Applying business intelligence (BI) should help you and your organisation make better decisions.

In the first of a new series of reports Brian Runciman MBCS looks at business intelligence, which links to a fuller report that covers the perspectives of business, the software and architecture view, real world applications, a look into the future and a overview of the marketing and health sectors.

Business intelligence (BI), in keeping with IT’s hazy approach to words, has a slightly fuzzy usage, but Wikipedia’s view is as good a starting point as any.

It says that BI is ‘a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes.’ It goes on to discuss BI’s aim to handle large amounts of information to help identify and develop new opportunities, in turn using that to inform business strategy and to give organisations a competitive market advantage.

Another resource, Webopedia, expands on this to include the ‘tools and systems that play a key role in the strategic planning process of the corporation.’ Thus allowing an organisation to support their customer profiling, customer support, market research, market segmentation, product profitability, statistical analysis and inventory and distribution analysis.

The information sources that can be interrogated are vast, including, but not limited to, customer databases, supply chain information, personnel data, manufacturing feedback, product data, sales and marketing activity, social media activity – indeed any information source you consider critical to your organisation.

Of course, in this era of big data, almost all organisations collect enormous amounts of data from their day-to-day operations. That is potentially a huge resource for intelligence gathering, but data needs to be turned into information and information into useful insight. This is made difficult by such things as the multiplicity of systems and software packages and formats that it exists in - including what already exists in legacy.

For business, getting your approach to BI right can help key your organisation make better decisions. It can help users understand the huge quantities of data now available and how it interacts. The aim of a good BI application is to integrate and clean data to produce a readily understandable framework to support real-time reporting and analysis. And that can go beyond your employees to channel partners, key customers and more.

For IT professionals and students, BI is a burgeoning area, one that needs to be understood for the pursuit of almost any level of IT career.

Analyst perspective

As an example of a definition from an analyst perspective, Forrester Research is quoted by Wikipedia as defining BI in two ways:

‘Broad definition: Business intelligence is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making.’

When using this definition, business intelligence also includes technologies such as data integration, data quality, data warehousing, master data management, text and content analytics, and many others that the market sometimes lumps into the information management segment. Therefore, Forrester refers to data preparation and data usage as two separate, but closely linked segments of the business intelligence architectural stack.’

Software and solutions company perspective

Information Builders, a software supplier and engineering provider to customers and software vendors, says that an enterprise BI solution must satisfy the reporting and analysis needs of everyone in an organisation, from front line workers to executives to analysts.

They define BI as ‘a broad category of computer software solutions that enables a company or organisation to gain insight into its critical operations through reporting applications and analysis tools.’ Thus BI applications would have any number of different reporting features such as tabular reports, spreadsheets, charts and dashboards usually now delivered over the internet or, increasingly, via interactive BI apps for mobile devices.