consider this now rather than risk a time-consuming switch as your business is growing.
  5. Consider how much support you need. If you have an in-house IT team, that may not be a problem. But many start-ups can’t afford such a luxury. 

How to better integrate BI software into your business 

Taking an inventory of your needs is critical before you can select the right tool to enhance your business performance and streamline ERP processes. 

So what are your use cases? Where can your business benefit from data mining and data integration? Where can you use data visualisation to tell a story that elevates your organisation? 

And how can an on-premise BI tool help you achieve your goals?

Modern BI is about more than just creating spreadsheets or collecting data analytics. It’s how you take your unstructured data and turn it into actionable insights and benchmarks that business leaders, stakeholders, and decision-makers at every level can use to optimise their strategy for success. It’s telling a compelling story that makes sense. 

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