It’s estimated that up to 50 million companies around the world use Google Analytics to help them grow their businesses. It’s a no-brainer why that’s so: Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool that helps businesses of all sizes begin to capture their website traffic data, measure the effectiveness of online campaigns, and learn about their customers’ characteristics and buying behaviors without a great deal of effort or expense. Once an account is set up, it will automatically begin collecting data and provide reports that help businesses respond to their customer base more effectively.
But for ambitious startups, is Google Analytics really the best analytical tool to start with? Is the best strategy to wait until a business begins to gain some traction before it invests in more comprehensive tools like business intelligence (BI) software? If so, how does a business know when is the right time to step it up from one to the other?
The New Business Intelligence
First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about. With the somewhat lofty moniker of ‘Business Intelligence,’ many small, medium, and start-up businesses make the mistake of assuming that BI is only for large corporations that have the resources to pay a staff of IT experts to write sophisticated code and generate a range of business reports.
That may have been true in the early 1990s when BI got its start, but not anymore. As business technology has advanced at lightning speed, a new generation of BI tools has evolved to provide features that are specifically attractive to small and medium-sized businesses, and even startups. At the same time, the cost of feature-rich BI software has fallen dramatically, making it more affordable to businesses of all sizes, including resource-constrained startups. In fact, the BI and analytics market is predicted to grow up to $20 billion by 2019(1).
The availability of new BI tools means that virtually any business of any size can become a smarter, data-driven one—treating their data as a business asset and using it for competitive advantage.
The benefits can be profound. BI tools can help accelerate and fine-tune decision-making, optimize business processes, increase operational efficiency, reduce waste, drive revenues and
The simplicity built into the new generation of BI tools means they are no longer only found within the domain of highly specialized data architects and analysts. More people throughout the organization can access and be informed by reports and graphical visualizations of performance metrics, benchmarks, trends, and KPIs produced by the tools.
Where the scope of Google Analytics is limited to website traffic data and basic reports, the new BI tools allow users to connect disparate data sources, develop a unified view of their diverse data, easily initiate sophisticated data analysis, and view insightful business reports on user-friendly, graphically informative dashboards.
In fact, BI tools are so effective that big data corporations are putting them to use as front-end interfaces for their big data systems.
But what is BI, exactly?
In essence, ‘business intelligence’ refers to the business systems that apply data analysis techniques and provide reports to help businesses make smarter and more lucrative business decisions. It includes a wide array of tools, applications, and methods that allow organizations to glean insights from their data, monitor performance, track effectiveness, spot trends, predict demand, and more.
A core component of BI is usually some variety of data warehousing—where structured data from multiple sources are aggregated in order to be compared and analyzed as a whole. The result is more impactful, insightful, and broad-reaching perspectives of the business’ performance. BI also often includes the processes that are necessary to ensure that the quality of the data being analyzed is accurate and consistent—such as data transformation, consolidation, and data cleaning—so that the results can be trusted.
Can a Startup Really Start with BI?
The question might easily be: can a startup afford not to implement business intelligence tools right from launch? Can it achieve its vision without the advantage of having tools to monitor performance metrics of all kinds, leverage decision-making, optimize business processes, maximize operational efficiency, and sharpen strategic and tactical decision-making efforts?
By using BI for analytics, customer segmentation, knowledge management, client reporting, and workplace collaboration, entrepreneurs can take their business to a whole new level of success.
Here are just a few of the benefits of today’s advanced BI tools:
- Get instant, accurate, real-time reports that provide actionable insights whenever you want
- Monitor all of your essential KPIs in a single, visually intuitive dashboard
- Make data-driven insights available to anyone in the company that will benefit from it
- Easily build dynamic, interactive dashboards and perform ad hoc analyses with just a few clicks
- No need for extensive employee training or a complex data infrastructure
- Deepen your marketing and sales strategies with access to historical, current and real-time data
- Get an integrated view of your business data, company-wide, from Google Analytics, Facebook, e-commerce websites, to accounting tools, Excel files, CRM apps, and more.
- Understand your customers and be able to predict their needs
- Improve team collaboration by providing instant access to files, regardless of where people are
- Optimize service levels, minimize costs, and maximize productivity
How to Choose the Right BI for Your SME or Startup
Virtually everyone in your business can benefit from having relevant and insightful information at their fingertips to keep them on a productive track. Select BI tools that are easy-to-use, automated, and deliver data that’s up-to-the-minute current. Here are a few more features you should look for in your BI software:
- Leverage all of your business data
Be able to connect all of your company data sources into one virtual data warehouse to give you in-depth, comprehensive, and powerful data analytics for more profitable decision-making.
- Data trustworthiness
A good BI tool will provide easy means to clean your data so that it is consistent and usable for reporting. It would also give you automated data refresh features so you can trust your reports and insights and stay on top of your business performance.
When choosing your BI tool, consider the volume of data you’re going to process over time. There’s no question it’s going to increase exponentially. Your BI tool needs to be as scalable as your business and your business data.
- Highly collaborative
The ability to collaborate is fast becoming a valued business asset. Your BI tool needs to support safe, private, and convenient collaboration features that allow everyone to see and share real-time data concurrently.
SaaS is the most adapted solution for startups since there is no need for IT intervention or technical knowledge to get up and running. It often comes with a free trial.
- Customizable off-the-shelf solution
To keep costs down, choose a package BI tool, but be sure that it can be customized to your unique business needs.
- Data security
It’s imperative to ensure that your BI software uses a secure cloud platform that adheres to the highest industry standards of compliance.
Now’s the time
Investing in business intelligence isn’t a question of if or when anymore, it’s a question of which one. These tools are a necessity for all startups and small businesses that want to succeed in the fast-paced, competitive marketplace of today. The sooner they are implemented, the smoother the ride will be.
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