What is Business Intelligence and what is the utility of BI Software?Business intelligence can simply be defined as current, real-time or past data that will help decision makers in a business including managers and business owners to example past/current strategies and activity and allow them to predict what is likely to happen to the business intelligence the future. BI is therefore a data stream and will require analysing and sorting to allow it to be used in decision making. Such analysis is usually carried out by business intelligence software. This gives much higher relevancy, speed and accuracy over any possible manual process. Therefore, business intelligence data can help a business or organisation adjust rapidly to a changing company environment whilst the BI software make sure that the changing business landscape is quickly as well as accurately identified and reported in such a way as to allow for fast, effective decision making.

Commonly Used Business Intelligence Tools

BI tools are commonly classified into the following categories:

  • Date Warehousing
  • Process Mining
  • Online Analytical Processing
  • Reporting and querying software
  • Spreadsheets
  • Dashboards
  • Business Performance Management
  • Budgeting and Forecasting
  • Local Information Systems

Spreadsheets are a little old hat and can be confusing, but most of these business intelligence tools will be available as part of a business intelligence software suite or as components integrated into an ERP system. There are a couple of open source business intelligence software available, however, most enterprise size companies prefer the data security that comes with a bespoke system integrated with their other systems. The range of tools implemented will vary depending on the market conditions, size of company and the industry, however some of the more common business intelligence tools are described below.

Dashboards

Dashboards are quite simply described as a visual and user friendly interface with will provide quick access to data in the form of graphs, charts and other similar visual data. Because of their attractive nature, dashboards are a popular, prolific tool that is widely used to support instantaneous and informed decision making. They are also often available on tablets allowing for visualisation on the go. They are able to display a large amount of user-defined KPI's (key performance indicators) that are relevant for the various departments of a company. For example, a dashboard aimed at production can display efficiency with indicators such as; how may did we produce, how long did each one take on average, how many failed inspection etc. The main advantage of a dashboard is allowing the decision maker to view only pertinent data. Dashboards are currently commonly available as web based applications, mobile and tablet apps, integrated as part of a larger system (for example and ERP system) or even as a standalone desktop application. The usually feature bullet graphs, pie charts, bar chats and spark lines to represent data.

Budgeting, Planning and Forecasting

Budgeting planning and forecasting software as part of your BI suite will allow you to improve your business decision making by removing the need for spreadsheets. Also, data can be taken automatically from many different sources including your finance system, hr system or ERP system and incorporated into your plan. This means that targets can be compared to actual data giving you a clear accurate view of information. This hugely efficient collaborative method gives an organisation more exact data quickly and with increased confidence, this leads to better and more informed decision making. Creating linked plans is easy, allowing you to reflect accurately the complex business dependencies and logic. By changing the logic of the plan, a huge amount of "what ifs" can be played out easily and quickly giving business decision makers huge insights into their market and company..

Business Performance Management

Business Performance Management refers to the set of processes which are designed to allow improvement of an organisations current business processes in line with the goals and aspirations of the company. Such tools are able to look at huge amounts of raw data and allows managers and decision makers to determine useful interventions which are designed to improve specific business processes. At the moment, tools available for business performance management are based upon the balanced scorecard framework and queries may include; customer queries, risk/cost queries as well as metric related queries and more.

Process Mining

Process mining can be simply defined as a process management technique which lets company decision maters look at their business process though event logs. These logs are created automatically by the system and the point of process mining is to allow betterment of the company's performance by giving them access to techniques and tools which are meant to identify control, organisational, process and social structures by using the event logs. This is generally used when other more conventional techniques no not provide the insight into a company process. It is used a lot in a number of modern management techniques including business activity monitoring, business process intelligence and business operations management. Current techniques are sorted into these categories; conformation analysis, extension and discovery.

Local Information Systems

Whilst originally coming from the public sector in the UK, the term Local Information Systems is synonymous with other terms in other parts of the globe, for example, community information systems and data observatory. In the global BI tech market, LIS systems are often limited to adding geographic data to enterprise reports. The set of functions that are supported by the LIS toolset will usually overlap with a number of the features used in knowledge management tools and geographic information systems. However, uniquely, location information systems provides a database that is regionally specific and accessible by managers, policy makers, everyday citizens as well as data experts. Local information system stats are often put together looking at a small geographic area such as the National Neighbourhood Statistics projects in the United Kingdom.

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)

Online Analytical processing tools are meant to help users look at multidimensional data from a number of perspectives. As a business intelligence process, OLAP will include various parts of rational reporting and data mining. The term itself is a derivative of Online Transaction Processing, which is used in reference to more traditional databases. Important analytical operations that are undertaken by these tools include drill-down, slice and dice and consolidation. The process of consolidation looks at the accumulation of information to facilitate its analysis on a number of dimensions. Drill-down allows decision makers and other users to make their way though large amounts of information to sort out the relevant data. Slice and dice lets users remove (slice) a distinct data set to examine it more closely (dice). A database with online analytics processing utilises a multidimensional data model which allows for the rapid fulfillment of both complex and ad-hoc queries

Jim Seward writes about business intelligence and other business critical processes and software systems