There are three words that have transformed Business Intelligence (BI) into one of today’s most popular topics: data, data and data! That’s right. Not too long ago, the most important decisions of a company were defined by accumulated experiences and intuition. Today, however, effective management is defined by actionable, data-driven information.
Gone are the days when companies used to struggle with the lack of data. Nowadays, they are overwhelmed by it. If you feel lost with the amount of data your company is collecting, it may be the right time for you to start thinking about a Business Intelligence solution.
Now, do you really know what Business Intelligence is? Do you want to know why it may be worth investing in Business Intelligence technology? Are you familiar with the kinds of BI solutions you can get with a Business Intelligence software? Let’s answer these questions.
What is Business Intelligence?
Business Intelligence: The Definition
Business Intelligence (BI) is a group of tools, methods, and programs that are designed to collect, analyze and transform data into valuable information (insights) that companies can use to make better decisions and optimize their businesses.
Technically speaking, the process of collecting, analyzing and transforming raw data into valuable information is called “data mining”. In this way, data mining enables Business Intelligence (BI) by decoding and transforming raw, unstructured data into easy-to-digest information that BI teams can use to derive meaningful business insights.
Considering the above, Business Intelligence (BI) empowers data-driven decisions that allow companies to identify inefficient processes, find patterns and trends, adapt with ease to changes in their markets, and implement solid business strategies. In other words, BI empowers the business decision making process.
But, what kinds of tools, methods and programs are used to collect, analyze and transform data into valuable business information? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and powerful Business Intelligence technologies in the market.
Generally speaking, when we talk about Business Intelligence tools or Business Intelligence software, we are talking about tools that allow companies to create value from big data. Let’s see what are the most important Business Intelligence features and tools in the market.
How it works
Before we talk about features and tools, it is important to understand how Business Intelligence works. In order to do that, we would like to mention the 5-step process highlighted by TechTarget’s Ultimate Guide to Business Intelligence in The Enterprise. From loading data into data warehouses to empowering decision support systems, the following are the main steps of a Business Intelligence process:
- Data is integrated and loaded into data warehouses.
- Data sets are organized into analytic data models (OLAP) to prepare them for analysis.
- Business analytics and BI professionals run queries against the data.
- Query results are built into dashboards, data visualizations, and reports.
- Business leaders and employees use the information for decision making and strategic planning.
Now that we know how BI works, it is time to see the kinds of functions and features that Business Intelligence technology provides to companies.
What do Business Intelligence tools do
When it comes to features and functions, Business Intelligence technology is quite generous.
The following list, based on Capterra’s BI Software Features Tree, gives us a good idea of the most popular features provided by top Business Intelligence software applications. The percentage next to each feature indicates the presence of that particular feature among the top 20 Business Intelligence products featured in Capterra:
- Data analysis and analytics (100%)
- Ad hoc reports (100%)
- Dashboards (100%)
- Performance metrics (95%)
- Data visualization (90%)
- Ad hoc query (90%)
- Ad hoc analysis (85%)
- KPIs (85%)
- Budgeting & forecasting (70%)
- Benchmarking (65%)
- Profitability analysis (65%)
- Trend/Problem indicators (60%)
- Strategic planning (60%)
- OLAP (60%)
- Predictive analytics (55%)
Following this list, a survey carried out by SelectHub among business leaders showed that basic Business Intelligence features are the most desired by the majority of industry experts and professional users. The survey’s respondents were particularly interested in the dashboarding and visualizations features.
This has found to be quite true especially for small sized companies that cannot afford enough resources for BI technologies. An article published in Capterra about Business Intelligence features for small businesses identified three essential features for small businesses:
- Ad hoc queries
Along those lines, TechTarget’s Ultimate Guide to Business Intelligence in The Enterprise lists the following as the most important functions of today’s BI platforms:
- Business monitoring and measurement
- Data analysis and analytics
- Reporting and information delivery
- Predictive analysis
But, what are the BI tools that offer those kinds of features? What are some of the most popular business intelligence systems in the market? Let’s take a look.
Examples of tools
When it comes to business intelligence trends, the enormous growth of business intelligence systems is by far one of the most significant ones. This may be intimidating when you are trying to choose the right tool for your organization. However, this dramatic increase has come together with lower software costs, which have favored the adoption of BI tools across all kinds of organizations.
Every year, Gartner publishes the Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms, a special report where it lists the top Business Intelligence tools in the market. In the following image, you can see the most popular tools and platforms as of February 2021:
Considering the above image, the following list provides information about some of the most popular BI tools in the market and their key features:
- Microsoft Power BI (data preparation, visual-based data discovery, interactive dashboards, business analytics solutions).
- Tableau (data visualization, business analytics solutions, dashboards).
- Qlik (data analysis, data integration, augmented analytics, dashboards).
