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For a few years now, Business Intelligence (BI) has helped companies to collect, analyze, monitor, and present their data in an efficient way to extract actionable insights that will ensure sustainable growth. With this industry having its boom in the past decade, the offer of new solutions with diverse capabilities has grown exponentially making the market as competitive as ever.
In fact, it is expected that, by 2025, the BI market will grow to $33.3 billion, paired with the fact that 33% of large-sized businesses will practice decision intelligence by 2023. And not just that, with COVID-19 and remote work now being a permanent business practice, the need for more intuitive platforms that will facilitate teamwork across the board has become critical.
Taking all these into consideration, it is impossible to ignore the benefits that your business can reap from implementing BI tools into its data management process. If you are looking to enter the BI software world but don't know what you should look for before investing in one, this post will cover the top business intelligence features and benefits to help you make an informed decision.
Let's get to it!
Benefits Of Business Intelligence Software
To start putting the power of BI software into perspective, let's see some of the main benefits your company can gain from using these solutions.
- Improved decision-making: Making decisions based on data instead of human intuition can be defined as the core benefit of BI software. By optimizing every single department and area of your business with powerful insights extracted from your own data, you will ensure your business succeeds in the long run. Data analysis is no longer meant for technical users, business intelligence software is self-service, empowering everyone in your organization to work with data for their decision-making process.
- Enhance communication: In today's fast-paced world where people can work from various parts of the globe, finding effective ways to communicate is essential for success. Business intelligence tools provide you with interactive BI dashboards that serve as powerful communication tools to keep teams engaged and connected. Through effective data visualizations, managers and team members can get a bigger picture of their progress to optimize their processes and ensure healthy project development.
- Reduce bottlenecks: As mentioned, one of the main benefits you can gain from investing in professional BI software is getting access to relevant insights into your business performance that would otherwise remain untapped. Thanks to real-time data provided by these solutions, you can spot potential issues and tackle them before they become bigger crises. No matter the size of your data sets, the various business intelligence tools features facilitate the analysis process by letting you extract fresh insights within seconds.
- Save time and resources: While traditional data management practices encourage the use of spreadsheets and static reports, modern BI solutions offer several ways to automate the analytics process and make it more interactive and efficient. For instance, you can add all your data sources into a single point of access within seconds, and the tool will automatically update them with no need for manual work; Saving a lot of time that can be dedicated to other tasks. Additionally, these tools will save your company a lot of money on implementing wrong strategies that are not backed by data, optimize your service to increase revenues, and find profitable opportunities.
22 Top Features Of Business Intelligence Tools
Now that we’ve briefly discussed the benefits of using BI software in your business, it is time to list the prime features you should consider when investing in them. Here we will cover the top 22 dividing them into the 4 main steps of the data analysis process: connecting the data, analyzing it, visualizing it, and reporting on the results. Let’s get started!
The first section of this list of prime business intelligence software features covers the initial stage of the data analysis process. No matter the business size, companies are collecting data from multiple sources. This data is usually saved in multiple databases, external applications, or in an indefinite number of Excel sheets which makes it almost impossible to combine different data sets and update every source promptly. BI tools aim to make data integration a simple task by providing the following options:
a) Data Connectors
Our first business intelligence feature is the earliest step in the process. It refers to the ability to connect all your internal and external data sources into a single point of access. Having to manually deal with all your data from multiple channels is a painful task that takes a lot of time. Thanks to modern data connectors, data integration has never been easier. Connect databases, flat files, social media data, APIs, CRM data, and several other sources with just a few clicks. Once your sources are connected, you don’t need to worry about manually updating them as the software automatically shows you the latest data available. The image below shows just a few of the various data connectors offered by datapine.
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b) Flexible data integration
Having flexible data integration is another important feature you should look for when investing in BI software for your business. The tool you choose should provide you with various storage options for your data such as a remote connection or a data warehouse. On one hand, the remote connection allows you to keep all your data on your server and access it remotely. This means you will rely on the speed and capacities of your own servers when querying your data. On the other hand, choosing the tool's warehouse means your data will be cloned and stored by the software; which will also automatically update it as soon as new data is available. The benefit of a software's internal data warehouse is that they create specialized solutions that have faster and more efficient servers to support massive amounts of data making them more reliable than remote connections.
c) Join data sources
Another business intelligence feature from the connection stage is joining data sources. Meaning, being able to easily unify data from multiple sources to run cross-database queries and extract useful conclusions from them. Having the technology to match and unify data from multiple sources is critical to extract the insights your business needs to succeed. Modern BI tools should provide you with this power by defining relationships between your individual sources with a few clicks, for example, by setting up foreign keys. These keys allow you to refer data from one source to another and perform efficient cross-database analysis.
