So, you and your team have decided to go all in on data analytics. You’ve started collecting data, and you were able to get Google Data Studio up and running. Now you have a plethora of pie charts, time series, and tables. They look fantastic and everyone exchanges high fives. Analytics is about to change your company. But then...nothing happens. A few months go by, and your beautiful dashboards are collecting dust. You’re not sure how the dashboards are supposed to make your business more effective. You think to yourself, “Google Data Studio sucks!” The reality is, though, a platform by itself won’t instantly allow you to achieve all your goals. But what are you missing?
If we tried to answer that question for everyone at the same time this would be a much longer article. Instead, we’re going to review some key questions you need to ask your internal team before you begin the process of looking for a Business Intelligence (BI) platform. Then, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of the three most popular BI platforms on the market, while recognizing that there’s not necessarily going to be an easy, one-size-fits-all solution. We’ll start with Google Data Studio (which isn’t actually so bad, of course) and we’ll work our way up to a more comprehensive Power BI platform, which is what our team often uses.
One last thing: we’ll be using the term “Business Intelligence platform” as something of a catchall, with the intention of looking at three rather different products. At the end of the day, Business Intelligence is a bit of a nebulous term (in fact, at Anvil, we changed the name of our Business Intelligence team to the Decision Science team, because we felt like that name was more descriptive). Business Intelligence is all about leveraging data to make smarter decisions. A platform can help you accomplish that, but it’s not a magic wand. In data collection, we talk about “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning if your data collection isn’t set up properly, the data you collect won’t be useful. In the same way, you can collect all the pristine, useful data in the world, but you still have to put that data to use. That’s where Business Intelligence platforms come in. Ultimately though, it will be up to you and your team, with help from a BI platform (or several), to turn your data into actionable insights.
A key decision your team must first make is gaining alignment on the key performance indicators you’ll want to track with the BI platform. (Hopefully, you identified objectives and KPIs before you even started collecting data—for more on this, see our Google Analytics whitepaper). So, before we get down to the nitty-gritty of comparing BI platforms, here are some key questions you need to take into account:
Some other important questions to consider:
Okay, now let’s take a look at a few of the different BI platforms out there.
It was actually our Decision Science team that recommended the title for this post. They were kidding...mostly.
Google Data Studio is great for those just getting started with BI and looking to get their feet wet in reporting and analytics. If you’re reading this, chances are you might have already played around a little with Google Data Studio.
Conclusion: Data Studio is an excellent (and free) way to get started organizing and visualizing your data from Google Analytics and certain other channels, but it lacks connections to some important data sources, like Facebook, and it doesn’t offer many customization options. Depending on your needs and your resources, you might want to consider something more comprehensive down the road.
Here’s a joke from our Decision Science team: “The third most popular feature in software development is “Export to Excel.” Number one and number two are “OK” and “Cancel.”
Hilarious, right? Here’s the thing: tons of people use Excel but many aren’t aware of the full range of its BI capabilities.
After getting started with Google Data Studio and getting a feel for how BI and data analysis might be able to help you in your digital marketing efforts, or whatever job you’re attempting to accomplish, you might find yourself wanting to try out a more powerful platform, one that will allow you to connect to a wider variety of data channels, blend your data to better identify patterns and trends, and create more customized visualizations.
The good news is you might be able to accomplish all these things using a platform that is probably already sitting on your desktop: Excel. As long as you’re running it on a PC and not a Mac, you can leverage the free, built-in features Power Query and Power Pivot to transform Excel into a robust BI platform.
Conclusion: Excel offers a ton of capabilities, particularly if you’re running Power Query or Power Pivot on Windows. However, while Excel provides a wider range of functionality, it isn’t as intuitive or user-friendly as Google Data Studio.
If you’re serious about Business Intelligence, and you’ve determined that you need a platform that can combine custom visualizations, integrated data connectors, and complex programming capabilities, you might be ready to consider a premium BI platform such as Microsoft’s Power BI.
Conclusion: Power BI offers an impressive array of customization, visualization, and functionality. However, if you don’t have at least one member of your team (and/or a partner like Anvil) devoted to implementing and managing BI, it might be hard to draw value from this platform or other high-powered, premium BI platforms.
The hard truth is that implementing BI is a difficult process. Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of businesses fail when they try to implement BI initiatives.* Some implementations are unsuccessful because companies try to use the wrong platform, but implementations are just as likely to fail because they lack company-wide buy-in, or because companies attempt to implement too quickly, forgetting to take a “crawl-walk-run” approach.
All that said, there is a reason why there’s so much buzz around BI. As difficult as it can be to implement, the potential of BI to help any company is immense. Remember, at its core, BI means leveraging data to make better decisions—ensuring your company is guided by hard data instead of guesswork.
The key to making BI work for your company isn’t just about choosing the right platform. It’s even more important to find the right people who can leverage your data in the right ways. Whether you’re just getting started, learning to walk, or ready to run when it comes to BI, working with the right team is crucial. This could mean investing in an in-house data team or partnering with an agency.
At Anvil, our Decision Science team has experience with every aspect of Business Intelligence, from developing customized dashboards and creating advanced visualizations to identifying inefficiencies in marketing strategy. If you are seeking help with Business Intelligence, Decision Science, or turning your company’s data into actionable insights, get in touch.