By 2025, data warehousing is projected to earn $34.69 billion.
Not only is the data warehouse industry booming, but companies using data warehouses are reaping financial rewards:
- United Airlines analyzed customer behavior data to boost annual revenues by 15%.
- Delta used data technology to link a smartphone app to their internal baggage-tracking system, and it's helping customers find their lost bags faster.
- EasyJet uses machine learning analytics to optimize profits by automatically adjusting seat prices on flights.
But profits like these depend on more than just your data warehouse. It also depends on the tools you use to interpret the data inside it. In this guide, we'll focus on the single most important data warehouse tool for boosting profits: your business intelligence platform.
Below, we outline our favorite business intelligence solutions in terms of their defining features, user response, and why you should try them on for size.
But first: What is a Business Intelligence Platform?
Gartner defines Business Intelligence (or BI) platforms as the following:
"Business intelligence (BI) platforms enable enterprises to build BI applications by providing capabilities in three categories: analysis, such as online analytical processing (OLAP); information delivery, such as reports and dashboards; and platform integration, such as BI metadata management and a development environment."
In other words, a BI platform is an application that a company uses to query, analyze, and interpret the data contained in their data warehouses. You can use a BI platform to deploy complex SQL queries, machine learning algorithms, and artificial intelligence tools to extract insights from your data. The BI platform can present this analysis via real-time reports, graphs and other metrics that you can then incorporate into your business decisions and strategies.
One of the most attractive elements of modern BI solutions is their intuitive, customizable, graphical user interfaces. The GUIs usually include dashboards with graphs, pie charts, and interactive visual elements. Also, you don't have to be a statistician or data scientist to use or benefit from these BI platforms. In most cases, you don't even need to know how to code.
But it doesn't end there. In a market where the use of predictive insights through AI algorithms grew by 270% from 2014 through 2018, business intelligence systems are getting more advanced by the year and companies are eager to take advantage of these advancements. The latest developments include "artificial intuition" that improves on using your gut instincts in business. Firms are even experimenting with BI chatbots and NLP (Natural Language Processing) that one day could allow you to query your data warehouse by asking the computer a question in plain English.
Diginomica agrees that the best is yet to come. They claim we are entering a "third wave" of business intelligence technology:
"The data analytics pendulum has swung widely over the past 40 years. In the 1980s and '90s, the software used to crunch data was under the strict, central control of corporate IT organizations. But over time that model morphed into a user-driven free-for-all that some liken to an analytics version of “Excel Hell."
The "Excel Hell" period of BI resulted in messy and conflicting insights, and results weren't reliable. However, the "third wave" that we're entering now offers the best of both worlds: centralized control for compliance and dependable results; and easier-to-use GUIs that give novice users the ability to run insight reports with little to no training. According to Diginomica, "faster analytics—based on the right data—can unlock new business insights and thus [unlock] new business opportunities faster as well."
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for new technology to benefit from profit-boosting BI insights now. By using one of our favorite BI solutions below, you can make better business decisions immediately.
Our Favorite Business Intelligence Platforms
When it comes to business intelligence platforms, our favorites are: (a) Chartio, (b) Periscope Data, (c) Tableau Server, and (d) Amazon QuickSight.
Chartio is a web-based business intelligence solution built for non-coders and advanced SQL developers. The service offers a drag-and-drop graphical user interface to create dashboards and useful visualizations. It also includes a SQL editor for advanced users who want to develop more powerful queries and custom analytics.
Chartio readily integrates with a variety of data warehouse solutions like Azure, Amazon Redshift, various social media platforms, Google Data, and more. Starting at $400/month for up to 10 users, Chartio is a great solution for smaller firms on a limited budget.
This Chartio user offers an excellent overview of the platform:
"Chartio's SQL GUI enables end users to help themselves, freeing up huge amounts of resources that can be redirected onto other projects. Chartio supports Google Sheets as a data source that enables end-users to build custom data sources for one-time use or in projects where they'll need to be in control of the data constantly, which eliminates a large number of one-off ETL projects. The visualizations are crisp and users tend to enjoy using Chartio. Chartio is constantly deploying updates to the tool by building out features that actually matter and affect performance/user experience. Chartio's customer support is outstanding in speed to response and the quality of help given."
