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Want to get an edge on your competition, grow your customer base, or improve the internal workings of your small business? Nearly endless sources of ripe data are out there to help you achieve your goals. But how do you cherry pick the most relevant data and analyze it in a cost-effective way that grows your business? That’s where the best business intelligence tools come in handy.
Business intelligence (BI) software used to be mainly for the big guns in business, but a rapidly growing number of small businesses have jumped on the BI bandwagon to remain relevant in today’s competitive marketplace. The market, however, is flooded with BI software products — where do you start your search? And what products are ideal for your small business needs? Keep reading to see our recommendations for the best business intelligence software for small businesses and to learn how to narrow down your field of choices.
What Is Business Intelligence?
Business intelligence is a blanket term that covers a variety of data analysis software applications that can include such activities as data mining, querying, reporting and online analytical processing. Think of BI software as Excel on steroids! Business intelligence tools can help you improve your internal processes, get ahead in the marketplace and give you a critical edge over your competitors.
There are three categories of business intelligence tools:
- Guided analysis and reporting, which includes tools such as reporting, dashboards, spreadsheet integration and corporate performance management.
- Self-service BI and analysis tools include ad-hoc reporting and analysis, data discovery and visualization, and online analytical processing (OLAP cubes).
- Advanced analytics include tool styles such as data mining, predictive analytics, statistical modeling, and big data analytics software.
What to Consider as a Small Biz
More than 100 companies offer BI software, with multiple platform and tool style choices. It’s overwhelming for sure. Here are some basic questions to help you wrap your head around what your particular business might need.
- What type(s) of data analysis does your business need? Different applications analyze different types of data related to customers or prospects, competitors, suppliers, internal business processes and more.
- How will you deploy your BI software? Consider how you want your employees to access the software (front-end) and where the application should reside (back-end). There are a wide variety of platforms available.
- What kind of workforce and resources do you have in place? Many BI tools require a dedicated IT person to build and manage your system.
Tip: Don’t just go for the software that has the most features and biggest name. This is especially important for small businesses. If you go too big, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for tools you likely won’t use — and you’ll need more manpower to build and manage the software.
Best Business Intelligence Tools for Small Business
We’ve based our best business intelligence tools reviews on several factors, including ease of use, speed, scalability, price, customer service, online tools and resources, and more.
Tableau’s suite of products specializes in data analysis and advanced visualization to help your company’s analysts see data connections in ways they wouldn’t necessarily be able to visualize with conventional tools like simple tables and graphs. Tableau is one of the most popular BI software providers for its ease of use, amazing graphic visualizations, shareable dashboards, and scalability. Due to its higher price point, however, Tableau is probably best suited for larger-end small businesses and medium- and enterprise-level businesses.
Pricing & Tech Specs
Tableau offers a 14-day free trial on most of its software, and they offer a free Tableau Public option. Below are the standard products, but you also have add-on options like Tableau Mobile and Embedded Analytics.
- $999 Personal Edition
- $1,999 Professional Edition
- Licensed software
- Windows 7 or later
- $500 per user per year
- Tableau Desktop required to author
- Cloud-based (hosted version of Tableau Server)
- $10,000 for 10 users
- Future annual upgrades and support are 25% per year
Qlik Sense is another cloud-based, self-service BI software that’s geared more toward small- to medium-sized businesses. Once you get set up and used to maneuvering all the features, Qlik Sense is a fast, robust platform where you can run analytics, reports, snazzy data visualization and more. A huge benefit of Qlik is its smart data load feature, which all but eliminates the need for SQL query knowledge. Qlik Sense is also optimized to work on any device. They offer a free forever cloud version, so you can test the waters for as long as you’d like. But you can’t access Qlik’s full data warehouse unless you upgrade to its Cloud Plus version at $20 per user per month. For most small businesses, Cloud Plus has all the features and generous data access you’ll need at an affordable price.
Qlik Sense offers a Desktop Version for individuals that’s entirely free.
