4 Key Questions to Ask Before You Buy Business Intelligence Software

How to choose business intelligence software? Even before you start examining the key features of different BI solutions, you need to ask 4 fundamental questions on the role of business intelligence in your organization.

  1. Who is going to be using the data?
  2. How will people in the business use the data to make decisions?
  3. How will the tool create common understanding among all users?
  4. How can the insights be shared across the organization?

From launching a systematic feasibility study in order to start a business, to running a test period, and finally operating and ensuring your new business stays afloat for years to come, you will come face to face with the thing that looms over everything that defines businesses these days: data.

And the coming-of-age of data supremacy has created three interesting facts about how businesses operate today:

  1. Businesses led by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are racing to adopt or upgrade data systems—business intelligence—that give them better insights and competitive advantages in terms of ensuring their internal processes, capabilities align shrewdly with what emerging or changing markets actually demand
  2. Providing the means to make the best use of data has become a big business itself, the BI market growth through 2020 showing a steady upward swing in the number of players for some time now.
  3. Data visualization is taking significant prominence in the race to data supremacy.

SMEs lead BI adoption, mostly on dashboards and reporting tools

There is immense power in data, and if you are one of those who have seen it transform your business positively, seeing the virtue of eliminating the need to guess about whether your latest manufacturing process or marketing drive has proven effective and being able to make more informed decisions at a faster pace, then you have probably realized by now this is no straightforward matter as you are faced with the following: which one to choose then among the myriad providers in the huge business intelligence landscape?

As with most things, it turns out that figuring out the right questions is already half the solution to this puzzle. And for that, our resident experts and prolific industry practitioners have joined heads together to come up with 4 questions to set you on your way to selecting the best business intelligence solution provider for your specific case.

Before going there, though, be sure you have a clear goal for the use of your business intelligence software and understand which of the many benefits of BI is your priority.

As you probably realized by now from most case studies going around, business intelligence is hardly a one-size-fits-all solution: you choose a Swiss-knife do-it-all uber sophisticated solutions with all the nice-sounding features, only to see your employees getting frustrated and finally turned off by its sheer complexity. So be careful to be specific with what you want achieved with your choice of business intelligence solution.

One thing that could help you is by taking into account the solution’s perspective: which specific workflow details is it mostly adapted to? If you managed to have a good grasp of that, you will find it easier to match the business intelligence solution with the way you setup your own data and how you see it being accessed.

Once you have that clear goal in your mind, we return to those questions you will want to be addressed.

4 Key Questions to Ask Before You Buy BI Software

Question 1: Who is going to be using the data?

Will the data be used only by your analysts? Just the C-Suite? People in a specific department? Or will everyone perhaps be using the data?

In the past, the norm is for organizations to relegate data-driven decision making to analysts and data scientists, or concentrate data in the hands of their executive team.

There’s no hard rule to follow about who will be using your data. What is key, however, is to recognize that data-driven decision making accelerates productivity. Having a tool that can put data in the hands of users when it makes sense empowers more of these data- driven decisions.

Will the people who are going to use the business intelligence tool require special skills and training?

Experience tells us that even the most basic business intelligence tools require a specific set of skills to be used effectively.

Specifically, some tools may require users to know SQL to access data. Other tools require some extra hours of specific training to build a dashboard for their users or the ability to understand the entire business intelligence stack. Consider that even spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel require users to know how to write formulas or create pivot tables to get the most out of the software.

If, on the other hand, you want nontechnical as well as technical users to be able to use the tool, you need scour the market for a tool that accommodates this.

Can the business intelligence tool make it easy for users to access data?

If you are looking to get the most done with you business intelligence tool, then accessing data should be easy for all users. It’s a given that some data needs to be protected and private, but allowing people to navigate to the data they need without going through a raft of gatekeepers is vital. And your data should fit seamlessly into existing or emerging workflows so that users can run analytics on it without having to demand more time from IT staff.

You should examine the latest cloud BI solutions today — like Looker, one of the best tools out there — to get a benchmark on how much user-friendly BI software solutions have become since the clunky days of on-premise enterprise (the vendor, by the way, offers a fully featured trial plan. Simply sign up for a Looker free demo here).

Think of BI software as the brain that processes the data outputs of all your other systems.

Question 2: How will people use the data generated by the business intelligence tool to make decisions?

What are your specific objectives: data-driven culture or reports and a few dashboards?

User evidence confirm how data can transform a business in multiple ways. Just how it takes away the need to guess about whether something can mean a lot to business operations. Importantly, decisive use of data allows a company to make more informed actions at a faster pace.

