Important Key Features of BI Software

If you’re in the market for BI software, it’s vital to know the essential business intelligence features to look for. Here’s our recommended list of the 10 key features of business intelligence tools that will help any organization improve their business strategies. Read on for insight into the most important features […]

If you’re in the market for BI software, it’s vital to know the essential business intelligence features to look for. Here’s our recommended list of the 10 key features of business intelligence tools that will help any organization improve their business strategies.

Read on for insight into the most important features of business intelligence applications that organizations want, based on our research gathered from surveys with real business intelligence software buyers.

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Key Business Intelligence Features

The most important business intelligence features include:

1. Ranking Reports

Ranking reports let you easily view the best- and worst-performing facets of your business, from products to marketing campaigns to salespeople. You can view rankings across multiple dimensions and specify various criteria to focus your results.

2. What-If Analysis

If you’re curious about how a future decision will affect your business, you can run a “what-if” analysis using past data to predict the potential impacts. Tools for what-if analyses give you an objective view of the risks and rewards involved in each potential decision, and allow you to plan better for the future.

3. Executive Dashboards

Executive dashboards give your organization’s leaders a real-time overview of your business in the form of graphs, charts, summaries and other information reports. They allow your company’s executives to make smarter, faster and better decisions.

4. Interactive Reports

Interactive reports allow users to condense the massive amounts of collected data into a wide variety of possible views. Users can take advantages of features like statistical analysis and regression to identify trends, anomalies and outliers in the data.

5. Geospatial Mapping

Applications using location intelligence can take your information and transform it into graphical and cartographic representations, simplifying your geographical data. At a glance, judging which regions are performing better than others — and which ones need particular attention — becomes much easier.

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6. Operational Reports

At the end of each day, business intelligence features like these can provide your organization’s executives with a detailed summary of the daily events, giving them the information they need to make critical decisions.

7. Pivot Tables

Pivot tables can automatically extract significant features from a large, messy set of data. They can perform calculations such as sorting, counting or averaging the data stored in one table, and show the summarized results in another table. Pivot tables are essential tools for analyzing information and uncovering hidden trends.

8. Ad-Hoc Reports

Instead of burdening your IT department with requests for detailed reports, ad-hoc reports are one of several important features of BI that let your nontechnical end-users generate their own reports on the fly. Users can pick and choose the elements that they wish to be included in the report, emphasizing only those aspects that are relevant to their query.

9. User-Specific Security

If you need to restrict certain users’ access to particular data sets, your BI tool should allow you to personalize your BI features and applications to individuals or groups of users. Some solutions provide user-specific data sources, where a single application pulls from different sources of data depending on who’s using the application.

10. Open Integration

Smart BI platforms will be able to access not only your organization’s own data, but information from email, social media, websites and more. For example, instead of only providing your internal sales data, your BI platform could accompany that information with reviews and comments about your products.

With so many data formats and so many applications to pull from, it’s important that your BI platform is able to integrate as many different types of data as possible under a single roof, seamlessly combining disparate forms of information into an actionable report.

Match up these critical BI software features within your BI requirements template to ensure you are researching and selecting the ideal BI platform for your organization

Get our BI Software Requirements Template

Key Survey Insights

Based on responses from representatives of over 600 businesses, we’ve compiled a list of the top features business intelligence software buyers are looking for in 2018. Our respondents represented a number of different industries, ranging from government entities and law firms to guitar retailers and aerospace electronic manufacturers. Their answers provided us with data on the features most desired by those in the market for a business intelligence system.

The Top BI Features Buyers Want in 2018

Advanced Analytics Features Are Typically Viewed as Amenities, Not Necessities

Viewed as a more advanced feature, predictive analytics is still one of the top needs of BI software buyers, with 42 percent of respondents expressing interest in predictive analytics. Predictive analytics functions allow users to interpret data through the lens of patterns and trends, and use those findings to forecast future performance.

Of the buyers who named predictive analytics as a key feature, 16 percent considered predictive analytics as something that would be “nice to have in the future,” as opposed to a feature that would be needed upon deployment. It seems many buyers are interested in predictive analytics, but may be unsure of how the feature can benefit their business currently. The reluctance towards immediately investing in predictive analytics may also stem from unfamiliarity with business intelligence software and a desire to become acquainted with the basics before delving into more intricate functions.

