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Digital transformation & AI

Business intelligence: what it is and how to leverage it

They say that knowledge is power. This is especially true in the business world. The more information you have about your competitors, your customers, and the marketplace at large, the better you can tailor your goods and services accordingly. Information about your own business metrics, like sales figures and performance data, can also help you finetune your own operations.

That’s a lot of raw data to keep track of. The good news? Business intelligence tools make it easier than ever to obtain information about your business, relevant stakeholders, and the surrounding business environment. Read on to learn the essentials of BI software and how it works. We also give you some tips on BI tools that can help your business thrive.

  1. What is business intelligence?
  2. Empower decision making with self-service BI
  3. Data analytics and business intelligence software
  4. Data integration: the foundation of effective BI
  5. Business intelligence reporting and visualization
  6. BI features for specific use cases
  7. Empowering business users with BI
  8. Scalability and the future of business intelligence

What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence (BI) goes beyond just displaying data through charts, spreadsheets, or graphs; it’s a tool for making well-informed decisions, crafting solid strategies, and ensuring effective execution. By analyzing past, present, and predicting future business scenarios, BI helps leaders understand market trends, evaluate operations, and gauge consumer behavior. This knowledge is crucial for staying competitive.

In strategy formulation, BI’s analysis is key in identifying a business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), aiding in crafting robust strategies. During execution, it monitors strategic initiatives in real time, ensuring alignment with organizational goals and allowing for timely adjustments.

Overall, BI cultivates a data-driven culture, speeding up decision-making and promoting accountability. It’s not just about visualizing data, but leveraging it for better decision-making, strategic planning, and execution, which are essential for sustainable growth and competitiveness.

Why every leader should prioritize BI tools

BI tools centralize data from diverse data sources into a data warehouse, streamlining the integration and accessibility of data. Instead of enumerating all potential data sources like Excel, SQL, or Google Analytics, it’s essential to note that BI tools are adept at integrating various data types, thereby enhancing their utility.

These tools transform raw data into actionable business analytics insights, often represented through data visualization such as charts and graphs, making the information digestible for non-technical users. The functionality of BI tools enables on-demand querying of data sets to extract relevant information. Utilizing Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) engines, businesses can delve into specifics, like comparing sales between different regions in a particular year.

Let’s consider a real-world application to illustrate BI’s direct benefits to decision-makers. Suppose a retail chain utilizes BI tools to analyze its sales data over several years. Through intuitive graphs, the decision-makers can easily discern sales trends, customer preferences, and the effectiveness of promotional campaigns. For instance, the data might reveal that sales spike in a particular region during holiday seasons or that a specific age demographic prefers buying certain products online.

Armed with these insights, the decision-makers can tailor marketing strategies, optimize inventory levels, and refine online advertising to better resonate with target audiences. Moreover, by analyzing customer feedback alongside sales data, they can enhance product offerings and improve customer satisfaction, thereby potentially boosting market share and profitability.

The streamlined integration of data, coupled with the powerful analytics and visualization capabilities of BI tools, equips decision-makers with the knowledge necessary for making strategic decisions, ultimately driving business success.

Empower decision making with self-service BI

Self-service BI tools allow businesses to use their own data reporting for analytics purposes — there’s no need for a background as a data scientist. These tools are notable for their intuitive, interactive dashboards with features like drag-and-drop functionality. Examples of self-service tools include:

  • Microsoft Power BI. A cloud-enabled suite offering real-time trend analysis.
  • Tableau. This BI tool focuses on data discovery and visualization. It can take information from diverse sources, like SalesForce or MS Excel, and use it to create user-friendly visualizations.
  • Datapine. This holistic BI tool makes data analysis possible for the modern executive. The self-service analytics tool performs advanced analytics, presented in a user-friendly dashboard.

Data analytics and business intelligence software

Data analytics tools can help businesses with predictive analytics, supporting well-informed, fact-driven business decisions. This can help improve the odds of future success. Examples of such forward-looking data analytics tools include:

  • Domo. Domo is a cloud-based tool that integrates with Mr. Roboto, an AI engine, for predictive analytics. It can analyze all kinds of data, from return on investment (ROI) for marketing initiatives to best-selling product categories.
  • Sisense. This data analytics tool makes it easy to manage large, complex datasets without the need for a dedicated IT team. You can bring together a diversity of data sets, from Adwords to Salesforce, for rapid processing.
  • IBM Cognos Analytics. IBM’s Cognos Analytics uses Watson’s AI features to support self-serviced business forecasting.

