Top 3 Questions for Leaders in a BI Buying Cycle

We’ve been thinking about what makes a great “modern” BI tool lately. Customers consistently bring interesting new use cases to our attention, and we’ve been discussing Wayne Eckerson’s take on the top 10 criteria for the top BI solutions around the office this week. Every vendor, analyst, and user brings a unique perspective to the BI adoption conversation, but the common thread we’re seeing is that your tool is useless unless "business users actually use it to analyze data, make decisions, and take action."

Imagine that you're a marketing manager, for example. On any given day, you might need to ask questions of your data on campaign performance, revenue contribution, and ad engagement. Just like a sales manager tracks revenue, these stats will help you do your best work.

That data is all around us, and using it depends on the speed and accessibility of the BI solution that gets you from numbers to insights. There's a sea of options out there, but chances are your current solution isn’t built for the line of business. Where do you look to fill the gap?

Your BI leader might not be aware of what your team needs to do your best work - direct data access. Search-driven analytics can bring data discovery to everyone, but there’s a lot to consider when it comes to evaluating these tools. Here’s what to bring up in your next meeting to make sure you get the right solution.

#1 Can your business users analyze the data themselves? 

Access to relevant information will make anyone better at their job. We’ve reached a point where “Every business is an analytics business, every business process is an analytics process, and every business user is an analytics user” (Gartner, 2015). We’ve achieved the first two parts of that statement, but not the third. Yet.

If your current solution is designed for analysts who need week-long training sessions to get value, adoption will suffer. It should be easy enough for anyone to use, which starts with the first user experience. Is it intuitive? Does it accommodate the way business leaders think? They want to ask a question, find an answer, and then ask new questions. This ad-hoc style of data discovery creates a snowball effect so users can build value as they go. And the good news is that it's relatively easy to evaluate.

Encourage your BI buyer to bring business users into the vetting process and get info about the length of a typical training session. If it’s more than a few hours, pass.


#2 Not all search is created equal. Is this the right fit for your needs?

Many BI products advertise a search box, but not all are created equal. Some approaches rely on algorithms that provide error-prone estimates for answers. Others return ranked lists of pre-built reports and dashboards with no room for ad-hoc exploration. That flavor is akin to searching through your email to look at a report that has been built and sent to you. If your marketing manager needs to ask a follow up question about campaign data, pre-built reports will do no good.

Business users need to be able to do their own analyses and always get a single, accurate answer. Make sure your BI solution lets users fully explore their data and isn’t just regurgitating the same pre-canned results to everyone.

Ask your BI buyer to look for a vendor offering a search engine that looks through all the underlying raw data, computes results, and then presents charts and numbers based on those real-time calculations.


#3 How many clicks does it take to create a chart?

Type “wea” into Google and you’ll immediately get current and forecasted weather conditions for your city, along with a card showing you a picture of sun or clouds. This is Google Instant, and it saves 950,000 hours per day by anticipating what you’re looking for and presenting instant results. The power of these instant visualizations is why search and speed have become synonymous in the consumer world. Yet few BI tools do the same.

For non-technical business users, picking the axis and chart types isn’t very intuitive. When you consider the fact that not everyone has the time to sit through data analyst training, the industry's 22% adoption rate makes sense. The best BI technologies will do the work for us. Any assistance a user can get to transform data into a meaningful image goes a long way towards boosting adoption.

Ask your BI buyer to look for a solution that automatically chooses the best-fit chart for your question in real-time.


Finding a solution that democratizes analytics and brings access to each arm of the business is the only way to stay ahead in today’s competitive environment. For our full list of the 9 must-ask questions for your next BI buying cycle, check out the full e-book.