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  • How to Buy Business Intelligence Software

    When someone mentions Business Intelligence (BI), it’s possible that they’re referring to a number of different things. Generally, BI is a broad umbrella term that refers to software applications that are used to analyze raw data. Functions can include data mining, online analytical processing, querying and reporting.
    Most importantly, BI tools can help improve your decision making, cut costs and identify new business opportunities. When companies are looking for a way to improve their reports, BI is the way to go.
    The problem is, with so many different software options available and every company using BI to fill a slightly different need, you need a way to really figure out how to buy the best BI system for your company.
    We interviewed representatives from three different companies to get their perspectives on the importance of business intelligence, how to find the right software and what factors to consider when making the decision.
    Why Do You Need BI?
    Let’s start with a bit of background on the evolution of the landscape of business intelligence software. As analytics have gotten more complex and data sets have gotten larger, companies have become far more reliant on their IT department to run complex reports that require training to complete. Because of this, a bottleneck begins to occur as the need for analysis starts to exceed the speed at which they can be completed.
    For growing SaaS companies, this problem is even more critical because most cannot afford a large IT department but still need the same level of analysis to track their metrics. The rise of business intelligence tools as a method of “democratizing information access” has given sales reps and analysts the ability to analyze data themselves. This allows anyone within the company to use numbers rather than just theories, to back up business reports and decisions.
    “The Business Intelligence and Analytics market is in the final stages of a multiyear shift from IT-led, system-of-record reporting to pervasive, business-led, self-service analytics. Organizations will continue to transition to easy-to-use, fast, agile, and trusted modern BI&A platforms deployed across the enterprise to create business value from deeper insights into diverse data sources.”
    —Rita Sallam, Research VP, Gartner
    As a group that is willing to embrace any tool that helps them do their job better, the next group of BI users are salespeople.
    How Do you know you’re ready for BI?
    Investing in a BI software is a big commitment, both monetarily and time-wise to train your reps to use the software. Before you start looking into what software to buy, you should be sure that your standard analytics software has reached these thresholds and is no longer powerful enough to give you the insights you need.
    For Catalant, a marketplace that connects businesses with independent experts around the world, a combination of factors convinced them that it was time to invest in a BI solution. Jack Montgomery, Head of Sales Ops at Catalant, spoke to us about how Catalant reached a point where they wanted to scale the team and grow the business, and they wanted a reporting tool that would help rapidly onboard salespeople and act as an engine of scalable growth.
    “I think the biggest challenge for someone who is running an organization that is growing rapidly, is the requests for analytics start coming in hot and fast. If you’re not building for scalability in terms of automated reporting instead of building in Excel, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of trouble.”
    –Jack Montgomery, Head of Sales Ops, Catalant
    Depending on how your company is structured, reaching any of these thresholds may be enough to warrant the need to consider a BI solution:
    • IT has become a bottleneck. You should not be limited by the speed at which your technicians can run analysis. If your reps find themselves waiting on reports to come through because your current solution requires a lot of IT expertise to use, it’s time to look for a faster solution that everyone can use.
    • You have too much data, but not enough information. Your analytics should be taking advantage of every aspect of the data you’re gathering to give you a full view of your company. If you find that you’re monitoring and gathering tons of data, but that you don’t know how to make sense of it or aren’t using it to find out what improvements are needed, you should be upgrading to a system that can make use of all your data.
    • You have data coming in from multiple sources, but joining them is a pain. It’s likely that you have more than one source of data input, depending on how your company is set up. Your analytics software should easily pool this data into one location and convert it into a format that’s ready for analysis. If you find yourself dreading joining data from different sources and wasting lots of time finding ways to do so, it’s time to upgrade.
    • You’re wasting time modifying your software to prepare reports, rather than actually planning for the future. Your analytics software should be able to put together the reports you need to answer your business questions without much need for modification or programming. If you find yourself trying to create the reports you need instead of actually conducting the analysis, you should find a software that provides the reports you need.
    • Your competition always seems to be one step ahead and you can’t figure out why. In the competitive world of SaaS, if you start falling even a little bit behind, you’ll find that you’ll also start losing potential customers to competitors. If you start noticing that you can’t seem to scale fast enough to keep up, the right BI software can give you that edge to stay competitive.
    How Do You Find the Right BI Software?
    When looking for new software, the first thing that Brian Hernandez, Business Operations Manager at web and mobile analytics platform Amplitude does is to define his requirements.
    “I think about what problems we’re trying to solve and then put these together in a rank order in terms of what is most important in terms of capability. Once you develop the high level requirements, then you can go out and research what companies are doing this type of work.”
    –Brian Hernandez, Business Operations Manager, Amplitude
    The most important thing going into finding the right BI software is to have a plan. Every company will need BI for a different reason and will have a different use for it, but it’s crucial that you first have a full understanding of what business processes you hope to improve before you even begin your search.
    There are a couple things to consider when deciding what you want your BI system to do and how it can help improve your company:
    • Choose a business process that has a direct impact on revenue. You want to make sure you’re making an investment that will have direct returns. This process should also be standardized across the company so as to have the most impact.