For instance, datapine’s BI tool automatically finds relationships between your databases and generates a list of foreign keys which you can later use to connect your data. Likewise, if you need to manually generate a foreign key that is not on the list, the references editor enables you to easily drag and drop the fields to generate your own relationships.
d) Label Editor
As an extension of joined data sources, the label editor feature enables you to change the name of your fields in the software, without changing it in the original data source. There are various use cases in which this proves to be useful. For example, when you want to avoid complex language and make sure your graphs and charts are understandable for every user. Changing the labels according to the use case of the data can make the analysis process more engaging and efficient.
Once you have all your data in one place, it is time to start making sense of it. This is where the analytical part of the process starts. With the rise of modern self-service BI tools, you no longer need to be a data scientist to understand your business information. This set of BI features aims to make the analytical process user-friendly, time-efficient, and accessible while still performing advanced analytics to take your data to the next level.
a) Drag & drop
For many decades, analyzing data and generating reports was the responsibility of the IT department, leaving non-technical people segregated from the process. This is no longer the case thanks to the rise of self-service BI tools that are built with ease of use and accessibility at their core. This leads us to our first (and arguably most important) BI feature from the analytics stage: a drag-and-drop interface.
Essentially, the drag-and-drop feature enables you, or anyone in your organization, to query and visualize data without writing a single line of SQL code. It is as simple as selecting fields from your data sources, dragging them into the y and x-axis, and defining any other conditions for your charts such as dimensions or filters. In a matter of seconds, you can visualize your most important KPIs instead of waiting hours or days for the IT department to deliver a report.
b) Custom fields & expressions
Custom fields are an essential part of business intelligence since they allow you to clean your data and manipulate it in order to perform advanced analysis. The tool you choose to invest in should enable you to calculate the most complex business metrics by using existing expressions but also by creating customized ones that are not present in your databases. The use of custom fields allows you to combine several dimensions into a merged field with the help of various joint types, as well as create individual calculated fields from different data sources. Thus, you will be able to create formulas for any data analysis scenario, giving you a lot more control over your data management. A modern online data analysis tool such as datapine enables you to generate custom fields easily via drag & drop.
c) Cross queries
Moving on with our list of business intelligence capabilities comes the ability to generate cross queries between different data sources. You might remember this concept from the connectors section of the post, the cross queries feature enables you to drag and drop different data sets and create powerful charts and graphs out of them. The true value of this feature lies in the fact that you can have all your available data in one place, enabling you to make fully informed decisions by looking at the complete picture. You can also generate your own cross queries by using SQL codes for a more advanced approach. The only requirement for this feature is that all data sources that you want to merge need to be located in the tool's warehouse.
d) Trend analysis
Analyzing trends is another important feature of business intelligence and, as its name suggests, it enables you to instantly identify trends in your data so you can generate more accurate strategies. There are a variety of trendlines that you can add to the data points in your charts. Some of them include:
- Exponential: This trendline is a curved line that is mostly used to show when data values rise or fall at increasingly higher rates.
- Linear: As its name suggests, this trendline is a straight line that is used with simple linear data sets. It usually indicates a steady growth or decrease in your data.
- Logarithmic: This trendline is a best-fit curve mostly used when the rate of change between one unit of data increases or decreases quickly and then levels out. It can be used to display both positive or negative values.
- Polynomial: This is a form of linear regression used to display data fluctuations. It is especially useful when analyzing gains and losses over larger data sets to adjust the trend to the fluctuations.
Among some of these trendline types, business intelligence software such as datapine offers a best-fit function that will analyze your data scenario and provide you with the type of trendline that better suits your needs.
e) AI alerts
Artificial Intelligence technologies are a must-have feature for any BI software worth its salt. A common use for AI in the business intelligence industry is smart data alerts. Powered by AI technologies such as neural networks, pattern recognition, and machine learning algorithms, the software can learn about various trends and patterns in your data and notify you as soon as a target is met or if any anomalies occur. All you need to do is set predefined parameters and an alert will be activated if something needs your attention. These AI-based algorithms not only make businesses ’ life’s easier by removing the pains of manually checking data but also help them stay ahead of potential issues that could affect performance in the long run.
f) Predictive analytics
Predictive analytics is one of the BI systems features that is becoming increasingly popular as it can play a fundamental role in helping businesses optimize their operations and exploit their hidden potential. As its name suggests, this feature aims to generate accurate predictions about future performance. It does this by using mathematical models to analyze current and historical data and find relationships, trends, and patterns to generate forecasts about what could happen in the future.
