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New BI tools present tough decisions

BI vendors are trying to develop competitive niches for their products, but the trend is further fragmenting the technology market.

Business intelligence software is proliferating, and numerous vendors are seeking to carve out a niche where their products can excel. But this trend may have the unintended consequence of producing a plethora of new BI tools that are good at specific tasks, but struggle to deliver broader functionality.

Today, visual BI tools like QlikView and Tableau are popular. Other vendors, like Logi Analytics, specialize in collaborative BI. Birst has been ranked highly for mobile BI. There is some convergence happening in the market -- for example, Tibco acquired Jaspersoft earlier this year -- but finding one vendor to handle all these tasks with top-quality technology is a challenge.

Asif Hasan, co-founder of Boston-based Quantiphi, a data science and analytics services consulting company, said he uses Yellowfin software, which is considered one of the top location analytics BI tools. He said it's useful, particularly with his healthcare clients. The firm uses it to help insurers that are considering moving to narrow-network health plans and health systems that are transitioning to pay-for-performance reimbursement models. The insurers want to see if their resources are likely to cover certain patient populations based on where the patients live. But, the tool can't do everything.

"To have a way of getting at the data and building models on the fly would be phenomenal, but no BI system on the planet has that," Hasan said.

He stressed that this isn't a problem that's unique to the Yellowfin system. When a vendor tries to position its tool to be the best in a certain category, it necessarily involves tradeoffs in other areas of functionality.

This is a problem that has been rippling through the big data world for a while now. Commentators have expressed frustration with the fragmented nature of the BI and analytics tools market, as well as with the fact that there seems to be a distinct piece of software or hardware for every process involved in data management and analysis.

So how does a business grapple with this dilemma? For Hasan, it's all about the greatest good for the greatest number.

"We tend to look at what the majority of users need and then pick the right tool or batch of tools to get that," he said.

His firm chose the Yellowfin system because the nature of their work demanded concise location intelligence reports. It's also accessible for business analysts, who likely don't have extensive training in data science. But it isn't the only tool they use. For more stats-heavy work, Hasan said the firm relies on the R programming language.

So for now, businesses are going to have to assess their needs carefully and choose the tool or set of products that most closely fits their requirements, rather than search in vain for the one "best BI tool." Hasan said the proliferation of tools is not necessarily a bad thing. So long as businesses choose carefully, BI software can help give data a louder voice in the decision-making process.

"As the tools become better and the prices fall, that happens more and more," he said.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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