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What is Business Intelligence?

2023-09-21 // Nick End, Founder

Business Intelligence is the technology focused effort to collect, store, transform, and analyze vast amounts of business data in order to facilitate data-driven decision making throughout a business. In the rapidly evolving world of business, making informed decisions is crucial. Business Intelligence (BI), is an increasingly vital tool in the corporate landscape. This blog post will uncover what BI is, how it works, its benefits, real-world examples, and various categories. Additionally, the post will explore BI strategies, weigh its advantages and disadvantages, list some BI platforms, and discuss the role of big data and the rise of self-service BI in this domain. Continue reading or use the table of contents below to jump to a specific section.

  1. Understanding Business Intelligence
  2. How does business intelligence work?
  3. The benefits of business intelligence
  4. Real-world examples of business intelligence
  5. Categories of business intelligence
  6. Popular business intelligence platforms
  7. Self-service business intelligence
  8. Big data and business intelligence
  9. Formulating business intelligence strategies
  10. Advantages and disadvantages of business intelligence
  11. Summary

Understanding Business Intelligence (BI)

Think of Business Intelligence, often abbreviated as BI, as the ultimate corporate crystal ball. Leveraging technology, BI processes the vast oceans of data a company generates and transforms it into bite-sized, actionable information. This information becomes a guiding light, assisting executives and managers in making informed decisions. BI is all about utilizing applications, infrastructure, tools, and best practices to unearth the hidden gems of insights from the data mines. The goal? To influence strategic, tactical, and operational business decisions and activities. In essence, BI is not just about delivering data; it's about delivering the right data to the right people at the right time, enabling a 360-degree view of the organization's operations.

How Does Business Intelligence Work?

Imagine a maze of raw data, pouring in from various sources like spreadsheets, databases, production reporting systems, web applications, or even social media. Business Intelligence navigates this maze, meticulously sifting, sorting, and arranging the data. This data is then cleaned and curated and housed within the safe walls of a data warehouse or smaller data marts. BI tools step in, transforming the now structured data into vibrant reports, insightful dashboards, and enlightening visualizations. These visual offerings serve up crucial business insights in a digestible form, ready to guide your business decisions.

The Benefits of Business Intelligence

Harnessing the power of Business Intelligence can give your company a significant edge. One of the greatest perks is its ability to enhance decision making. How? By offering timely access to data, it provides real-time insights that you can promptly act upon. BI tools are also a fantastic way to streamline operations, allowing you to work smarter, not harder. They help you to identify new revenue streams, while also providing the competitive advantage needed to outpace business rivals. Moreover, BI reveals emerging market trends and uncovers potential business problems before they escalate. From saving time on data collection to offering predictive insights, the benefits of BI are vast and varied, ready to catapult your business to the next level.

Real-World Examples of Business Intelligence

Consider the coffee giant, Starbucks. It utilizes Business Intelligence to dive deep into the habits, preferences, and needs of their customers. Tracking purchases, visits, and interactions over time enables starbucks to fine tune the product offering, store layout, and store locations to drive more business. At American Express, BI capabilities are leveraged to gain a precise understanding of their clientele, enabling personalized offers and bespoke service At Netflix, BI is used to sift through customer viewing patterns and tastes. This data-driven strategy informs their decisions on content creation and acquisitions. In each instance, business Intelligence becomes the catalyst for strategic, customer-centric moves, showcasing its transformative potential across diverse industries. As an example of the value provides, Business intelligence has resulted in 23% cost reduction for organizations.

Categories of Business Intelligence

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to Business Intelligence. Instead, it spreads its wings across two broad categories: traditional BI and modern BI. Traditional BI is your reliable, IT-centered workhorse. It is firmly rooted in sturdy data warehousing, issuing regular reports to keep you updated. Modern BI, however, brings a refreshing change. It’s all about flexibility and independence. With its self-service promise, it empowers end users to engage with data in a hands-on manner. It's like the difference between a formal, catered dinner and a lively potluck—both have their unique flavors and fulfill distinct needs.

