What to look for in a Natural Language BI tool?

Evaluate a Natural Language Business IntelligenceYou are looking for a Business Intelligence tool. It must be easy to use, let you explore data by yourself, give real-time insights and have flexibility in the type of data it can handle. You read something about Natural Language BI tools. Seems cool and you want to know what is the best vendor in the market. But how do you evaluate them? What should you be looking for?

We give you seven different criteria.

Defining Natural Language BI

Let’s start by defining what Natural Language Business Intelligence is. When we talk about “Natural Language BI” we are referring to BI tools that let you explore your data by entering queries in a search box using everyday language.

It has a Google-like interface but does more than simply search for information, it is able to perform analytics and present relationships between different data sets.

To evaluate this kind of tools you should follow these criteria:

1 – Search Engine

One of the most important parts in a Natural Language BI tool is the search engine and how we interact with it, meaning how we enter queries and how the system handles it.

As we said before a Natural Language BI search engine should be significantly different from a web search engine, as it should return concise answers. Providing a list of links to documents is not an answer.

Start by evaluating how you enter queries: can you use everyday language or need to learn a technical lingo? When the results come up, does it give you a single answer or presents a list of reports/dashboards that are related to your question?

2 – Accuracy

For you to measure the accuracy of the tool you have to be able to check the veracity of results. Not go with vendor’s statistics on how accurate the tool is, try it yourself.

Three topics you should focus on:

  • Does it understand the queries you enter?
  • Does it explains the result it is showing so you can check if it is correctly interpreting your queries?
  • Does it explain how it did the calculations?

It is crucial for you to be able to validate the results each and every time. Otherwise you can be fooled by the software with great impact for your business.

4 – Visualization

What would you prefer, creating charts by yourself or having a software that automatically choose the best visualization?

Yeah, it is way better having the chart picked for us than go spending time editing the x and y axis. Look for a solution that offer you this kind of capabilities and make sure that you can still change and edit the type of chart presented in the first place. You may be more of a pie person and less of matrix plot and this give you some extra freedom.

5 – Scalability

You may have just two or three users and two data sources with a few files but it will grow.

When looking for the best vendor make sure to ask how many users can it handle simultaneously, which amount of data can it search through, which data sources can it connect to and if it can handle different data sources at the same time.

6 – Security

Limiting the access to information is a natural need for companies. You may not want your sales rep to know each other results, or you may need to limit data access within departments.

Despite being a search based BI tool, it needs to respect access privileges while searching your data, forbidding users to access results that you don’t want them to see.

Add these questions to the ones you will make to BI vendors: can you limit users’ access? how does it work? how can I edit users’ permissions?

7 – Architecture Flexibility

Normally BI vendors offer one of two options: import all data to their servers or do the queries directly on top of your data sources.

There are arguments in favor and against importing data. For instance, companies with huge amounts of data or dealing with highly sensitive information usually prefer solutions that don’t obligate them to replicate their data. On other hand, vendors who sell solutions that require data importation claim faster performance.

Again, you should try it in order to decide what works best for you.

8 – Configuration Freedom

Terminology can significantly change from company to company. So a good Natural Language BI tool should give you the freedom to easily insert synonyms to entitities and atributes. For instance, sales can be orders and quantity can be number. You should also insert synonyms for data values, for example you might have: USA, US, United States and United States of America all meaning the same.

Try to understand how could you incorporate business rules. For instance: you may have the concept of active users in your company, people who made a purchase or used your product in the last 6 or 3 months. This is a business rule and should be easy for you to define or change it. It’s the BI tool that has to adapt to your company and not the other way around.

Imagine real situations where you would need to make some customization and ask the vendor how would it be possible. Try not depend too much on the vendor to customize things as it increases the cost and will end in a never ending exchange of emails till everything is just like you want.

Key takeaways:

Let’s summarize the questions you should focus on while evaluate Natural Language BI vendors:

  • Is it easy and requires almost no training time?
  • What type of analysis and results it presents you?
  • Can you easily validate the results presented?
  • Does it automatically give you a chart instead of making you create it by yourself?
  • How many users, data and data sources can it handle simultaneously?
  • Does it let you define user levels of access?
  • Is it mandatory to relocate your data to vendors’ servers?
  • How much freedom and how easy is to customize the software?

Do you agree with the criteria we presented? Would you add something? What do you look for in a Natural Language BI tool?


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