    • Determine how you want information presented. Ultimately you want to present information in a way that your execs can use to easily facilitate confident and rapid decision making. Analyze how your company makes decisions and how you want information collected, analyzed and published to determine what sort of reporting to look for.
    • Make sure there’s a good onboarding process. Just as much as the BI system needs to fit your company, your team also needs to be properly and effectively trained in how to use it. Make sure to avoid any user resistance with an onboarding process that gives a thorough look into the software.
    How Do You Conduct the Evaluation?
    Now that you’ve got your high-level requirements and the problems you’re looking to solve, you need to start collating, then whittling down your list of potential software. It’s likely that as soon as you start your search, you’ll be quickly bombarded by marketing teams trying to reel you into buying their product. By keeping your goals front-of-mind and following these steps, you’ll be sure you’re making the best choice for the company and not just jumping at the best deal.
    Step 1: Collate A List of Possibilities By Use Case
    To start putting together a list of potential software, you should be making your choices based on the use case each tool is best fit to address.
    Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that as your BI tool becomes more integral to your company, it will likely start addressing more than one use case so you should also be looking for BI product suites that support combinations of different BI styles.
    • Use Case: Quick Guided Analysis. This type of software is for the companies that want to give sales reps and analysts the ability to create recurring snapshots of performance without needing to constantly bug a developer every time a report is due. Some software may even allow for limited exploration of the data to do a bit of further analysis. However this software is limited by the need for a consistent set of accurate data, and end users can’t create their own data visualizations or bring in more data sources without the help of a developer.
    • Use Case: Guided Analysis with Integration. Similar to the previous case, this software also requires a consistent set of accurate data, but now comes packaged with the ability to integrate with multiple data sources or enterprise operations systems. This allows your team to use this BI system in tandem with other tools they may already be familiar with and comfortable using.
    • Use Case: Self-Service Analysis and Personalized Reports. This is the most flexible and powerful use case, but also requires your end users to be fairly self-sufficient. Users have the ability to bring in data from any source, do intensive data exploration and create advanced visualizations but require the proper training to fully utilize all the possibilities available to them.
    Step 2: Whittle Down Your List Based on Features And Functions
    With your list of potential software in hand, it’s time to start narrowing it down to the choices that not only fit your use case, but also offer the specific features and functions you’re looking for. For Catalant, real-time visibility was one of their deciding factors.
    “I think the key to having an effective sales strategy and the sales analytics to support that is having close to, if not real time visibility into the performance of your salespeople. Having this insight into the health of your funnel and into your performance across different segments will keep your company ahead.”
    –Jack Montgomery, Head of Sales Ops, Catalant
    You can simplify the process of narrowing down your list by classifying each feature or function of interest as “must-have”, “nice-to-have” or “will-not-use”.
    • Must-have: This classification is very black or white. If a software doesn’t have this feature, then it’s immediately eliminated. Examples include: various data sources, web-based client user interface, dynamic in-memory connection to database.
    • Nice-to-have: These are the features that will set apart the good options from the great ones. They will help you tip the scales in favor of one option or another. Examples include: context-based filters, social interaction, performance monitoring.
    • Will-not-use: Often, the BI software you’re looking at will have a long list of features that you may never use. These can be ignored during your evaluation. Sometimes, too many features in this category may even make a software less attractive if you will find yourself cherry-picking the useful parts of a software.
    Step 3: Make Your Choice Only After First Using The Product
    Even if you think you’ve found the perfect product, you should never make a purchase without first using the product. Ask for a demo or free trial version that you can use to get a feel for how the software works. This way you can have your sales teams use the product and get input from the people who will actually use it.
    For Amplitude, free trials really make products stand out during the evaluation process.
    “Sales cycles have been really quick for vendors that have been able to demonstrate value on our real data, as opposed to working out of a sandbox or dummy data,” says Hernandez, “We really appreciate when the company has minimized the time it takes for us to realize the value of their offer.”
    –Brian Hernandez, Business Operations Manager, Amplitude
    As a BI tool themselves, Clearbit has discovered the power of free product marketing.
    “We give free trials for everything we offer,” says Sornson, “This gives customers a chance to really use the product.”
    –Matt Sornson, Growth Manager, Clearbit
    The Right Software Can Make All the Difference
    For a company like Catalant, switching to a BI tool allowed them to focus on actually analyzing the data they were collecting, rather than wasting time trying to put together the reports.
    “When I think about how difficult it would be to do the things I can do with Slate in say, Excel, it’s mind blowing. It would normally take me probably two hours a week to marry our Salesforce data with non-Salesforce source data in Excel. With Slate, I can set it up once and have it run on a recurring basis whenever I need it.”
    –Jack Montgomery, Head of Sales Ops, Catalant
    Now that you have your BI software, it’s important to keep in mind that it won’t just magically fix all of your problems. In fact, you’ve only just taken the first step. Make sure that you’re implementing it correctly and taking the time to sufficiently train your end users so that everyone can realize the full value of your investment.
    Source: business2community.com, December 16, 2016

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