Big data holds big potential. According to IDC, businesses spent $215 billion on big data and business intelligence solutions in 2021 alone. That represents a 10% increase compared to 2020. Job growth in data analytics and business intelligence (BI) also remains strong. It’s clear that the future is doubling down on data. But all its power and glory mean very little until you can answer one question: What can data-driven intelligence do for you?
Having a theoretical understanding of how to foster an intelligent business is one thing. Putting your BI tools to work and generating results is quite another. Too many organizations fail to bridge the gap and successfully use business data to transform their operations. The effectiveness of BI data can suffer from:
- Failure to involve the right people in the decision-making process
- Limitations within the BI software itself
- Poor adoption processes
So, let’s fix that. Here’s a closer look at BI, along with some steps you can take to ensure it’s broadly adopted and benefits all users.
BI Definition: What Is Business Intelligence?
Let’s start with some clarity. First, what is a good business intelligence definition? Business intelligence, or BI, refers to software that turns data into usable insights. To make sense of information, it uses:
- Data collection tools
- Business analytics
- Data visualization
- An organized data warehouse
When you wrap your data up in a neat and tidy package, you can make better business decisions based on real-world insights.
What Is Business Analytics?
So what is business analytics, then? There’s a little overlap here. Business analytics uses historical data to identify potential trends and patterns that help companies make predictions for the future.
An easy way to think about it is that business analytics is a small slice of BI. Both are important, especially for informed decision-making. Both can work together to drive better business outcomes.
Why Are BI Reporting and Business Data Important for Companies?
Imagine you are shopping for a new car. You go to the lot and see they have several of the same model in stock. On the surface, they all look the same except for the color. But after you buy one, you learn that it was actually a year older than the others on the lot and had thousands more miles than them. It had also been in a previous accident, but it still costs the same as the newer cars.
With a little more insight into what you were buying, you may have chosen differently. Since all the cars cost the same in this example, you could have gotten more value by getting a newer, less-driven model that was in better condition. BI and analytics work in a similar manner. They provide users with data they might have overlooked or might not realize is available. With those insights, users can improve business operations and data-driven decision-making.
To be clear, BI data doesn’t tell companies what to do or what will happen if they make certain decisions. Its value lies in presenting business leaders with simplified data insights related to a specific area of business. It helps to remove some of the guesswork of an endless list of what-if questions. It streamlines the process of searching for and combining various data sets to speed up the decision-making timeline.
How Do Companies Use BI Software?
Business intelligence software sounds helpful in theory. In reality, the possible applications are nearly endless. For instance, a retail store or logistics company might use BI for predictive purposes. AI is useful for identifying supply chain risks and may help companies plan for unexpected surges in demand or delays in transport.
Sales teams will often use a BI platform to visualize their pipelines and see where all of their deals are in real-time. Take Meltwater client AxiaOrigin, for example. This consultancy specializes in best-in-class data discovery and analysis, with a particular focus on unused data that its clients struggle to unlock value from.
Much of its work is bespoke to each client, so having a flexible solution that can address a wide range of requests is critical. AxiaOrigin can explore large sets of raw data without manually mining and extracting insights. And it’s all because of our AI-powered business intelligence and analytics tools.
Another common use case is to predict future trends, which is how Fund for Peace uses Meltwater. This non-profit works to prevent conflict. It relies on easy-to-use BI to track trends and get early warnings of potential conflict. This forward-thinking approach allows the organization to respond quickly to escalating situations. Using an easy-to-understand, end-to-end solution reduces the time it takes to research and track events, which has enriched the organization’s data even more.
Specifically, BI reporting can be useful in several ways:
- Spot trends
- Benchmark competitors
- Increase sales and profit
- Optimize operations
- Uncover problems or issues
- Track performance
- Predict future trends and successes
- Understand your customers
When used to its potential, BI reporting can help to improve just about any aspect of your business.
What Kinds of Business Intelligence Tools Should You Use?
The right BI tools let you go from theoretical benefits to tangible value. To make this leap, you must first explore your options for choosing and implementing BI solutions.
Types of Intelligent Business Tools
A range of tools and solutions are part of the BI market. Examples include:
- Data visualization tools
- Reporting features
- Data mining
- ETL (extract transfer load)
- OLAP (online analytical processing)
Among the most common are dashboarding and visualization tools. Dashboards can be customized to display certain types of data at a glance. These are most often used when business leaders need to access the same information on an ongoing basis. Visualization tools turn data into visual images or models for easier information processing.
All of the above can fall into one of two buckets. There’s the “classic” BI that focuses only on in-house transactional data. And then there’s “modern” BI that takes internal and external data from a variety of sources into account. Modern BI offers additional advantages to completing and enriching data sets, which allows for faster and easier analysis.
Today’s BI solutions are largely cloud-based software-as-a-service (though some are still on-premise). They span a range of features and functionality. They’re enterprise-grade in terms of power. But even non-technical users can benefit from the approach that many BI applications take. Having your own data analysts or team of data scientists is great, but it is no longer required for deploying BI.
Going Beyond a Business Intelligence System
It’s not just a matter of choosing software and tools to make BI solutions work. This is where a lot of companies go wrong. You cannot simply “solution-ize” your business. You must factor in other considerations that can make or break your BI implementation.
First, companies need to instill the right culture. Technology itself isn’t enough if the people using it can’t make heads or tails of it. Staff empowered to make decisions who know the right questions to ask are ideally suited for BI. They’re usually skilled in finding patterns in sales data or social media mentions, for example. They also view a BI solution as more than just a data tool. They see it as a valuable way to investigate how past actions triggered results and to better predict the results of future actions.
Also, companies need buy-in from the top down. BI software isn’t just a one-off activity. On the contrary, its value grows over time as it collects more data for deeper and more reliable insights. With this in mind, don’t expect BI solutions to perform miracles overnight, and don’t try to implement them quickly.
Doing so most often means that some aspects of the organization were not taken into account. Using an implementation consultant can shore up these little bumps in the road that could ultimately derail your BI program. They ask hard questions to achieve short-term goals and long-term value.
The data you feed your BI software will also contribute to your success. You need to consider structured and unstructured data sources to gauge customer sentiment and relate it to other data points. This is becoming critical as customers engage with businesses through a variety of channels. Also, data should come from verified, reliable sources to maintain its integrity and reap all the benefits of BI.
Lastly, organizations need to establish specific goals for their BI system. Goal creation ensures that companies are collecting and analyzing the right data. You’ll likely have a mix of metrics related to customer satisfaction, sales, and internal user adoption. Your BI system must be flexible and customizable to accommodate future goals and priority shifts.
By: TJ Kiely
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