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business intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence is a data analysis process aimed at boosting business performance by helping corporate executives and other end users make more informed decisions.

Business intelligence (BI) is a technology-driven process for analyzing data and presenting actionable information to help corporate executives, business managers and other end users make more informed business decisions. BI encompasses a variety of tools, applications and methodologies that enable organizations to collect data from internal systems and external sources, prepare it for analysis, develop and run queries against the data, and create reports, dashboards and data visualizations to make the analytical results available to corporate decision makers as well as operational workers.

The potential benefits of business intelligence programs include accelerating and improving decision making; optimizing internal business processes; increasing operational efficiency; driving new revenues; and gaining competitive advantages over business rivals. BI systems can also help companies identify market trends and spot business problems that need to be addressed.

BI data can include historical information, as well as new data gathered from source systems as it is generated, enabling BI analysis to support both strategic and tactical decision-making processes. Initially, BI tools were primarily used by data analysts and other IT professionals who ran analyses and produced reports with query results for business users. Increasingly, however, business executives and workers are using BI software themselves, thanks partly to the development of self-service BI and data discovery tools.

Business intelligence combines a broad set of data analysis applications, including ad hoc analysis and querying, enterprise reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), mobile BI, real-time BI, operational BI, cloud and software as a service BI, open source BI, collaborative BI and location intelligence. BI technology also includes data visualization software for designing charts and other infographics, as well as tools for building BI dashboards and performance scorecards that display visualized data on business metrics and key performance indicators in an easy-to-grasp way. BI applications can be bought separately from different vendors or as part of a unified BI platform from a single vendor.

BI programs can also incorporate forms of advanced analytics, such as data mining, predictive analytics, text mining, statistical analysis and big data analytics. In many cases though, advanced analytics projects are conducted and managed by separate teams of data scientists, statisticians, predictive modelers and other skilled analytics professionals, while BI teams oversee more straightforward querying and analysis of business data.

Business intelligence data typically is stored in a data warehouse or smaller data marts that hold subsets of a company's information. In addition, Hadoop systems are increasingly being used within BI architectures as repositories or landing pads for BI and analytics data, especially for unstructured data, log files, sensor data and other types of big data. Before it's used in BI applications, raw data from different source systems must be integrated, consolidated and cleansed using data integration and data quality tools to ensure that users are analyzing accurate and consistent information.

In addition to BI managers, business intelligence teams generally include a mix of BI architects, BI developers, business analysts and data management professionals; business users often are also included to represent the business side and make sure its needs are met in the BI development process. To help with that, a growing number of organizations are replacing traditional waterfall development with Agile BI and data warehousing approaches that use Agile software development techniques to break up BI projects into small chunks and deliver new functionality to end users on an incremental and iterative basis. Doing so can enable companies to put BI features into use more quickly and to refine or modify development plans as business needs change or new requirements emerge and take priority over earlier ones.

Sporadic usage of the term business intelligence dates back to at least the 1860s, but consultant Howard Dresner is credited with first proposing it in 1989 as an umbrella category for applying data analysis techniques to support business decision-making processes. What came to be known as BI technologies evolved from earlier, often mainframe-based analytical systems, such as decision support systems and executive information systems. Business intelligence is sometimes used interchangeably with business analytics; in other cases, business analytics is used either more narrowly to refer to advanced data analytics or more broadly to include both BI and advanced analytics.

Business intelligence (BI) vs. advanced analytics comparison

BI vs. advanced analytics

Business intelligence

Advanced analytics

 

Answers the questions:

What happened?

When?

Who?

How many?

Why did it happen?

Will it happen again?

What will happen if we change x?

What else does the data tell us that we never thought to ask?

 

Includes:

Reporting (KPIs, metrics)

Ad hoc querying

OLAP (cubes, slice & dice, drilling)

Dashboards/scorecards

Operational/real-time BI

Automated monitoring/alerting

Statistical/quantitative analysis

Data mining

Predictive modeling/analytics

Big data analytics

Text analytics

Multivariate testing

 

This was first published in October 2014

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