Nevertheless you need to decide whether your ideal workflow requires everyone to use data operationally. If creating a data-driven culture is ultimately not your goal, then you don’t really need to spend money on a sophisticated business intelligence product. Basic reporting is fine for your needs. Keep in mind, however, that you still might want to create and nurture that kind of culture in the long run: as it is, the best business intelligence tools enable people with all levels of technical expertise to make data-driven decisions because they have the context to understand how that data should be used.

Are you looking at a business intelligence system that can deftly manage and present a large number of metrics? Does it provide a way for every user to explore what those metrics mean and how they are defined?

When it comes to data, looking at a black box is the last thing you will want. When presented with insight or visualization, users should be able to trace the source of the data and how it was generated. If you cannot understand what’s behind each piece of data in a report, your business intelligence solution lacks transparency.

Transparent communication is central to preventing controversy arising from questions about how the data came to suggest the outcome that it does. It ensures that anyone making a point based on data can show colleagues how and why they arrived at their conclusion. Transparency fosters trust.

You would not want to see “data brawls” within a business from growing mistrust, where people bring different metrics to a meeting. You want data to serve as a bridge to make decisions, not as a bludgeon to hammer down an opinion. You want to look forward to foster agreement on data and remove chaos out of the picture.

One of the better uses of BI is making sense of the huge data volume generated by your ecommerce.

Question 3: How will this business intelligence tool create common understanding for its users?

Does your business intelligence tool provide centralized metrics viewable by all users?

Business intelligence system should create a common understanding by using common metrics. This ensures that whenever a user is looking at a particular data point, all other users can reference that same metric. Variations on the same metric or data element across the business prevent that kind of clarity.

These variations, for example, may result in revenue defined and calculated differently by the marketing, financial, and support organizations in your company. These different departments may each have different data elements and metrics to assess their own performance, but the definition of metrics used across the organization should not deviate to ensure a centralized, common definition.

Directly related to this, you will want to know: how easily can you create and update shared metrics based on all the data in your business?

A mature system for metrics allows a common definition to be created and later reused in different situations by different people within the company. If the core definition changes, all the variations change as well.Thus every user has the same view of the data, saving time and money so users don’t need to be retrained on their metrics whenever something changes.

Question 4: Does the business intelligence tool promote or impede collaboration?

How can you share your insights with others?

Managing an organization, department, or project demands everyone is on the same page, and business intelligence system could ensure this happens by having people collaborate and understand each other. Business intelligence tools that support data-driven culture empower users to easily share insights and collaborate on work. Sending a report to a coworker should be as easy as copying and pasting text along with the latest information.

To ensure accuracy of shared metrics, you need to have the metrics served from a central repository but easily proliferated to each user. When data is not centralized and easily accessible, confidently relying on metrics as a basis for decision making becomes a challenge.

How easily can users find and modify content in the business intelligence tool?

If you have been with file-based spreadsheets before, you know how any change made by any user leads to a new version of the data file, effectively introducing chaos and a glut of files where no one knows which version is the right one to use. Hence, your business intelligence tool should simplify how data is shared and tracked.

How easily can this tool integrate with other tools?

If you are already using other applications and platforms, you need to ensure your choice of business intelligence software can handle integration with other applications—it could be Slack, Trello, GitHub, Zapier or what else you have.

Looking at Looker

Quick look-ups and neat dashboards help you make highly informed decisions on the spur of the moment.

As you probably realize, these foregoing considerations are universal and may lead to many different choices.

Once you decide to promote data as a prime driver of company decisions and effectively future-proof your organization, you might consider Looker’s business intelligence capabilities to provide firepower for your decision. To start with, Looker will enable your company to:

  1. Create centralized metrics and definitions of data to ensure reliable organization-wide understanding
  2. Easily share, explore, and collaborate on data and analytics
  3. Provide access to data in the hands of everyone who needs it
  4. Allow advanced analysts and data scientists to package up insights for broader use
  5. Integrate with other applications and data tools

Looker delivers these capabilities through an infrastructure designed to build on the learning of past generations of business intelligence and data analysis systems. And it takes advantage of the power of the cloud to render user experience as fast and pleasing as possible. The best way to evaluate the features is for you to try them. You can easily sign up for a Looker free demo here.

So what, indeed, is Looker?

Looker is a complete data platform that offers data analytics and business insights to every department. Depend on Looker to easily integrate into applications to get data directly into the decision-making process.

