Since there are people who are new to this topic, I thought it would be worthwile to write about it.
So, what is Business Intelligence – or BI?
What is it?
Business Intelligence is, first and foremost, the intelligence in the business. I’m not trying to be super smart here. Just think about it for a moment.
There are key measures in a small business, say, sales of an item per region. The business needs to know which products sell and how good they sell. At best, they can even dig into this data on a department basis.
Usually, all the data is available somewhere and this is done in Excel.
And this, surprisingly, is already Business Intelligence. Why?
Because the business can make decisions out of insight in their data. What price might be appropriate in one region or another? How many items should be in stock? Which items sell better in store A or in store B?
More to come
BUT this wasn’t all of it of course. This is just the concept behind the term “Business Intelligence”, also defined as:
[…] a set of techniques and tools for the acquisition and transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes.Dawn Turner
So, that means, that usually not only one tool is being used (did I hear someone say Excel?) but more techniques and tools to provide insight into the business.
Normally this leads to either regular business intelligence teams or guerilla techniques by people in need.
This is more commonly the case for companies which are bigger or which need to dig into their data. This is the case for mobile games developers, web admins, but also of course for banks, telco providers and much more. The team size might be around 5 to 6 people if the team is considered big, but anything bigger would be hard to steer. Sometimes the roles are fixed, sometimes the roles are very flexible and interchangeable. There is always a big need to talk to all stakeholders and involve them in the creation process.
If BI teams are new, there might be some pressure to deliver which can lead to wrong decisions (see my post about a more technical aspect in business intelligence for an example of this). But if the business is well aware of the additional value of the team and if it can deliver quickly, it can be extremely helpful to interpret the businesses data.
There are many tools and processes involved. A data warehouse or a data lake has to be set up and maintained, reports have to be created and the infrastructure also has to be maintaned. Because only dedicated systems really help (you never want to load data directly and live at every request from the source system), this might become costly – but this is a neccessary cost.
Like the following picture: All data might be chaotic at first but eventually be available to the company in a way that adds value.
But then there are some people who might be in need of insights of their data and Excel is no longer enough. Typically, those so-called power users get somehow access to the source data, sometimes out of several systems, and view them with some kind of presentation software. To name a few: QlikView, Tableau or PowerBI (formerly PowerPivot for Excel) come to mind.
Then the data is visualized and presented and oftenly used. This inhibits some kind of danger, because the data might not be 100% cleansed and error-free. Still, the idea is always to lessen the burden of not having a business intelligence department or team. Also, in most of the cases it does provide more insight and value into the corporation. And it might lead to a BI team or the realization of the need of one.
And in the end, this is what business intelligence is: a complex tool, methodology and process to view the businesses data under the microscope or in one of those fancy dashboards.