Qlik Sense Cloud Basic
- Free forever
- Share with 5 users
- Max Application Size 25MB
- Max Storage 250MB
- Access to Qlik DataMarket Free Package
Qlik Sense Cloud Plus
- $20 per user per month
- Share with unlimited users
- Max Application Size 50MB
- Max Storage 10GB
- Access to Qlik DataMarket Essentials Package
Qlik Sense Enterprise
- $1,500 per token (1 token = unlimited use for 1 user OR 10 timed login passes)
- Licensed version
- Better for medium to large size companies
IBM Watson Analytics platform is a newcomer to the BI industry, but IBM is no stranger to BI — its Cognos BI software is an industry leader for enterprise-level businesses. IBM Cognos, however, is out of most small businesses’ price range (starting at $12,000). But Watson Analytics is geared toward small business needs. A cloud-based, self-service platform, Watson Analytics guides data exploration, automates predictive analytics and makes dashboard and infographic creation a breeze. No coding skills required! You’re not going to get the level of data access you would with some of the bigger players in our reviews, but you still get a powerful and easy-to-use set of BI tools that should be more than enough for most small businesses. Try IBM Watson Analytics Professional Edition for free for 30 days to see if it’s the solution for your business!
IBM Watson Analytics offers a free forever edition, but it’s very limited in what you can do. But if you sign up for the free plan you get a 30-day free trial of its Professional edition.
|Free Edition||Plus Edition||Professional Edition|
|Price Per Month||Free||$30||$80|
|Number of Users||1||1||1+|
|Storage Limit||1 MB||2 GB*||100 GB*|
|IBM Analytics Exchange Access||Limited||Full||Full|
|Number of Data Connectors||None||18||19 (Includes Cognos)|
* Can add storage for an incremental fee
Other Business Intelligence Tools Reviewed
Birst and Sisense are powerful BI tools that you can scale down to small business. They’re both on the expensive side compared to the other BI software we’ve reviewed. In case you have the budget, they’re certainly worthy of consideration.
Want to improve your sales, marketing and financial analytics in one simple platform? Birst could be your answer. Birst is an up-and-coming self-service BI software that’s especially suitable for beginners. A SaaS platform, Birst is feature rich but very user-friendly. Its cloud-based architecture makes file and data sharing a breeze. One of Birst’s best features is its automated data warehouse that’s easier and speedier to set up with minimal IT guidance compared to many other BI platforms. Birst also releases improvements every couple of weeks and is very reactive to customer suggestions.
Must contact Birst for pricing or to request a demo.
Sisense is an extremely popular cloud based BI software solution for businesses that work with large or diverse data sets. What sets them apart? The marriage between Sisense’s ability to handle complex data and its user-friendly automated features that require little to no data crunching experience. Sisense masterfully unifies data into a single location with an easy drag-and-drop data blending tool that eliminates the need for IT departments or hardware. And it makes creating dashboards and infographics a breeze. Sisense offers a free trial and a unique “test drive on your data” offer, so you can see exactly how Sisense can help with your own data.
Must contact Sisense for its annual licensing pricing.
Want to See Sisense in Action?
Check out the video below to visualize how Sisense (and other best business intelligence tools) work to improve your business’ data analysis.
Is a Cloud-Based BI Solution Better for Small Business?
A 2014 Intuit study predicts that 80 percent of small businesses will have migrated to cloud computing by 2020. Cloud-based solutions, including business intelligence software, are especially beneficial for small businesses for many reasons. The most obvious benefit is major cost savings — going with a cloud solution saves you a ton of money on hardware, IT support, expensive licensing and maintenance. But there are many other benefits, including faster and cheaper deployment, enhanced mobility, multi-tenant environment (more users and easier sharing of data), cheaper and better access to integrations, and much more. For these reasons, the majority of companies in our BI tools comparison are cloud-based. It just makes sense to get your small business intelligence in the cloud!
How does your small business plan to use BI tools to get ahead of the competition?