Diving into the world of BI platforms is akin to exploring a vibrant marketplace, each stall offering its unique blend of capabilities and tools. Companies spend large sums on BI platforms. By 2028, the global business intelligence market size is expected to grow to $43.03 billion.. Below is a review of some common BI Platforms:

  • Microsoft Power BI - a robust solution that seamless integrates with other Microsoft products.
  • Tableau - visually stunning dashboards. A more thorough review can be found at Tableau Pros and Cons.
  • QlikView - dynamic data discovery features
  • SAS comprehensive statistical analytics suite.
  • Looker - Integrated with the Google Cloud Suite
  • Row Zero - Noted for its speed and ease of use with an extremely powerful spreadsheet UI. It's important to note, each platform shines in its own light, and the choice of one over the other will largely depend on your business's specific needs and objectives. So, take the time to explore, compare and align your decision with your strategic goals, ensuring the chosen BI platform adds the most value to your operations.

Self-Service Business Intelligence

In the realm of BI, a game-changing trend is making waves - the advent of self-service Business Intelligence. Think of this as the democratization of data, where anyone, regardless of their background in data science or statistics, can dive into the corporate data pool. With self-service BI, business users gain the power to interact with data directly, not just look at it from a distance. It's like having a personal data genie at their command, enabling swift access to crucial insights. This translates to quicker decision-making, more agile responses, and a stronger sense of ownership. Nearly all BI tools make claims about self-service but rarely do they fulfill the promise. Despite the efforts of a BI team, it is all too common for a data analyst to produce a dashboard only for their business partner to ask “how can I get this data into a spreadsheet.” When choosing a BI tool it is important to consider the skills of business partners who need to consume the data. Do they know who to write SQL or Python? Can they learn how to use PowerBI, Tableau or Looker dashboards? Do they need row level information and flexibility to explore data sets or are large aggregations found in dashboards sufficient. These are all important questions to ask when trying to fulfill the promise of self-serve analytics.

Big Data and Business Intelligence

The pairing of Big Data and Business Intelligence is an alluring opportunity for corporate decision makers. Think of Big Data as the ever-growing library of information produced by businesses daily. When combined with BI, this data becomes a powerful tool. From decoding customer behavior to spotting market trends, and enhancing operational efficiency, Big Data and BI work hand-in-hand. The result? Business intelligence offers actionable insights that equip businesses to make decisions that are not just informed, but transformative. Embrace the power of Big Data and BI and it can propel your business towards a future of informed growth.

Formulating Business Intelligence Strategies

Building a solid BI strategy is key to understanding your goals. It begins with pinpointing your business's unique needs. What are the areas of the business in which there is no clear understanding of the process? What areas of the business already capture useful data and what areas need to start tracking it? Next, you outline the scope of your BI undertaking, identifying the areas to invest in first. If your business currently doesn't track any data, pick one area in which to start. Establish concrete objectives. Ensure all stakeholders are involved throughout this process, promoting alignment and shared accountability. Finally, the choice of BI tools and platforms is important. Choose a tool that suits your company's skill set. Does your team know SQL or Python? Are dashboards and high level metrics sufficient? Will the company need to perform ad-hoc analysis and dive into row level details? A well-designed BI strategy, therefore, is the backbone of successful data-driven decision-making.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Business Intelligence

Like any powerful tool, Business Intelligence carries its share of pros and cons. On one hand, it offers enticing advantages that make it a game-changer. It sharpens data accuracy, ensuring your strategies are built on firm ground. It also enhances efficiency, saving precious time and resources, while its improved decision-making capabilities can steer your organization towards its goals effectively. However, it's important to be aware of the potential drawbacks. The implementation of a BI system can come with a hefty price tag, and data privacy concerns may emerge. Moreover, training staff to fully utilize the capabilities of BI tools can be a time-consuming process. Recognizing these aspects of Business Intelligence allows for a more holistic understanding of its impact on your business.


This blog post explores the fundamentals of Business Intelligence (BI), a key tool in modern corporate strategy for analyzing vast amounts of data to facilitate informed decision-making. BI involves using technology to process and transform large data sets into actionable information, aiding executives and managers in strategic, tactical, and operational planning. The post delves into BI's workings, its benefits like enhanced decision-making and operational efficiency, and real-world examples, showcasing BI's role in strategic planning and customer insights. Additionally, it covers various BI platforms, the growing trend of self-service BI, the integration of Big Data, and strategies for effective BI implementation.