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Even though it sounds like an advanced feature, more and more BI software developers are including easy-to-use predictive analytics technologies in their self-service solutions. All you need to do is insert the desired points (as seen in the image above) and the tool will automatically calculate predictions based on your instructions; no need for advanced mathematical calculations or any manual work. Using predictive solutions can enable businesses to prepare for potential issues, plan production, and optimize overall performance by getting an accurate glance into the future.
g) Multiple charting options
As you might or might not know, the key to a successful visual analysis process is knowing which types of charts and graphs work best depending on the information you want to convey. Using the wrong charts to visualize your KPIs can make the data in them confusing, which can damage the entire analysis in the process. To avoid this from happening, BI tools offer over 25+ chart types including classic ones like line, column, and pie charts, and some advanced ones like bubbles, maps, scatter plots, and waterfalls, among many others.
Going a step further, having advanced options to take your charts to the next level is another important feature to consider. datapine’s chart editor gives users the ability to add a secondary axis to a graph to visualize data on two different scales. This is useful, for example, when you want to compare the number of annual sales with the percentage of sales that were made from your online store. The first axis would be displayed in a number scale and the second axis would be displayed in a percentage. Through this, you can extract useful conclusions without needing to generate two separate visuals. Paired with that, the tool also offers the possibility to combine multiple chart types into one to uncover hidden insights behind valuable business data.
h) Analytics features
Once your charts are created, there are a few twitches you can make to ensure you tell the right data story in an interactive and engaging way. The set of features that we will present below helps users efficiently visualize the data to extract powerful insights that will turn into successful strategic decisions in the future. Giving every user the power to manipulate the data to answer a set of critical questions is an invaluable benefit that can set you apart from competitors. Let’s explore each of them in more detail.
- AZ sort: This straightforward capability allows you to sort the data in the charts in ascending or descending order. This can provide a more clear view of the data depending on the question you are looking to answer.
- Previous period: As its name suggests, this feature enables you to look at the data from the previous period and compare it to extract useful conclusions.
- Conditional formatting: You might recognize this capability from other tools such as Excel. Conditional formatting enables users to add colors to the different values on the charts based on fixed limits, relative limits, or specified custom criteria. For instance, a sales chart by month can show the colors green, yellow, and red to differentiate the positive or negative development of each month.
- Tooltip: A chart tooltip allows you to add additional information in the shape of a small snippet to a chart value when hovering over it. This can be the exact percentage or number for that value or extra information to complement the data.
For a few years now, traditional means of data reporting such as static Excel sheets have been replaced with interactive dashboards containing multiple data visualizations. Given that the human brain processes visual information way faster than numbers or text, visual analytics has become indispensable for businesses to upscale their performance. Interactive dashboards gather all your most relevant KPIs in one central location that will help you monitor and analyze your data and extract actionable insights to ensure constant improvement. Here you will find some of the main BI tool features related to dashboard management:
a) Built-in dashboard templates
Following the principle of accessibility and usability, another important BI software feature is dashboard templates. Rather you need to quickly generate a sales report or track the performance of your marketing campaigns, having interactive templates at your fingertips will make your life easier. Templates are especially useful for users that are still not comfortable with generating their own dashboards from scratch, or for normal users that just need to spend more time analyzing the data than building the dashboard itself.
datapine offers over 80+ professional business dashboard templates for different industries, platforms, and functions to ensure that the analysis process is as efficient as possible. Take the sales dashboard below as an example of the various templates on offer.
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b) Cross-device accessibility
Next in our BI platform features, we have cross-device accessibility. This feature enables you to access your dashboards from any location and device with an internet connection. Like this, the dashboards and reports you create will be available to you at all times, whether you are outside of the office or presenting them on a bigger screen to support a business meeting. A simple internet connection is all you need to access your data from a desktop, tablet, laptop, smartphone, or any other device.
Interactive online dashboards include real-time data that keeps you updated on anything that happens in your business, once your sources are connected, you no longer need to worry about manually updating them as the tool will provide you with fresh insights as soon as new information is available.
c) Mobile friendliness
While having cross-device accessibility is an invaluable feature, it can be less effective if the dashboards are not scaling to the screen in which they are being displayed. In order to provide users with the best viewing experience possible, dashboards should be mobile-friendly, meaning they should adapt to the screen size in a way that doesn’t disrupt the layout. Having this possibility enables decision-makers to have quick access to their performance in real-time no matter where they are.