2. Sisense (Previously Periscope Data)
Sisense offers advanced features that allow users to extract machine learning insights from their data. By combining SQL, R, and Python capabilities into a single platform, your team can use Periscope to build dashboards and metrics that reveal simple business statistics, machine-learning forecasting models, and deep AI insights.
With numerous built-in, ready-to-go integrations, Periscope data is great for small-to-medium-sized firms that don’t have a full BI development team at their disposal. That said, this solution can scale up with a small business as it grows.
Here’s an excellent summary of Periscope Data from a satisfied user:
"This tool has made it easy to write the visualizations that need to be surfaced to stake-holders. I especially like the fact that you write a SQL query and the data for the visualization is derived from the query results. This has made our business intelligence so much more flexible than if we could only specify a table.
With other BI tools, you have to specify a table and if you want to limit the rows retrieve and do a join, there is a series of drop-downs to deal with. That approach would slow us down sooo much, so I am glad that we are not bound by it in Periscope."
3. Tableau Server:
Tableau Server is a flagship business intelligence solution that’s been available since 2003. As one of the most popular BI and data analytics platforms, Tableau offers a graphical interface to users who don’t want to dive too deeply into coding. It’s also known for having a wide variety of out-of-the-box integrations, interactive dashboards, beautiful visuals, and excellent smartphone features, so you can access your data and metrics from anywhere you have an internet-connected smart device.
As a legacy, enterprise-level solution, Tableau is an excellent BI choice for large organizations; however, it also has options for individual users starting at $70/month. It's important to note that taking full advantage of this software requires a high level of expertise.
Here’s a great description of Tableau from a happy customer:
"Tableau Server is easy to implement in a global corporation in just a few months. This is a very user-friendly, web-based application, so all users do not require any training. An analyst or data scientist can publish a report on the server, the users log into the server from Internet Explorer or a mobile device and directly see the dashboards in a very trendy way! It’s a 3-step process which allowed our Fortune 500 corporation to quickly deliver dashboards and predictive analytics to 5,000+ users in a click!"
4. Amazon QuickSight:
Amazon QuickSight is a newer addition to the business insights lineup, and some users claim that QuickSight needs to mature before it can compete with more established BI platforms like Tableau. However, QuickSight has gained a reputation for particularly stunning visual presentations, an intuitive, graphical user interface, and interactive dashboards.
QuickSight is also known for offering highly accurate machine learning insights, due perhaps to its excellent integration with other AWS solutions. Plus, QuickSight’s pay-per-session pricing makes it a good option for cost-conscious users. If you're using the Amazon Redshift data warehouse, make sure to give this cost-effective BI solution a test spin.
Here’s a great summary on Amazon QuickSight from a G2Crowd reviewer:
"This extremely fast, pay-per-session cloud-based service is amazing. With QuickSight, we have the ability to make different dashboards that can either be accessed from any device or embedded into an application, which is what we did. We chose them mainly because of the pay-per-session feature that they have. This allows us to only have to pay for what we actually use. With no upfront costs and no annual fee, these guys are hard to beat."
Good Business Intelligence Needs Good Data
After all, what good are your data warehouse and BI platforms if they can't ingest the data they need to produce high-quality insights? Xplenty's data integration platform automatically integrates information into your data warehouse from hundreds of sources, including the following out-of-the-box integrations (just to name a few):
- Amazon Redshift
- Google Drive
To give you a sense of Xplenty's power, this user provides an excellent overview:
"Exceeding expectations: Xplenty is great! If I had to describe one thing that I enjoy the most about XPlenty - it would be the number of connections that I seem to be able to facilitate intuitively. I'm not a DBA—I'm a BI Analyst who needed to expand his role into a bit of data management for various reasons, and I've found the transition painless and liberating with Xplenty."
If you'd like to learn more about Xplenty, or if you're facing data integration challenges with your data warehouse or BI solutions, click here to schedule a demo.