Business Intelligence: Make a Decision!

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How well your business performs is closely tied to how well you know your business and how it functions. Business Intelligence systems are designed to put the information you need at your fingertips to support you in making the most effective possible decisions. Here’s how.


by Howard M. Cohen for MercuryData

Everything that happens does so because someone or something made a decision. Literally everything begins with a decision.

Saying this constitutes beginning with the end in mind. The end result of all business intelligence processing is to better inform highly effective decisions. In an environment of ever-increasing competition, nobody can afford the luxury of a bad decision. Success, even survival, often depends upon making the right decisions, the best decisions.

Making the best decisions requires more than just data. That data must be collected, categorized, indexed, evaluated, collated, analyzed and effectively presented to provide human-consumable information along with valuable insights that eventually drive knowledge which evolves into wisdom finally fueling the right decisions. It’s quite a journey.

What is Business Intelligence?

According to Microsoft, “Business intelligence (BI) is essentially the set of tools and processes that people use to gather data, turn it into meaningful information, and then make better decisions. In Office 365 Enterprise, you have BI capabilities available in Excel and SharePoint Online. These services enable you to gather data, visualize data, and share information with people in your organization across multiple devices.”

Business Intelligence was first introduced in the 1960s as a system for sharing information across diverse organizations. In the 1980s it developed into a set of computer models for decision-support that basically turned data into insights.

Today, business intelligence is a category of information collection, processing, analytic, and reporting tools that include:

  • Collect Data from Multiple Sources

Application program interfaces (API) are available to connect a BI system to many diverse data sources, including cloud services, streaming data, databases maintained on-premises, spreadsheets, online analytical processing (OLAP) sources and more.

  • Data preparation

Compiling multiple data sources in preparation for data analysis.

  • Real-Time Data

Given the constant immediacy of circumstances businesses encounter regularly, BI supports real-time decision-making, the ability to take action to resolve challenges and seize opportunities the moment that they arise.

  • Data Visualization

Data becomes useful information when it’s processed and presented efficiently to users. Since some people are visual thinkers while others see patterns better in numbers, BI must enable reporting in a variety of modalities, such as interactive dashboards, charts, graphs, and reports so users may explore data through visual storytelling, communicating insights ad hoc.

  • Reporting from a Single Source of Truth

Effective BI systems make it almost effortless to add and remove data with just a click. Filters, sorts, and other processes enable users to discover insights and seek answers to queries. The whole idea is to enable users to create meaningful and actionable reports almost instantly.

  • Queries

The ability to ask specific questions to develop specific insights from the source data.

  • Data visualization

Turning data analysis into visual representations such as charts, graphs, and histograms to more easily consume data.

  • Statistical analysis

Further exploring the data in more detail using statistical tools.

  • Performance metrics and benchmarking

Comparing current performance to historical data in order to track performance against goals.

  • Desktop & Mobile Apps

Information is more valuable the closer it is to where decisions are being made. Today’s best BI tools offer web interfaces, desktop and laptop clients, and mobile apps for tablets and smartphones. Bill Gates first described the mission as “putting information at your fingertips.” Never has that been truer than in BI.

One perhaps hidden goal of those implementing BI is to keep the number of tools used to a minimum. As with human handling, the more transitions there are the more opportunities for error are created.

BI provides historical, current, and predictive views of business operations using data that has been gathered into a data warehouse or, sometimes, from live operational data. BI techniques support reporting, interactive “slice-and-dice” pivot-table analyses, visualization, and statistical data mining.

Business Analytics

Some use the terms Business Intelligence and Business Analytics interchangeably. Business intelligence is descriptive of what’s happening now and what happened previously that got you to where you are. Business analytics is a catch-all term for predictive data analysis techniques used to forecast the future, informing better decision-making leading to the ability to improve those outcomes.

Learn More

BI combines business analytics, data mining, data visualization,  and other tools with best practices to support more data-driven decisions. To learn more about highly effective BI tools, contact MercuryData today at 212-956-7567 or email answers@mercurydata.co.

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