Data mining, ETL, online analytical processing (OLAP) and drill-down functionality were also top advanced analytics features. Data mining, which involves the exploration and analysis of large data sets, was named as a key feature by 32 percent of survey respondents. ETL (a.k.a. the ability to Extract, Transform and Load data) was chosen by 20 percent of buyers as a needed feature of business intelligence software. OLAP functionality was considered a key feature by 14 percent of survey respondents. Having the option to “drill down” into data, which involves delving into the details of a data set, is a feature that was mentioned in 10 percent of responses.

Similar to predictive analytics, these features were seen as bonuses that may be put in place in the future, or would be beneficial now but not necessary. Among the respondents who mentioned data mining, 14 percent identified the feature as a “nice to have”. ETL was considered “nice to have” by six percent of respondents with interest in the feature, and buyers said the same of OLAP in 12 percent of responses.

The consideration of data mining, ETL, OLAP and drill-down functionality as less popular features may, like predictive analytics, be due to lack of awareness or a need to begin the adoption of BI software with basic features.

However, there may not have been as much of a need for these features because of their association with large data sets. Data mining, ETL, OLAP and drill-down functionality are generally Big Data functions and may not be needed by small businesses, or the perception of these features could turn away small businesses.

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Basic Features Are The Most Desired

Of our survey respondents, 90 percent named dashboarding as a key feature when searching for business intelligence software. The need to view data visualizations and other important information in a centralized location was seen as crucial. Common motivation behind purchasing BI software is often a need to process and organize data into an easily digestible format. Dashboards satisfy this need for simplified data presentation, and are therefore a requirement by an overwhelming majority of buyers.

Visualizations stood out as another important feature for BI system buyers. The need to view data in an easy-to-understand medium is considered essential for most users of BI. Visualizations present data in a format that can be absorbed by people of all levels of BI skill sets. The feature was mentioned in 81 percent of responses. The desire for a tool that can transform data from numbers on a spreadsheet to insightful visualizations is a common motivating factor for beginning the search for BI software, so the feature’s popularity is understandable.

The ability to create reports was another top response, considered a basic BI feature along with dashboards and visualizations.

Although reporting was not as popular of a response (48 percent of buyers reported a need for this feature), it is still considered as a standard feature for business intelligence software. Collecting and preparing data is an important step to beginning deeper analysis.


Deployment preferences of survey respondents were overwhelmingly on the fence, with 69 percent saying they were open to both methods of deployment. Of those respondents, 10 percent expressed a preference toward cloud-based deployment (although still undecided) and an equal number of buyers expressed a preference for on-premise deployment.

Buyers who firmly decided on a deployment method named the cloud as the favorable deployment choice, with 23 percent saying they would like a cloud-deployable system, compared to 8 percent demonstrating a want for on-premise deployment. Respondents cited cost, existing infrastructure, volume of data and security (particularly government and HIPAA regulations) as factors under consideration when deciding on a deployment method.

BI Software Deployment Methods

The uncertainty found in deployment-focused responses could possibly be another awareness issue, as so many buyers did not favor either method and seemed unsure of the advantages one method has over the other. The idea of adopting a “hybrid” model was mentioned in two percent of responses that expressed interest in both deployment methods, demonstrating buyers’ attraction toward the virtues of both.

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Other Needs of Buyers

Some other key features identified by survey respondents include data warehousing with five percent of buyers identifying a want for the feature, drag-and-drop functions at two percent and AI/machine learning at one percent. Many respondents wanted an embeddable system, with 23 percent expressing interest in the ability to integrate with programs such as Microsoft Office, Workday, Quickbooks, Salesforce, Hadoop and Google Analytics.

A desire for mobile capabilities, shareability and employee self-service were overarching themes as well. Four percent of buyers said they would like a mobile system. One percent expressed their need to share reports. The terms “self-service,” “user-friendly” or “ease of use” were found in 28 percent of responses.


Overall, a majority of respondents want basic functions from their business intelligence software — dashboards, visualizations and reporting. But many buyers also expressed interest in more advanced analytic capabilities, e.g. predictive analysis, data mining, ETL, OLAP and drill-down functions. It appears the needs of buyers are generally basic, or the discrepancy could be awareness-based. Buyers are more aware of standard business intelligence features and may be unfamiliar with advanced analytics tools, their functions and how the features can help their business in its current state.

Compare BI Software Leaders

A trend towards prioritizing familiarity is apparent. When choosing business intelligence software, buyers tend to gravitate to features they know, hoping to streamline the decision-making process. This signifies a need among buyers for more in-depth exploration into feature options, so educated decisions regarding BI software can be made. A full portrait of features in the industry can lead to a choice in vendor that heightens data from one-dimensional information into an insightful business tool.

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