Business intelligence is the name applied to a category of applications and technologies used to gather information which helps companies make better commercial decisions. Essentially it allows managers to understand what has happened, when it happened, and what effect it has had.
What is included?
A business intelligence system will draw its data from several sources. This may be from traditional reporting methods, things like key performance identifiers and other metrics, automated alert thresholds that monitor processes and sales, dashboards and one-off queries.
It may use techniques like online analytical processing (OLAP) in order to interpret information and view it from different perspectives. The current trend towards big data, extracting information from large databases of customer and other information, also represents a major factor in business intelligence.
Much of the data needed for business intelligence can be gleaned from the existing analytical functions in things like ERP packages; however, often companies lack the time and resources to exploit it properly.
Thanks to the power of desktop analytical tools like Microsoft Excel individual employees have long had the ability to perform their own analysis on small amounts of data. Larger volumes have meant relying on standard reports or dashboards provided by the IT department,
The problem is that in an age when businesses increasingly rely on data for decision making the data produced in traditional ways can’t keep up. New reports produced by the IT department often lead to additional questions which require yet another report to answer.
It’s little wonder then that managers increasingly want the ability to extract and analyse information for themselves. Products like Microsoft’s Self-Service BI and Power BI facilitate this by making it easier to extract information from various sources for analysis using familiar desktop tools like Excel and SharePoint.
This cuts the need for costly and complex database projects and means that end users can produce their own reports and visualizations, helping them to uncover new insights.
Unlocking the value of data
There’s little doubt that business intelligence can help to transform your data analysis and lead to more timely and effective management decisions. But it’s often the case that enterprises have large volumes of data locked away in their computer centers that isn’t being properly exploited.
Business intelligence, particularly when there’s a self-service element puts that data into the hands of the people who can use it to good effect and benefit the company in the process. Critically it improves the speed of analysis, allowing management to react to events much more quickly than with traditional reporting.
Of course making the most of business intelligence may need some initial infrastructure investment, placing information in a centralized data warehouse for example, but this is likely to pay for itself in greater efficiency over the long term. This also has advantages for the IT department in that the data is in a location that’s easier to secure and provide controlled access to.
By drawing on the power of existing data and making it more available, business intelligence can help organisations get ahead of their competitors and for that reason it’s something companies can’t afford to ignore.