5 Core Data Analytics Software Capabilities For SMBs

By: Anthony Bradley on April 6, 2016

The effective and innovative use of business data analytics is a hallmark of the most successful companies.

After all, data analytics impacts every aspect of every business, from supply chain to customer experience and everything in between. It provides the knowledge needed to make business decisions that will grow revenue and profitability.

This is especially the case for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), where employees wear many hats, processes constantly change, staying competitive is a moving target, attracting customers is key and there’s often rapid growth.

For SMBs, having the right information on business performance is absolutely critical.    Tweet this quote

While many business leaders still rely on intuition, evidence-based business leadership is on the rise—meaning those who don’t dig into the data may find themselves at a significant disadvantage.

How Can SMBs Perform Effective Data Analytics?

Effective data analytics comes from the careful examination and exploration of how information flows through and improves a business. And while there may be a ton of business intelligence (BI) technical lingo associated with data analytics, this doesn’t mean it has to be hard for SMBs.

In fact, BI software tools have advanced to where businesses are no longer dependent on technical gurus.

But choosing the right software is tricky. The chances of an SMB leader making a poor choice increases as the complexity and variety of solutions continues to increase.    Tweet this quote

To help SMBs make the right choice, we’ve identified the five data analytics capabilities that are most important for a small business seeking a new data analytics tool.

Core Data Analytics Capabilities for SMBs


In part one of this article, we’ll go into detail about each capability and the benefits it can offer. In part two, we’ll highlight several software vendors that are particularly strong in certain areas of data analytics.

(Click on a link below to jump to a section.)

Part 1

Business Dashboards

Data Set Creation

Interactive Exploration

Collaboration/Social Integration

Ease of Use

Part 2

Birst: Really Easy to Use

Tibco Spotfire: Great at Empowering Business Users

Tableau: Offers a Highly Intuitive Visual Experience

Qlik Sense: Strong at Highlighting Patterns in Data

SAS Visual Analytics: Powerful, With MS Office Integration

Business Dashboards Provide a Holistic Business View

The best data analytics tools enable business users to create highly interactive, visual dashboards that allow others to view, share and explore key data. Users can dive into the data to search for root causes, discover trends and more.

In addition to being able to create these dashboards themselves (without help from IT), users can also easily share them, making them a great way to provide visibility across business functions.

The defining characteristics of great business dashboards include:

  • Advanced interactive visualization: Delivers advanced charting, multidimensional rendering and data animations with filters, panning and brushing capabilities to easily manipulate the data views.

  • “Out of the box” analytics: Includes algorithms for estimation, mining, forecasting, lassoing, simulation, etc. so the dashboard becomes a robust tool for simulation and contingency planning.

  • Location intelligence: Includes interactive maps and geofencing to examine where your business is performing well or poorly … and why.

Example: The sales operations managers of a local cinema chain create a data analytics dashboard to visualize and analyze screen sales performance across all theaters.

They’re able to detect patterns in sales that lead to more reliable forecasts of opening performance and revenue decay rates for different types of films. As a result, they optimize their approach to movie replacement based on new movie lifecycle models.

Data Set Creation Empowers Users to Build Own Source Data

A business decision is only as good as the reasoning behind it, and solid reasoning depends on a reliable data set. That’s why it’s critical to enable business leaders to personally create their own data sets: It can inspire confidence in decision making that can lead to success.    Tweet this quote

Great data set creation functionality provides users with an easy, code-free, drag-and-drop interface for pulling data from different sources so it can be massaged into something tailored and ready for display and exploration.

Data set creation also enables the following capabilities:

  • Joining

  • Scrubbing

  • Aggregating

  • Splitting

  • Calculating

Example: A local department store in the U.S. blends and analyzes millions of customers’ data across 13 different data sets, including census, ethnicity and population migration data. They develop spend and attrition models that enable them to identify their high-value, multi-channel customers.

With this intelligence, they alter their product mix in physical stores and online and target these customers in new ways. As a result, they increase average spend per customer and nearly double shopper traffic to their physical and online stores.

Interactive Exploration Enables Customization of Data Views

Interactive exploration capabilities help business leaders manipulate and examine data by interacting directly with a visual representation. Strong BI tools go well beyond pie, bar and line charts and include advanced visualization capabilities, such as:

  • Heat and tree maps for displaying data emphasis

  • Trellising for side by side comparisons of different data in similar charts

  • Isosurfaces for 3D views

  • Contours for viewing 3D data in a 2D format

  • Time motion views for tracking how data changes over time

This powerful functionality does all of the data crunching and heavy presentation lifting so users can focus on what the data means for growing their business.

Example: A North American shipping company replaces their complex Excel spreadsheets and a weekly 35 page report with continuous interactive heat maps to visualize the locations of 800 trucks operating across 16 facilities.

With this continuous location analysis, they reduce indirect truck movement (moving empty trucks from one place to another) by 67 percent and open two new facilities to plug holes in U.S. coverage. As a result, they’re able to reduce their need for new trucks, saving them over $130 million.

Collaboration and Social Integration Makes Sharing A Breeze

Collaboration and social integration is exactly as it sounds: This functionality enables business leaders to share information, tell a story around the data, find collaborators, discuss the analysis and collectively explore issues and make decisions.

The most important features include:

  • Social platform integration for posting to communities

  • Expertise location for finding others analyzing the same problem

  • Storyboarding for creative ways to present findings to others

  • Discussion threads and chat rooms

  • Commenting, ratings and rewards

Together, this feature set takes analysis and decision making from isolated individual work to a community effort. This begins the collaborative and socialization process required to bring ideas to life.

