Free vs. Paid Analytics: Can you afford not to take a holistic approach to business intelligence

The freemium software model has created a rich ecosystem of tools that anyone can access, from consumers to large corporations – going some way to democratising access to analytics for all users.

As a business intelligence solution provider, C24 evaluates the market daily to look at what can be integrated into our existing BI solution, BI24.  One of the things we hear regularly from customers (before they go on to purchase from C24), is, “why should I pay for business intelligence software when there are so many free apps available?”.

This is a great question, but there’s no simple answer.  There are many great free business intelligence apps and tools which we ourselves use in the day to day running of our business, for instance, is a great tool which analyses your Twitter followers and feed patterns.

However, we see that very often, many free apps only solve one data challenge.  In the example of, the focus is very much on Twitter; what your followers are doing and saying, and their demographics.  For a business with a fairly modest social media strategy, the freemium model may require 5 tools to analyse activity across different social media platforms.  Layer on top of that your customer data, supplier info, CRM and invoicing systems – and the number of tools required to gain an accurate view of your organisation increases rapidly.  You almost need an analytics tool to manage your analytics tools.

We actually recommend our clients use standalone free apps to link in with our holistic BI solution, so that they can explore different info, through different mediums in select areas – without it becoming an onerous and overwhelming task.

So why do we think that a comprehensive BI tool is important for your business when starting out on your business intelligence journey?



As most free apps are often designed to deliver one standalone service, such as reporting and dashboards, or social media reporting, many tools are not built with integration in mind.

Data may be held within the tool itself with no possibility for extracting information, or, it may be possible to extract the data into a spreadsheet.  Yet this still leaves you with the problem of trying to integrate multiple spreadsheets and lines of info into one stream of data that you can use to view your business’ entire situation.  Very often, you just end up with different siloes of information that allow you to analyse trends on their own, but are not layered against the backdrop of your overall business.


Ease of Access

Some free tools offer the ability to have multiple users linked to an organisation, who can log in and update information across a shared platform.  This usually transfers into a paying model once a certain threshold of users is reached so scalability is an important factor to consider.  Yet, many free apps are linked to only one login (therefore one employee), so it holds information with one employee – not allowing concurrent logins for multiple users across the business.  This may be suitable in a one office model, but spread across multiple offices and a diverse range of data sources and the solution quickly becomes unsustainable.  Having a BI tool that can be overlaid across multiple data sources and types, with access granted at different levels throughout your organisation means you have a ‘single version of the truth’, which is really what big data is all about uncovering.



Some tools deliver dashboard functionality.  Some tools offer data visualisation.  Some apps show real-time trends emerging through graphical data patterns.  If big data is really a key strategy for your organisation, then do you really envisage your teams logging in and out of different tools to achieve these different data outcomes?

And, if you are planning to start offering data analytics capabilities out to end customers so that they can view their own information in real-time, then you will need a tool that can pull all of this information together via one interface.


Holistic and aggregated

The beauty of C24’s approach to big data is that we are constantly looking for ways to integrate new data sources into our overall Bi24 tool – which sometimes involves making use of free analytics tools to drive data collection, whilst displaying the results through our business intelligence app interface.  This makes it simpler for clients to aggregate all of their data, whilst getting the different features from one tool.

As technology becomes ever more integrated into our day to day business activities, we envisage more tools being developed, and likewise more add-ins being developed for our analytics tool.  For instance, many teams now use virtual collaboration solutions for managing projects and teams – how are these currently integrated into your resource planning strategies?  And as customers increasingly engage with suppliers over social media, how are these streams being overlaid with buying patterns and existing customer service channels?

We think the future of analytics will change how we see and use data compared to even today, nevermind ten years ago.  But as the market expands and scales out, you need to think about how you manage the complexity of multiple analytics applications – can they really answer those big questions that you originally devised a BI strategy to find out?


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