Currently, the company is powering data-driven cultures at more than 800 industry-leading and innovative companies such as Sony, Amazon, The Economist, Kohler, Etsy, Lyft and Kickstarter, fully powering their data needs with the following features:

  1. APIs for integration into custom or third-party applications
  2. Browser-based interface and customizable dashboards
  3. Collaboration features
  4. Drag-and-drop mechanism
  5. Easy to build dashboards that work on any device
  6. Extensible modeling language (LookLM) that defines dimensions and measures
  7. Fully customizable and exportable reports, charts and graphs
  8. In-database architecture, so transformations happen at query
  9. Live connection to any SQL database, on any infrastructure
  10. Modern IDE for agile development and embellishment
  11. Reliable tech support and self-learning database
  12. Powerful tools for real-time data exploration and collaboration

Looker and Visualization: The Next Frontier

Suddenly, comparing different KPIs across a time period and utilizing huge data volume is made simple with BI.

Some striking facts about visualization like the following give more than ample reasons why visualization is a core part of Looker’s Data Platform:

  1. People remember 80% of what they see but only 20% of what they read
  2. The human brain can only process a very limited amount of information at any given time, and data that can be processed much faster than the rest will take precedence in grabbing a person’s attention
  3. 90% of all information transmitted to our brains is visual.
  4. 93% of all human communications is practically non-verbal
  5. 70% of all sensory receptors that humans have are all concentrated inside a person’s eye, and the brain will then process up to 50% of information received by these visual receptors
  6. Visual content generates up to 94% more views for your posts if you add compelling visual elements and graphics
  7. Visual content that go viral can bring tons of inbound links
  8. Visual content helps you increase your subscribers and followers, up to 37% increase in engagements from targeted customers if the article is optimized by adding more compelling visual elements
  9. 40% of users online will provide better and more favorable responses to a particular visual content than other plain and text-based content
  10. Visual content generates more social engagement: use of visual content in Facebook campaigns generates 65% more engagement just after only a month’s practice

As users are exploring data, Looker makes it easy for them see that data visualized in many different ways and seamless for them to share their visualizations with others.


Looker’s visualizations are built using D3, a Javascript library that has quickly become the industry standard for building beautiful, interactive visualizations on the web. Looker’s D3 visualizations provide enormous flexibility to users to customize their charts and graphs so they look just the way they want them to.

Looker also makes it easy to schedule and send visualizations wherever they need to go. No special setup or coding is needed to incorporate a visualization into a dashboard, schedule it to send periodically, or download it as an image or PDF.

Because Looker understands industry-standard Javascript visualization libraries, customers can easily go beyond the library of visualizations offered natively in Looker. They can leverage the D3, underscore (_) and jQuery libraries to build out any specialized, custom visualization that they need.


Looker is a responsive web application written using Javascript HTML5. This means that Looker just works no matter what screen size you’re on. You don’t need to build specialized apps for iOS and Android. The same Looker you access in your desktop web browser is the one that works beautifully on mobile.

Looker automatically detects when users are on a mobile or other touchscreen device and the application changes functionality to recognize taps, swipes, and pinches properly. Dashboards automatically reformat to a mobile-friendly version when you’re on a smaller screen.

That Other Thing: Interactivity

While visualization is often a great place to surface interesting data points, the ability to drill further is a crucial feature for providing real business value. Visualizations are great at showing you what is happening, but if you can’t easily ask why something is happening, visualizations end up hindering exploration.

That’s why Looker visualizations are interactive, clickable, and drillable.

Because Looker charts are web-native, they retain their interactivity no matter where you access them—in Looker’s business intelligence tool, on your mobile device, or embedded in third-party tools. And by virtue of being on the web, Looker’s charts can easily link to other charts, other dashboards, or even outside sites in dynamic ways.

This lets you easily construct drill paths that, for instance, let you start from a high-level chart, drill into one account manager’s accounts, link from there to an account overview dashboard focused on one of those accounts, and then go to that account’s page in your CRM, all with a couple of clicks.

Chart Types

Looker natively offers all of the core visualization types that users have come to expect, including the following:

  1. Column Charts
  2. Bar Charts
  3. Scatter Charts
  4. Line and Area Charts
  5. Pie Charts and Donut
  6. Multiple Single-Value
  7. Visualization Maps
  8. Tables.


To recap, it is imperative that you must have a strategy finding business intelligence tools squarely meeting the unique needs of your business. Once you’ve answered the 4 questions above, you’re just about ready to select a solution. Otherwise, you’ll likely to end up with a tool that is either underutilized or simply fails to promote a culture enabling everyone to use data in a meaningful way.

Chris Miller

By Chris Miller

Chris Miller is a senior customer service analyst at FinancesOnline. For more than 5 years now, he has witnessed and written about the tremendous impact of digital technologies that have deeply disrupted the customer service industry. The onset of chatbots and other AI/ML tech, omnichannel platforms, highly personalized service, the emerging blockchain methodologies specially created a deep impact, all of which are reflected in his writing. His reviews of customer service applications serve as invaluable resources for businesses of any size and scale.

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