Example: A North American university uses data analytics on multiple sources within a campus location, including tweets, mobile traffic and video surveillance in order to estimate crowd sizes and enact crowd control and safety.

During campus events, the event staff and crowd control personnel share real-time dashboard data intelligence augmented with staff feedback to proactively initiate crowd control actions and facilitate crowd safety.

Ease of Use Increases Business User Creativity

Ease of of use is not a specific feature or feature set—but it’s a general capability that is crucial to small business use. Historically, data analytics tools were built for more technical, data scientist types who would then provide a data “service” to business users.

But now, usability by normal human beings is a primary goal of most data analytics software providers.

Easy to use data analytics platforms should have an intuitive drag and drop graphical interface that requires zero software coding and minimal training. Users should also be able to use the tool’s basic capabilities anytime, anywhere with both offline and mobile access.

Another big part of ease of use is how easily people can install, set up, deploy and administer the software without IT department support.

Data analytics software vendors that provide a great user experience offer:

  • Online help

  • Video tutorials

  • Contextual aids

  • User communities

  • Robust customer service

Together, these capabilities help get people up to speed quickly so they can start being productive within minutes—not days or even hours.

Now that we’ve covered the essential data analytics capabilities for small business, let’s take a look at five software products that are particularly strong in these areas.

(You can also check out a more exhaustive list of BI and data analytics tools here).


Birst: Really Easy to Use

Pros: Birst makes our list because of its strength in ease of use. Customer service is exceptional, and it offers solid dashboard and interactive data exploration capabilities, including multi-dimensional analysis and time-period awareness.

Implementation is also quick, since Birst is primarily deployed as a software as a service (SaaS) model (however there is an option for customers who wish to store their data on-premise). Birst also offers offline and mobile (iPad) access to interactive dashboards.

Cons: Birst lacks some advanced data manipulations and visualizations, such as bins, groupings, tree maps, geo maps and natural language query (NLP). It also doesn’t support storytelling and collaboration.

null Tibco Spotfire: Great at Empowering Business Users

Pros: Spotfire ranks highly among business users for its data mashups, dynamic dashboards and interactive visualization. Tibco is also strong in mobile access, with its Spotfire Analytics mobile app for iOS and Spotfire Mobile Metrics for iOS, Android and Windows.

Cons: This solution is lacking in embedded BI and production reporting. However, SMB leaders often consider these functions less important.

null Tableau: Offers a Highly Intuitive Visual Experience

Pros: Tableau offers a highly intuitive visual interface for data set creation, data exploration and dashboard creation, and supports mobile and browser-based content authoring via iPad.

Tableau also has a free cloud-based version called Tableau Public, which can be great for SMBs looking to try before they buy and and even derive business value without paying a single penny.

Cons: Tableau’s emphasis on business users comes with a cost. Many advanced users consider Tableau lacking in some of the more advanced features, such as embedded BI, platform administration, production reporting, data preparation and metadata management.

null Qlik Sense: Strong at Highlighting Patterns in Data

Pros: Qlik Sense is web-based and targets business users with interactivity and smart visualization features that automatically highlight patterns in the data. Qlik Sense storytelling allow users to pull different views together, annotate them and share findings without the need for PowerPoint or other third-party presentation tools.

Qlik Sense also has a new token-based licensing model that provides a more flexible means for software use-based pricing.

Cons: Qlik Sense has limited interactive exploration capabilities relative to competitors Tableau and Tibco Spotfire. It focuses more on data discovery than production reporting. But production reporting is less important for small businesses.

null SAS Visual Analytics: Powerful, With MS Office Integration

Pros: SAS Visual Analytics has a breadth of capabilities that provide innovative visualization, and its statistical and predictive modeling functionality really stands out amongst the competition.

The SAS Office Analytics product provides benefits to SMBs that are already Microsoft proficient by offering business users the option of consuming and interacting with SAS content using Microsoft Office.

Cons: SAS is one of the most costly BI/analytics tools on the market, which means it may be too expensive for many SMBs. However, if the competitiveness or growth of a business is dependent on state of the art analytics, this solution a strong option.

Other Considerations When Choosing Software

This analysis is intended as an overview of the most important data analytics capabilities SMBs should look for when seeking a new solution. We recommend that you use this analysis as part of a larger product evaluation effort.

Keep in mind that there are additional factors to consider that are not covered here, including:

  • Ease of integration

  • Number of third-party integrations

  • Pricing and license model affinity

  • Professional services offerings

  • Training resources

  • Skills availability in the marketplace

Next Steps

Here are a few next steps for small businesses looking to purchase data analytics software:

  • Assess and document the top three to five business use cases for data analytics software that clearly explain how you intend to use the software to benefit your business.

  • Capture additional needs you’re looking for in a new solution, including budget, preferred licensing model, integration with existing software, training needs, professional services required, etc.

  • Create a short list of potentially suitable software products. Software Advice can help: Get a free consultation from one of our expert BI software advisors by calling (855) 998-8505.

  • Ask selected vendors to explain how their product’s capabilities match up with your business use cases and other needs.

  • Compare these products against one another and make an informed decision.


This analysis is based on an online survey of business intelligence and data analytics software users receiving over 2000 responses and an examination of the functionality of over 20 leading data analytics software products.