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How to Choose a Business Intelligence Tool

By trapezegroup


You’ve got backing and commitment from senior managers for a business intelligence (BI) project for your bus company.

There is a clear need for BI, acknowledged by all your important stakeholders.

You have a lot of data floating around, waiting to be consolidated, cleaned and analysed for the greater good of the business.

What now?

There’s any number of BI tools in the market with similar-sounding features, posh interfaces and New Age brand names.

While they all promise you the same thing – better insights to help you achieve your business goals – they aren’t all the same in terms of suitability for your organisation or situation. So how do you choose the best one for your company?

Some Broad Categories

BI tools can come in many shapes and forms. Here’s a few of the most common ones:

1. Dedicated BI Solutions

These solutions are capable of pulling data from any kind of database, from a complex CRM system to a humble Excel spreadsheet, and then displaying the data in attractive pre-made charts that are easy to view and understand.

Pros: These are made by software experts who are on top of all the latest trends and advances for BI technology, so you can be sure of getting a slick product that is powerful and potent.

Cons: They are deliberately generic in order to be useable for as large a pool of people as possible, which can result in the one-size-fits-none effect. You’ll probably have to invest in software customisation before you can actually use it.

2. Basic or Built-In BI

This refers to basic BI functions that are included as part of another type of software, usually one that includes a database. These solutions simply automatically generate charts or graphs out of the data you input.

Pros: Cheaper, as you don’t have to pay for these individually. They are also obviously already synced with the database in the software so you don’t have to do any extensive fiddling about.

Cons: They are limited in their ability as they are part of a software whose primary purpose is not business intelligence. You may not get insights that are penetrative enough or the exact results you want out of them.

3. Specialist BI Solutions

These are specialised solutions created specifically for particular industries or existing software to display performance metrics and executive dashboards. For instance, BI tools for banking institutions have evolved to meet the industry’s specific needs for regulatory compliance, privacy and security.

Pros: They fit your industry’s needs and don’t need expensive customisation to give you the answers you want. They should be able to start working for you with just the usual small adaptations to reflect your business goals.

Cons: Not every industry will have an existing specialist BI solution made for them. (Don’t worry, this doesn’t apply to you! Trapeze Insights is a bus-specific BI tool for operators.)

As a rough guide, businesses tend to choose between these three kinds of BI tool by looking at what they’re trying to achieve with BI and also what they can realistically afford to invest in terms of time, money and people.

  • If you have sufficient skills and resources in-house to create data models, set up software integrations and build the right dashboards for your business (or the budget to hire someone to do this), a dedicated BI solution is a very realistic choice.
  • If you currently have no system in place that includes a database, you need to start there. Study your options for the main system and see what features they have for built-in BI; if these don’t meet your needs, you can always add on another solution with better BI capabilities later.
  • If you are in a specialised industry (especially a heavily-regulated one with particular needs) but don’t have the time or resources to spend on customising generic BI solutions to fit your business needs and data models, a specialist BI solution will probably meet your needs best.

Choosing the Right BI Tool for You

Once you’ve worked out what type of BI tool you want to get, you can start shortlisting a few brands. Here’s a few things to think about to help you select the best solution for your business:

1. How easy is it to do what you want to do in it?

User-friendliness is almost a cliché these days but it is so important. If you and your staff can’t figure out how to get things done in your BI tool, nobody will use it and it will just be another failed project.

You should be able to play with the data easily and drill down into specifics from high-level dashboards so you can explore and uncover new insights or answer questions on your own.

2. Is help easily available?

Support is crucial to success. While any good software is as intuitive as possible, at some stage you may need help going a little bit further than the basics or you may find that your staff need training. Look for a reputable company with a history of good customer service and long-lasting client relationships.

If you have chosen a dedicated BI solution, find out whether you can easily hire a specialist consultant to attend to customisation and setup for you. You don’t want to end up buying the software and then discover you need to fly in a contractor from overseas to implement it for you.

3. How will you feed it?

It may be tempting to skip hiring any external IT people to oversee system integrations during setup and just get your staff to perform data entry daily, but don’t.

A BI tool is only as good as the data fed into it, so try to minimise human error and look for a software that integrates with as many of your current systems as possible so that data is transferred seamlessly into it.

Your staff will also thank you for it, as they will be able to spend more time doing productive work instead of entering data multiple times.

4. How well does it fit you?

Bonus points for the BI tool that has bus industry-specific dashboards, reports and KPIs. The less customisation you have to do, the less costly your implementation will be in terms of time and money.

While there will still be some work to do to make things specific to your company and your workflows, most of the hard yards have already been done for you if you select a specialist BI solution.

Good Luck!

Regardless of which BI tool you choose, the key to good insights is good data. So while you’re implementing the software, don’t forget that you also need to manage cultural change to turn your bus company into a data-driven organisation that collects data consistently, accurately and thoroughly.

Article written by Trapeze. Originally published in QBIC News, Issue September 2017.

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Trapeze Group works with public transit agencies and their communities to develop and deliver smarter, more effective public transit solutions. For more than 25 years we have been "here for the journey," evolving with our public transport customers around the world helping them to move people from point A to Z and everywhere in between.

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