To choose the best business intelligence applications, you must know exactly what questions are that need answers. This situation changes by size and type of business. A small nonprofit needs different information from that of a small retail store, and a large multinational corporation has different questions to be answered compared to a medium-size regional corporation.
Simple business intelligence applications might consist of spreadsheets and possibly small databases that are developed within the business. The questions to be answered involve general accounting and customer tracking. General accounting questions can also be covered by the less expensive business application bundles that are commercially available. These applications should also perform the tasks that a certified public accountant (CPA) would perform, such as preparing quarterly and yearly tax forms.
If you are looking for business intelligence applications for a small business that has grown or could grow into a medium-size organization, this might affect your decision. Business intelligence software should be able to grow with the business and later feed the information into a more complex set of applications, if it becomes necessary to upgrade. The added complexity could involve customer resource management (CRM), a decision support system (DSS) and various methods of analyzing business information to determine likely trends in the markets.
Carefully monitor the amount of money invested in business intelligence applications. If the investments will not result in a positive return on investment (ROI), then either the applications are not worth the effort or some other reason needs to justify the expense. One such reason is reporting to another organization, as with a nonprofit reporting to a funding source.
Web-based business information applications can be purchased as a set of modules or features. This is a good strategy for experimenting with business intelligence applications before fully committing to them. The great advantages to a web-based solution are automatic data backups, accessibility from any location with an Internet connection and reduced hardware costs.
Oftentimes, the value of a particular business information application cannot be fully understood until you actually work with it. Web-based systems allow this by renting out the applications for a limited time. Otherwise, demonstration and trial versions can be used.
ROI should always be a major consideration when you are examining business information applications. If the information cannot be used to generate revenue or save overhead costs, the information is probably not worth anything. The exceptions are mandatory reporting to governments or funding sources. If the reporting is mandatory, the investment in software might be tax deductible.