- Google (Looker) (data analytics, reporting, dashboard).
- MicroStrategy Analytics (customized dashboards, data analytics tools, reporting).
- Domo (data visualizations, dashboards).
- TIBCO Software (analytics in dashboards, interactive visualization, data preparation).
- Oracle (data ingestion, augmented analytics, visualizations, dashboards, reporting, mobility).
- IBM (business analytics, enterprise reporting, data visualization).
- Sisense (business analytics, data visualization)
How is Business Intelligence used?
All the features and tools that we mentioned before empower companies to do a whole variety of things. The following list from Klipfolio provides a nice overview of some of the things that companies can do with their BI tools:
- Analyze customer behavior, buying patterns and sales trends.
- Measure, track and predict sales and financial performance.
- Budgeting and financial planning and forecasting.
- Track the performance of marketing campaigns.
- Optimize processes and operational performance.
- Improve delivery and supply chain effectiveness.
- Implement web and e-commerce business analytics.
- Measure customer relationship management.
- Carry out risk and strategic value driver analysis.
Evidently, the way Business Intelligence is used depends a lot on the kind of companies or industries we are looking at. In the following image, we can see how certain industries apply Business Intelligence (BI) in order to reach some very specific goals.
Despite all the benefits that Business Intelligence offers to companies, Business Intelligence serves goals that go way beyond the boundaries of the corporate world. In fact, Business Intelligence (BI) has emerged as a great tool to fight some of the main problems that affect our world.
For instance, Tableau has recently launched the Global Tracker, a new tool that organizations can use to track coronavirus vaccinations by country. This free database provides valuable data-driven information through data integration (collecting COVID-19 information from multiple sources), data visualization, and dashboards.
As explained by Jeremy Blaney, product manager for Tableau Blueprint, “Global Tracker pulls information from a lot of different data sources into one visualization, updated daily, allowing people to see and interact with those data points to inform individual behavior, business decisions, and government policies.”
What are its benefits?
We already mentioned some of the specific things companies can do with their Business Intelligence tools. However, from a broader perspective, the ultimate goal of Business Intelligence (BI) is that of helping companies to make well-informed, data-driven, strategic business decisions. When companies are able to do that, they can enjoy the following benefits:
- Take control of the business data generated by the company.
- Answer specific business questions effectively.
- Improve decision-making processes.
- Identify inefficient processes within the organization and improve business knowledge.
- Gain a better understanding of business operations and challenges.
- Increase productivity.
- Identify market trends and opportunities.
- Implement strong business strategies.
- Boost sales and revenues.
- Gain market advantage.
As you can see, the impact that Business Intelligence (BI) can have in organizations is enormous. If you were still wondering why we need Business Intelligence today, we hope these benefits make you understand the significant role that Business Intelligence plays today.
Examples of Business Intelligence (BI)
In order to see the practical side of it, we would like to wrap up this article with a couple of examples where you can see the impact that Business Intelligence (BI) can have in different fields and organizations.
In the non-profit field
Because of the funding they receive, non-profit organizations need to be very effective in terms of accountability and transparency. In this example, a non-profit organization decides to effectively track all the activities it runs. In order to do that, this non-profit brings a timesheet system with BI capabilities into their business operations.
Thanks to this system, the organization is able to accurately track the time of all its staff and thus, the time and true cost associated with each one of the activities it runs. With this BI solution, the organization is able to improve its decision processes and manage its budget effectively.
If you want to have more insights from this real world example, we invite you to check out our interview with Aldy Milliken, Director of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
In the retail sector
Let’s imagine you have a clothing store that has both physical and virtual shops: your business offers a membership card, which users must use every time they buy something from your stores and/or e-commerce platform. Each time a customer uses his/her card, your system collects data about that particular customer and his/her transaction.
There are thousands of transactions taking place in your shops and the amount of business data collected in your system is enormous. At this point, you decide it is time to bring a Business Intelligence (BI) solution into your business.
Thanks to Business Intelligence (BI) you are able to run analytical reports on all the data you have collected from your customers. As a result of that, you are able to understand several things including the following:
- The level of loyalty of your customers.
- The most popular products in your stores.
- How frequently customers buy products from you.
- Their preference in terms of physical vs. online shopping.
With this kind of information in your hands, you can understand or even predict your customer’s needs, preferences and habits. You can also anticipate new opportunities, deliver better customer service, and optimize your marketing campaigns.
In other words, your Business Intelligence (BI) solution provides you with valuable insights regarding your customer’s historical transactions and behaviors, something you can use to improve your services, increase your sales, and differentiate your brand.
As you can see, Business Intelligence technology is a powerful ingredient of today’s corporate world and beyond. If your business manages lots of data but you are not making anything out of it, it may be the right time to implement a Business Intelligence strategy into your organization.