What is BI: 12 Things to Know about Business Intelligence


As digital marketing continues to evolve, understanding how to leverage the ever-expanding amount of data out there has become a priority for marketers. Business Intelligence professionals are in high demand, but they also have a lot to learn about the field. Here are some things suggested by Fomoco News that every business intelligence professional should know.

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1. Why BI? 

Business Intelligence (BI) is an umbrella term for technologies, processes, and strategies that provide access to relevant information, at the right time, to people who need it for decision-making purposes. The reason why organizations implement BI is to support their decision-making process and other core decisions that can benefit their performance and bottom line. 

Strategic decision-making

BI is not just limited to reporting, but it is also about creating insights that can assist businesses with future or strategic decision-making. According to Senthilnathan Kulasekaran, chief marketing officer at business intelligence provider Pentaho, BI is about “understanding what has happened in the past, what’s currently happening now and what’s most likely to happen in the future. BI enables us to ‘ask’ questions of data and then derive insights.”

BI solutions automate information delivery instead of relying on individuals to seek out data themselves. As Waddington put it, “a real advantage is that end users now have access to information they need without having to wait for someone else (to gather) this for them. The reduced time to information results in reduced instances of irrelevant decisions made too late.”

2. Business users can’t live without BI, but they don’t need to be data experts

Business Intelligence is about enabling business users. Although it is common to think that BI professionals are the ones who create the reports and analyze the data, good BI solutions will allow every user in an organization to access relevant information anytime they want. For example, retailing giant Walmart has “hundreds of thousands of employees involved in planning their stores’ weekly product assortment,” said Ryan Sarver, vice president for mobile at Walmart Global eCommerce Technology. 

BI comes into play when solving problems. For example, retail sales are down. One answer is to use BI tools and data visualization capabilities that help you see what the problem is and how it has changed over time. You can then dig into data and find out which products were purchased more than usual during that week and why. Once you have answers, you can take action on those insights.

3. BI is not just for IT people anymore

Most organizations implement BI solutions because the board of directors/executive management is pushing for business data to drive business decisions. This means that once an organization has decided to invest in BI, it is important for everyone involved to understand what it’s all about.

“Most of the organizations I meet with put the technology in place but there are very few with a successful adoption of their data asset,” said Rajeev Gupta, chief executive officer at business intelligence software developer Qlik. 

To achieve an effective BI implementation, senior management must have a clear vision of what BI can bring to their company. Otherwise it’s just about technology.

4. Data is not what makes BI work

The most important part of any BI implementation is the data that it will be drawing from. There are infinite sources of data, both structured and unstructured, that can be used in a BI solution. The future of big data is an extensive discussion on its own, but Sarver emphasized that “BI solutions must be flexible enough to accommodate this ever-growing amount of data.”

“A more suitable approach would be to look for specific tools for specific jobs. Understanding the problem and then looking for the right tool for it is more effective than using a single tool to solve all problems.”

5. BI is not just about reporting

Although reports are one of the most important features of a BI solution, they must be based on data analysis and insights. A report can only return meaningful insights if it’s based on solid foundations, which is why it’s so critical to choose the right tool and select its features wisely. If your business does not have solid data analytics systems in place, your reports will only be as good as the data you feed into them.

6. Planning is key to BI

Although an individual BI project cannot accomplish significant results without the help of other tools, you cannot take shortcuts. It’s important to plan your BI implementation properly. Once you have your plans in place, it’s important that you follow through on them. If BI does not result in tangible benefits, there is no point in continuing with it.

7. BI is not only about the numbers

Reporting is important, but it’s also important to be able to work with other data. Many BI users are faced with the dilemma of how to visualize their data. Although you may choose to create reports or dashboards, there are tools that can help you bring your data into other forms. “Most BI users want to take their data and ‘put it back together.’ The fact that there are dozens of tools (for presentation) should be seen as an opportunity rather than a limitation,” said Waddington.


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