Insights / All Leadership / Article

What to Look for in an Analytics and Business Intelligence Platform

December 28, 2022

Contributor: Colin Reid

When evaluating an analytics and business intelligence platform for purchase, prioritize functional requirements like these five to make sure it will work for you in practice.

An analytics and business intelligence (ABI) platform supports the development and delivery of analytics for nontechnical users — providing them with self-service access to approved data, analysis, visualization and reporting capabilities that they can easily explain and share.

For buying teams researching and evaluating ABI solutions, some of the most important requirements in selecting a platform will relate to how it functions — that is, whether it provides the capabilities the organization needs to meet its specific objectives.

This is only part of the rigorous process that buyer teams need to evaluate vendors and their solutions; other considerations include technical interoperability, the availability of support and services, vendor health and ultimately pricing and commercial terms. But the functional requirements are the first and most pressing criteria.

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5 key capabilities for analytics and BI platforms

Gartner technically defines business intelligence platforms as those that “allow organizations 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.”

But defining the functional requirements for these platforms — and judging each potential solution against those criteria — is what ensures they will work in practice. Use these requirements to judge the relative value of different options and ultimately shortlist the best candidates, making sure they are specific to your needs. 

These five functional requirements are essential for business intelligence platforms, according to Gartner research. For your use case, though, they may instead be highly desirable or optional, not essential. Accordingly, rank your requirements as being of high, medium or low importance.

No. 1: Automated insights

Can the ABI platform apply machine learning techniques to automatically generate insights, such as identifying the most important attributes in a dataset, for end users? 

No longer the stuff of sci-fi, leveraging machine learning capabilities to make sense of ever-growing datasets is now table stakes within the ABI space.

No. 2: Data preparation

Can the platform combine data from different sources using a drag-and-drop interface and create analytic models based on user-defined inputs, such as measures, sets, groups and hierarchies? 

After usable data has been defined, the tool should allow users to effortlessly combine datasets from approved sources and customize insights based on inputs they define.

No. 3: Data visualization

Does it support highly interactive dashboards and data exploration through the manipulation of chart images? Does it feature an array of visualization options beyond bar, pie and line charts? 

Line charts, such as heat and tree maps, geographic maps, scatter plots and other special purpose visuals, allow users to more creatively visualize meaningful insights for nontechnical audiences or cross-functional teams.

No. 4: Manageability

Can it track usage and manage how information is shared and promoted on a per-user and cohort basis?

No. 5: Product usability

Does it contain easy-to-understand and user-friendly interfaces featuring intuitive designs that facilitate user engagement and broader adoption?

If users feel intimidated or overwhelmed by an ABI platform, they won’t adopt or standardize workflows that incorporate its capabilities. In organizations that also prioritize change enablement, ensuring high product usability should be a top priority.

Some technical capabilities are likely to be essential, too

Technical requirements, such as technology setup and delivery, are the next set of criteria to consider for your business intelligence platform. Gartner research highlights the following three technical requirements as essential, but again they may be less important for your use case.

  • Data storage — provides required storage capacity, file types and locations, as well as processes, such as extraction or eradication.

  • Integration — integrates with all relevant applications, data sources and technologies.

  • Monitoring, logging and tracking — provides proactive alerts on system events, as well as logging and resolution reporting on all issues.

In short: 

  • Ease-of-use and user-friendly interfaces rank high on most nontechnical users’ requirements for analytics and business intelligence platforms.

  • Product usability will improve postpurchase tool adoption and change enablement in organizations most concerned with establishing self-service analytics and BI workflows.

  • ABI platforms that leverage machine learning capabilities to deliver automated insights frequent most organizations’ requirements.

Colin Reid, VP of Product Management, leads Gartner teams in scoping, building, shipping and managing global SaaS applications, including BuySmart. Previously, as a Gartner analyst, he helped clients design, build, integrate, operate and optimize all aspects of marketing and content technology and their operations. Mr. Reid also has experience as a CMO, COO and team leader at client marketing organizations, marketing agencies and global technology providers.

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