Users can edit their dashboards on mobile mode to decide which graphs and charts they want to display in the mobile view. An important note is to only keep the visuals that are necessary, as a phone screen is very small and can be easily overcrowded. The image below shows a mobile dashboard generated with datapine's dashboard generator.
d) Interactive Features
The value of a BI dashboard used for online reporting lies in its interactivity, which makes the entire analysis process more efficient and accessible. With this principle in mind, the BI software you choose to invest in should provide several interactive features such as filtering options that will allow you to visualize your data from different perspectives. This will help you avoid having the same information multiple times in the same dashboard, making the process of analyzing your data way more productive.
Given that one of the main benefits of using data in a business context is to foster collaboration and communication across departments and key stakeholders, having interactive filters that can make the analytics process more engaging and complete is invaluable. Among some of the most useful interactive dashboard features you should look for you can find:
- Drill down: This feature enables you to look at lower levels of data all on the same chart. By simply clicking on your visualization you can drill down into a lower level of the axis to get different, more detailed insights into your data. For example, if you are looking at the performance of your social channels by country, you can simply click on a specific channel and the entire chart will be filtered based on the country-specific performance of that channel.
- Drill through: One of the dashboard design principles is to not overcrowd your reports with big charts that will take up all the space. The drill through interactive feature aims to help you avoid this mistake by giving you the possibility to see additional information about a graph or a KPI on your dashboard. All you need to do is click on the specific value and the dashboard will immediately display it in a bigger size for a more detailed view without the need to be presented on the main screen.
- Click-to-filter: A well-constructed dashboard should give you the possibility to easily explore your data on one screen. The click-to-filter option helps you do just that, by utilizing the dimensions of the charts as a temporary filter. All you need to do is click on the desired value or graph and the entire dashboard will filter based on it, displaying new insights within seconds. For example, if you have a map chart, you can click on a specific country or region, and the entire dashboard will be filtered showing only data for that specific territory.
- Time-interval widget: This feature allows you to enhance individual time scales on different charts in your dashboards. It basically lets you choose which time interval of data is being displayed in your charts which can be date or time. This enables you to consult on different time frames to support discussions without having to filter the entire dashboard.
- Cross-tab filter: If you generated a dashboard that has multiple tabs, the cross-tab filter will enable you to apply a filter to all tabs simultaneously. This saves you precious time in having to manually apply filters to each of the tabs separately. We will discuss dashboard tabs in more detail in the next point.
e) Dashboard tabs
As mentioned throughout this post, the value of using dashboards for your analytical processes is the fact that they provide a centralized view of your most important indicators. Traditionally, companies needed to rely on multiple static reports to compare the data, making the process way less efficient and more time-consuming. To avoid that from happening, BI software should include dashboard tabs as a key feature. These tabs give users the ability to gather their data in an organized and efficient manner and have it available to them with just one click.
A great use case for this feature can be for the marketing department. Imagine your business generates strategies for different channels. A marketing dashboard could include a different tab for each channel and provide a detailed view of the performance of each of them separately, instead of cramming all the data into one single view. Likewise, the different charts and graphs contained on each tab can be easily connected to each other using the interactive filters that we just discussed in the previous point.
f) Custom design
In order to provide you with full control over your dashboards, the global style option is an invaluable feature of business intelligence tools. Global style options allow you to customize your dashboards by changing the colors, fonts, backgrounds, charts, texts, symbols, etc. so they can be aligned with your brand’s corporate image. Additionally, you use predefined dashboard themes that stick to your data story or generate your own themes that you can then easily implement into all your dashboards with just a few clicks. Tools such as datapine provide you with 25+ chart types to choose from to visualize your data in the best possible way, you can also browse our icons library and pick whichever one works best for your data story.
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The next part of our list of BI software features concentrates on the reporting portion of the analytics process. Efficient reporting has the goal of making businesses' life’s easier by providing efficient solutions to generate interactive reports. Traditional means of reporting are time-consuming as they require a lot of manual work. For this reason, when investing in BI software for your company you need to make sure that the tool you choose enables you to leave the pains of manual reporting in the past, so you can focus your time on analyzing and extracting actionable insights to improve your business performance. Some of the main BI features for reporting include:
a) Sharing options
Sharing your reports is one of the most critical features of BI tools. The main purpose of modern reporting solutions is to enhance communication between teams by empowering everyone to work with data even without technical skills. Standard sharing options include manual exports and emailing reports, however, the cloud nature of self-service BI tools takes the sharing experience one step further by providing other extremely useful options such as automated reports that are sent to customized recipients or groups with specific filters. For example, sales data for a specific region. This feature is seen in the image below with datapine's sharing capabilities.
