What is business intelligence software?

Business intelligence software is a set of tools used by companies to retrieve, analyze, and transform data into useful business insights. Examples of business intelligence tools include data visualization, data warehousing, dashboards, and reporting. In contrast to competitive intelligence, business intelligence software pulls from internal data that the business produces, rather than from outside sources.

As Big Data has gained in prominence, so has the popularity of BI software. Companies generate, track, and compile business data at a scale never before seen. But all this data is nothing if we can’t make sense of it and use it to improve business outcomes.

To make informed choices, businesses need to base their decisions on evidence. The mountains of data that businesses and their customers produce contain evidence of purchasing patterns and market trends. By aggregating, standardizing, and analyzing that data, businesses can better understand their customers, better forecast revenue growth, and better protect themselves against business pitfalls.

Business intelligence has traditionally taken the form of quarterly or yearly reports, but today’s software-backed business intelligence tools work continuously and at light speed. These insights can help a company choose a course of action in a matter of minutes.

BI software interprets a sea of quantifiable customer and business actions and returns queries based on patterns in the data. BI comes in many forms and spans many different types of technology. This guide compares the top business intelligence software vendors, breaks down the three major stages data must go through to provide business intelligence, and provides considerations for purchasing business intelligence software for different sized businesses.