What J.D. Power reports are to consumer products, Forrester Wave(tm) reports are to business technology. Using both client feedback and analysis by industry experts, Forrester provides the authoritative report on the business intelligence (BI) industry, analyzing the current state and trajectory of the industry, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the leading companies in the BI industry and their specific product offerings.

With all the marketing noise surrounding topics like BI, the Cloud, and business technology in general, reports like Forrester's can be helpful in knowing what's important in a BI tool, who is offering the best solution, and who is likely to make significant improvements on those tools in near future.

In this quick 5-minute flyover, I'll summarize what Forrester says about what "Agile BI" means in 2015 and which tools are best at it.  

What is Agile BI?

Forrester has found that a common characteristic of successful organizations is agility -  "the ability to adopt, react, and succeed in the midst of an unending fountain of customer driven requirements." Additionally, they have found that an organization's information technology, specifically their BI tools, are crucial to their overall agility.

So what makes a BI tool "agile"?

IT-Enabled Self-Service Capability

Features such as DIY report building, natural language query, drill-anywhere filtering, and easy sharing allow IT professionals to make powerful BI tools completely self-service for business users, giving them access to BI technology that was previously only available to data scientists and executives in the largest enterprises.

BI Automation

Old-school BI technology requires constant upkeep and a great deal of data collection and clean-up, as well as the constant involvement of an IT specialist. Agile BI, on the other hand, automates data collection and cleanup processes, so when a business analyst needs an updated report, he can generate, analyze, and share that report all in one application, without the help of an IT professional.

Straight-Forward Data Transformation

Having access to every data set in the world is useless to the business user if they cannot transform that data into something they can understand and use. The best self-service BI tools enable business users to effectively and efficiently combine data from multiple sources and turn it into insights they can use to make decisions. Specific data transformation capabilities include auto-modeling, calculated measures, data mashups, data cleanup functions, and write-back.

Effective Data Visualization

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the same is true for graphs or other data visualizations. An effective graph, chart, or map is infinitely more effective at communicating useful information than a database full of raw numbers, and an interactive data visualization is more effective still. Agile BI effectively transforms raw data into intuitive, interactive visualizations that clearly communicate actionable insights, empowering business users to make informed decisions on time.

Forrester lists several additional characteristics of Agile BI, which you can read up on in their full report, but for now, we'll stick with those four and move on to which players in the industry offer the best BI tools.

BI Scouting Report: Top BI Draft Prospects

SAS -  Visual Analytics, Enterprise BI Server, SAS Office Analytics

SaaSAlready known as an industry leader in business intelligence and analytics, SAS' most recent BI tools do well to maintain their strong reputation, receiving top scores for features that meet the needs of IT professionals looking to enable self-service BI for business users. SAS also scored highly in the areas of ADV functionality,
data integration, and clients' feedback concerning its product vision. Positioning itself as a one-stop shop for all things BI, SAS handles all aspects of business intelligence and analytics organically, with little to no reliance on partners or third party services.

However, as is the case with many of the "old guard" BI companies like, SAP and Oracle, the start up cost of SAS' BI tools can be significant, putting it out of the range of many small to medium sized organizations or departments. Also, it has possibly fallen behind several new entrants into the BI industry in the areas of data exploration and discovery as well as cloud-based SaaS offerings.

Tibco - Spotfire

TibcoTibco's new Agile BI tool Spotfire is certainly a crowd-pleaser, receiving top scores from both clients and the experts at Forrester in the areas of IT professional-enabled self-service features for business users, its ability to allow business users to self-provision data and applications, and its exceptional user interface. Similar to SAS, Spotfire's effective ADV functionality, data integration abilities, and BI automation scored very well, and clients also spoke very highly of Tibco's product vision.

In contrast to SAS' one-stop shop approach, Tibco chose to specialize with Spotfire and focus on providing a well-integrated data exploration and visualization tool with predictive, real-time analytics. As a result, Tibco is much more reliant on partners to offer other BI services, and many clients use Spotfire in conjunction with one or more other BI tools. On the plus side, Tibco's cloud-based SaaS model keeps start up costs down and allows users to start small and scale up as needed.

Microsoft - Power BIMicrosoft-only-logo

Microsoft has jumped into the cloud-based SaaS market with both feet with Power BI, which reveals its full potential when used with SharePoint and Office 365. It also received top scores for its self-service enabling features, data and application self-provisioning capabilities, as well as its intuitive UI and effective ADV functionality. Forrester also found data integration to be a strength of Microsoft's Power BI for the business user. Clients agreed, rating it highly in the areas of business user self-service, ADV functionality, and product vision for the future.

Hopefully you have a better picture of what benefits and functionality are available in today's Agile BI tools and are starting to get an idea of which tool best matches your company's needs and current technology structure.

One last piece of advice: Don't pass up on BI. In this dynamic business world, data-driven insights are crucial to business success, and refusing to invest in BI technology will only cause you to fall behind your competition.

If you have any questions about business intelligence or are curious how BI technology can help your business succeed, contact Jon Thompson at jon@bluemargin.com or 970-214-1652.

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Jon Thompson

Written by Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Margin Inc. An author and speaker, Jon sheds light on how businesses can take advantage of a revolution in business intelligence to become data-driven and accelerate their success.