Top 9 Data Querying Features of BI Tools

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(This is a multipart series about how to evaluate and select the right BI tool for you and your team. To see the entire outline of the series and a framework for how to evaluate a BI tool, see How to Select the Best BI Tool for You.)

Like shopping for a car or a new electronic device, there are likely a lot of features that the average Jane won’t need. We aim to cover the breadth of features that the top tools and analysts in the market are talking about.

It’s important to focus on what’s right for you and your use case. We recommend buyers be careful to not let features creep onto their “Want to have” or “Mission critical” lists when doing your research. It can be really easy to learn about a cool feature and then think about all the cool and creative ways you could use it. Curiosity and creativity is to be human.

Remember: You started shopping to fill a specific need. Keep that front and center as you research while getting educated on other cool features and how you may use them after your initial set of requirements are delivered.


Here are the top data querying features of BI tools to consider as part of your evaluation.

1. Batch Updates

The solution allows users to request records, make updates to the records without maintaining a connection to the data source, and then send the record updates back to the data source at some other time.

2. Complex Queries

The solution enables subqueries, filters, set operators (union, intersection, etc.) and calculated conditions in queries.

Tools that some with a scripting engine, like Looker’s LookML make this super simple, which is one of the many reasons we love Looker.

3. In-Memory Analysis

The solution supports executing queries on the data residing within the main memory of the computing environment, as opposed to querying data that is stored on physical disks.

4. Live Connection

The solution maintains a direct connection to underlying data, queries directly against the database or another source, and returns the results of the query for use in the analyses. It does not store a second copy of the data into the memory. The data is kept in the data source, and visualizations query the data source directly.

Some companies claim to do this and ever since Looker came to the show where Live Connection was the only option, others hurried to build out the same features. Qlik, Tableau, and Power BI all claim to have Live Connection but as far as we've seen, they’ve fumbled at this (to say the least). It either only works on a tiny data set or it’s a horrible user experience coupled with technical gymnastics happening in the background, and it feels like it! Looker is a great example of how Live connection should work.

5. Multi-pass SQL

The solution can break reports into components to be queried separately in parallel and thus improve performance.

6. Query Multiple Data Sources

The solution can query and present data from multiple types of data sources (relational, XML, CSV, OLAP, Web Services, etc.) and various data structures (i.e., multiple schemas, aggregated data) in a single business view.

7. Readable and Modifiable SQL

The solution allows writing queries in simple SQL commands, which can be readily modified by ad hoc users to facilitate greater quality control.

8. Scheduled Queries

The solution can run queries at scheduled times/intervals and relevant business events.

9. Visual Querying

The solution helps construct complex database queries without the knowledge of SQL statements by using code-free “drag and drop” visual tools to enable finding the desired data across a combination of different sources.

Tableau does this well and probably set the standard for how this should work. Looker is equally simple but arguably requires more upfront configuration of data models to support this feature.


Follow the links above to read more about core functional requirements of a BI and analytics tool.

Did we miss something? Drop us a line and we’ll see about getting it added.

Need help with your BI tool selection? Book a call with us and we’ll see if we can help. If we can point you in the right direction with a short phone call, great! If you’d like to hire us to do an evaluation and selection for you, contact us and we’ll make a selection together.

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