Business Intelligence (BI) is one of those terms that conjure up an air of convert operation. However, the core role of the technology is to facilitate decision-making. Like a good spy, once deployed, it assists its “handler” in making informed decisions. Until recently, applications of business intelligence were limited to large and mid-size enterprises, but the technology is gaining popularity. BI promises the type of information support every business manager or decision-maker could use. This article provides an overview of this potentially powerful business tool.
What is business intelligence?
The simple answer is there is no single universally used definition for BI. Developers may define the technology in ways that favor the features of their own brand of business intelligence software. Regardless of the exact wording of a definition, the following applies across BI brands:
BI is not a single tool. Most frequently, it is a collection of related technologies, tools and functions. These components explain why the technology is often characterized as a system.
The core function in a BI system is to gather, coordinate, and transform data into information efficiently. Not surprisingly, the more integrated the software, the more diverse its data analysis capability.
BI deployment is customizable to fit enterprise and industry needs.
In essence, business intelligence is what your enterprise makes of it – depending on usage and functionalities.
What are the key components of a business intelligence system?
What constitutes a BI system varies by developer. However, most integrated systems have the following tools and functionalities:
Data management tools for collecting, cleaning, integrating, and analyzing transactional and operational data from multiple sources;
A query tool for asking questions from the database;
A reporting tool for generating ad hoc reports based on a query or series of queries;
An analytical tool for generating projections, conducting forecasts, and creating alternative scenarios;
A search tool for locating information, discovering underlying patterns, and augmenting analysis;
A dashboard functionality providing for quick viewing and sharing of results.
What are desirable qualities in a business intelligence system?
Given the relatively high cost of deploying, running, and maintaining a BI system, it is important that the product you select possesses the following qualities:
Ease of use, especially from the point of view of the intended primary users in the enterprise.
Flexibility of customization, to improve the best chance of adoption success
Best fit to enterprise needs and existing systems, to enhance the ROI of the technology
Today’s competitive environment requires enterprises to be agile in all aspects of business operations. Few will debate the benefits of having business intelligence technology as part of the performance management toolkit of an enterprise. Properly deployed, BI tools and functionalities improve the timeliness, objectivity and transparency of business decisions. However, realizing these benefits hinges on how well the chosen product fits the specific needs of the enterprise.