Every business runs on data. Larger companies have more data, tools, and tech pros at their collective disposal; smaller companies must devote a larger percentage of available staff to gathering and analyzing information.
In many ways, these smaller companies limit themselves by relying on a ubiquitous but ultimately restrictive tool: the spreadsheet. (There’s a reason why some people refer to an Excel-heavy project as “spreadsheet hell.”)
For those who want to break out of the spreadsheet rut and try some lower-priced, relatively robust analytic tools, there are several good options out there. These tools can open the door to full-fledged business analytics, in which employees use data to make proactive decisions about markets, processes and products.
In my opinion, three of the best business-analytics platforms out there are SAS, Tableau, and Google Fusion Tables. Any of these packages can help a business shape an analytics framework, and their respective costs have dipped considerably vis-à-vis their robustness. Let’s dive in:
SAS has a reputation for heavy-duty statistical analysis; many businesses use it for financial and statistical deep-dives. In previous iterations, using SAS required SQL programming skills, but now it boasts a robust GUI that allows non-programmers to perform complex queries.
SAS also features some pretty heavy-duty data-mining capabilities, which makes it useful for things like fraud detection and transaction monitoring.
Tableau converts data to visualizations (like the one above). It also features geocoding tools, and a free data-visualization license. As with similar tools, there’s a graphical interface, although those with the programming skills can customize complex queries with SQL coding.
Tableau includes SAML authentication, an open-source authentication method that can be federated to Microsoft Active Directory to allow a user to create a single sign-on experience in a mixed infrastructure environment. For those who need them, the platform also offers Web-authoring abilities via the Tableau Android app.
Google Fusion Tables
Fusion Tables is an experimental Web application, designed to gather, visualize, and share data tables. It’s capable of filtering and summarizing data across thousands (and hundreds of thousands) of rows; data can be saved on Google Drive, allowing for pretty intensive collaboration between colleagues, and data is always updated in real time.
The Fusion Tables API gives developers the ability to build on public data sets. It’s a free application; like Tableau, the visualization abilities are pretty extensive.