This article was written by Geoff Hope of software review website Capterra. You can check out reviews of leading business intelligence software providers and tools on Capterra here.

Business intelligence software may be the best investment your business can make. The data you collect, from customer names to locations, is a source of value. The right self-service business intelligence software can help you ask the right questions of your data—the sort of questions that can turn basic information into revenue.

But before you ask questions of your data, you need to ask questions of your potential vendor. If you’re a small business trying to make every dollar count, business intelligence software can represent a major expenditure. Don’t get caught with the wrong solution for you: check out these six questions you should ask any BI vendor before you commit.

How easy is your program to use?

Somewhere between 70—80% of business intelligence projects fail. If your program isn’t easy to use, your company could join that statistic.

While business intelligence was traditionally restricted to IT professionals, the rise of self-service business intelligence has made BI software far more accessible. A self-service business intelligence program is one that the end users (the business side folks) can work without having to constantly ask the IT department for help.

Look for a program that doesn’t require any coding. Learning a computer language is not easy (if you know anyone who majored in Engineering, ask them about Matlab and just watch the reaction). If your business intelligence program requires you to know MySQL to be able to ask a question, chances are your employees aren’t going to get behind it.

One tool you can ask about is whether or not the program uses natural language processing (NLP). NLP basically means that the computer can understand plain English, rather than you having to learn its language. Using NLP makes asking questions about your data as easy as doing a web search.

How’s the UX (user experience)? If the program is difficult or unapproachable, no one’s going to bother with it. Ask to see some sample dashboards to get a sense their accessibility.

How long will implementation take?

According to Gartner, about 33% of BI implementations will fail by 2018. You don’t want to become part of that statistic, so make sure to ask your vendor how long past implementations have taken. This is also a question you need to ask yourself. Even if you don’t know the technical side, knowing what information you want, and what data you have, will help ensure a successful implementation.

Know the KPIs you want to track, and know when you’ll need that data, too. So long as you’re breaking down what you need from your business intelligence solution, use that list to break down the implementation itself. Know what you’re going to implement, and when. Don’t try to do everything all at once; you’ll get in over your head. Tackle your business intelligence implementation the same way you’d break down a to-do list in any other area of your business: divide, prioritize, decide, act.

Easy or not, what kind of support is there for slow learners?

Some people just don’t get tech. For those, there needs to be some kind of training available. Training’s an important enough feature that it’s one of the criteria Gartner looks at when analyzing vendors. Also ask about what kind of support is available. Many vendors offer a range of options, from community forums that can answer a lot of common questions, to pay classes that train users in the software’s finer points.

If you check on Capterra’s business intelligence reviews, you’ll see that support and training are frequently mentioned. This is to say that the successful programs aren’t just one-time investments, they’re partnerships. The software program isn’t the only resource—so is the training.

Are you the right vendor for me?

There are a lot of great BI solutions on the market. But shopping for BI isn’t just about the best, it’s about the best for you. Be sure to ask potential providers how well they know your niche. Do they get what you do?

Do they know your field, and your business, well enough to support your future needs? Things change, and if you’ve got a vendor who knows nothing about retail, the journey from small to mid-size, or mid-size to enterprise, could get slowed down by a vendor who doesn’t know your unique challenges.

And on that scalability note, be sure to ask how they can support your strategies down the road. They may be the right vendor for you right now, but will they be in two years? Five? Not only that, but can they help you with these business intelligence strategies beyond just getting the program set up? It’s important to focus on the initial implementation, but in the same way your business doesn’t stay still, your business intelligence needs may not, either.

Can you provide some references I could speak to?

The vendor knows the program, but the other users know what it’s like. Check about other customers you could potentially speak to. Their experiences will be worth a great deal, especially if they’re still customers.

It’s also worth it to check for customers who have had a bad experience. Sites like Capterra (shameless plug) offer thousands of reviews of past products, and not all of them good. Are you seriously considering a vendor? Then look for their bad reviews, too. And though not all negative feedback is created equal, enough complaints about the same issues should raise an eyebrow. It may point to something they’ve improved on, or not. Either way, it’s worth asking your vendor how they’ve handled the same issues customers complain about. It’s also worthwhile to see how vendors respond to negative feedback. Did they offer to help the person who complained? It’s a good sign if the company reaches out to the dissatisfied customer, and resolves their problem.

Positive reviews can be equally useful, if not more. If you know your employees aren’t particularly good with computers or technology, look for reviews that mention good training and customer support. If you know you’re looking to dive into demographic data and segment your customer base, check for reviews that mention this.

If you keep these five questions in mind while shopping for business intelligence software, you’ll be able to approach shopping and implementation as a known quantity, rather than a vague, anxiety-inducing process.

About the Author

Geoff Hoppe is a content writer at Capterra. He specialized in business intelligence, business analytics, field service management software, and computerized maintenance management software. He’s particularly interested in how business intelligence software can enable disruptive, agile strategies that challenge enterprise-level players. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, one of the few lifelong Nova natives to still reside in the area.