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Other convenient sharing options provided by business intelligence tools include sharing your dashboards via a live URL that is password-protected for extra safety. This is an especially useful feature for interdisciplinary projects where teams need to work conjointly from different parts of the world as they can easily access the data, significantly enhancing collaboration. Lastly, if you need to print your weekly or monthly reports to physically share them in a meeting, they can be easily adapted to any export format such as PDF, PNG, Excel, and many more, without breaking any charts or graphs.
b) Embedding & white labeling capabilities
Embedding analytics is one of the BI trends that gain force in 2022 and will continue to grow in 2023. To put it simply, embedding analytics is a business intelligence feature that enables you to integrate an analytics software with all its attributes into your own system. Tools such as datapine, enable you to embed interactive dashboards into your own application, this way you get all the benefits of a BI reporting tool without the costs and manual work of creating one of your own. Through this, you get full control over your analysis process from monitoring, to visualizing and extracting actionable insights.
As a part of that, a white-labeling feature enables you to customize the software interface to match the colors, logo, and scheme of your business. This is particularly useful in two cases. On one hand, if you are providing clients with reports, you can customize them according to their brand image for a more professional look (more on this on the next point). On the other hand, if you are embedding BI software into your company’s system you can offer all its analytical capabilities to your clients as an extra service and generate a new revenue stream for your organization.
Implementing embedding analytics in your business can help you provide your employees, investors, partners, clients, or any other relevant stakeholders, with an excellent reporting experience with better insights into relevant data.
c) Client reporting
Being able to automatically generate external client reports is another of the most important features of business intelligence tools you should consider. As mentioned before, traditional means of reporting can take several hours or even days, leaving almost no time to perform analysis or other tasks such as planning and implementing strategies. A modern BI reporting tool provides you with automated features to generate a professional client dashboard with just a few clicks. You just need to schedule your reports to be generated in a specific time frame and sent to selected recipients. Additionally, dashboards are white-labeled, meaning they can be customized to the color, logo, and font of your clients for an extra professional look. This will allow you to deliver a quality service while optimizing your internal processes for an efficient workflow.
d) Viewing rights
Last but not least, the security and integrity of your data are one of the key features of business intelligence applications. Your reports contain a lot of sensitive data about your company that needs to be protected since a leak can bring bad consequences. Tools such as datapine provide you with different viewing rights so you can determine in which way your information will be viewed and interacted with by specific users. This way you get full control over how your data is being managed and increase the protection in your analysis process. There are several scenarios in which you will need to share your reports with internal and external stakeholders, here are 4 levels of viewing rights that can make sharing dashboards safer and more efficient:
- Administrator: The admin view is the most powerful role, it should allow you to manage your reports without any limitations, be able to add other editors or viewers, and access all the BI software features in the process.
- Viewer: As its name suggests this role is limited to viewing the dashboards and accessing the interactive features that we mentioned above. Viewers can filter the available data for a more interactive analysis process, but cannot edit anything in the report.
- Editor: Similar to the administrator role, the editor has limited access to the business intelligence software features, can only edit dashboards that have been shared with them, and cannot edit or delete any of the current databases present in the dashboard.
- Power viewer: Last but not least, the power viewer has access to the interactive dashboards and its filtering capabilities can access a chart library previously assigned by the admin and can edit dashboards only based on the existing charts.
Key Takeaways From BI Tools Features
As we reach the end of this insightful post on the most important features of business intelligence we hope you have a better understanding of what benefits these types of solutions can bring to your business analytics. We provided you with some important numbers on how this market will keep growing in the following years, gave you a few general benefits, and a complete list of the top 22 most competitive features you should look for when investing in a BI tool for your business.
Above all, an important takeaway is to understand that dealing with data is no longer a segregated task. Considering that 74% of employees report feeling overwhelmed when working with data, the ability to provide accessible solutions that will empower everyone to work with data in an intuitive and accessible way is an indisputable benefit. In the long run, your entire business will become data-driven setting you apart from competitors.
To summarize, here are the top 22 features of business intelligence you should know about:
- Data Connectors
- Flexible data integration
- Join data sources
- Label Editor
- Drag & drop interface
- Custom fields & expressions
- Cross-database queries
- Trend analysis
- AI alerts
- Predictive analytics
- Multiple charting options
- Chart functions
- Dashboard templates
- Cross-device accessibility
- Interactive dashboard filters
- Dashboard tabs
- Custom dashboard design
- Sharing options
- Embedding analytics
- Client reporting
- Viewing rights
If you want to see all these 22 features in action, take a look at this insightful video of datapine's BI software in action:
Now it's time to put all the knowledge you gained into action and test our professional business intelligence software for 14-days for free!