Data integration: the foundation of effective BI

Effective BI relies on integrating and managing large swaths of data. This data can be aggregated via a cloud-based or on-premises BI analytics platform. To make data management more efficient and enhance analytics, some tools use machine learning to enhance data mining and data modeling, improving data quality and data discovery. Examples of some different tools include:

  • Microsoft Power BI. Microsoft’s Power BI stands out for its seamless integration with Microsoft 365 apps, enabling real-time data analysis. This real-time functionality is strategic for decision-makers as it allows for immediate insight and response to evolving business scenarios. Whether cloud-based or on-site, Power BI ensures data security, which is crucial for safeguarding sensitive business information while facilitating trusted, data-driven decision-making.
  • SAS Business Intelligence. With a rich history in tech since the 1970s, SAS Business Intelligence offers high-level integration and unique customization options. These features allow businesses to tailor the information they receive, aligning analytics with specific business objectives. The choice between cloud-based or on-site solutions offers a balance between real-time access to data and enhanced data security, supporting strategic decisions regarding operational efficiency and risk management.
  • Google Data Studio. Ideal for businesses entrenched in the Google ecosystem, Google Data Studio integrates effortlessly with tools like Google Sheets and Google Analytics. While it’s a cost-effective solution being free, it may fall short as a big data visualization tool. However, its integration capabilities promote data accessibility, aiding in timely decision-making. Even though it doesn’t offer the same breadth of data security or real-time analysis as others, its ease of use and cost-effectiveness make it a strategic option for small to medium enterprises or startups operating on a tight budget.

Business intelligence reporting and visualization

Data visualization can make business intelligence data easy to understand, even for those without a technical background. The tools below are notable for their user-friendly graphical dashboards and their ability to create actionable insights through visuals. By embedding BI data collection into everyday workflows — for example, with connection to data-collecting apps — these tools also finetune real-time insights and translate data into actionable insights for strategy formulation and business growth. Some favorites include:

  • Looker. Looker is part of Google Cloud, so it’s a logical choice for businesses that already use Google Cloud and don’t have on-premises data warehousing. It’s noteworthy for its simple visualizations, which are easy to share using email and integrated apps.
  • Qlik Sense. Qlik Sense stands out from the crowd thanks to its unique associative analytics engine. It uses high-tech AI and natural language processing tools to make data queries more efficient and accurate.
  • Zoho Analytics. For businesses that want to make the most of BI reporting, this is a can’t-miss. Zoho has an easy editor tool that allows businesses to create personalized dashboards and reports, homing in on the most significant details as needed

BI features for specific use cases

Still confused about how BI can support your business success? A look at some of the ways BI tools are already being used in the business world can help. Here are some examples:

  • BI for Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Utilizing BI in CRM helps in intelligently segmenting customer audiences, which in turn, enables personalization in customer service. For example, a car dealership can use BI to analyze purchase histories and maintenance records, allowing them to send timely maintenance reminders to customers. For leadership, this level of personalized engagement not only enhances customer satisfaction but also fosters customer loyalty, which can be a significant competitive advantage in a crowded market.
  • BI for Sales Analytics. Through BI, sales data is dissected to unveil trends and anomalies, aiding in accurate sales forecasting. Consider a business selling seasonal items like barbecue supplies; BI can analyze past sales data to predict sales upticks during the summer. This insight empowers decision-makers to plan inventory levels strategically, minimizing holding costs while ensuring product availability. The foresight provided by BI in sales analytics can be a game changer in managing demand fluctuations, thereby providing a competitive edge.
  • BI for Supply Chain Management. Incorporating BI in enterprise resource planning (ERP) refines supply chain management by promoting data-driven coordination among different departments. For instance, if marketing campaigns are promoting a particular product, BI can alert the manufacturing department about potential spikes in demand. This real-time communication facilitates a responsive supply chain, enabling leadership to align production schedules with market demand swiftly. This alignment not only optimizes operational efficiency but also positions the business favorably in meeting customer expectations, which is crucial for gaining a competitive advantage in the market.

Empowering business users with BI

You don’t have to be a data analyst to use a modern business intelligence platform and reporting tool. While BI tools are designed for a wider audience, their mastery can offer a significant edge for business leaders. Business owners of all kinds can benefit thanks to the cutting-edge tools described above. Self-service BI in particular is designed for non-experts in mind, with key features like:

  • User-friendly interfaces. A drag-and-drop interface and straightforward dashboard make it easy to query data according to your preferred KPIs.
  • Straightforward reporting and visualizations. Simple data visualization takes information and presents it in a way that anyone can understand.
  • Customizable templates. Ready-made templates make it even easier to use BI tools, eliminating the need for tedious setup.
  • Cloud-based functionality. When BI tools are cloud-based, business owners can access them from anywhere. There are also mobile app integrations, allowing for an end-to-end BI experience.
  • Predictive analytics. Getting information about past or current data is one thing. But some BI tools take it a step further with predictive analytics capabilities, which can inform future data-driven decisions for your business.

Scalability and the future of business intelligence

Keeping pace with evolving BI trends and ensuring scalability are pivotal in shaping a business’s future strategies and securing long-term success. As BI technologies advance, they bring forth new capabilities that can significantly impact how businesses analyze data and make decisions. Staying updated with these trends, like real-time analytics, predictive modeling, or AI integration, will ensure businesses remain competitive and can adapt their strategies to leverage new BI functionalities.

Scalability is equally crucial, as it ensures that the BI platform can grow alongside the business. As data volumes and analytical needs escalate, a scalable BI solution will continue to provide reliable insights without performance degradation. This is particularly relevant in today’s data-driven landscape, where the ability to analyze larger datasets swiftly can uncover valuable insights, aiding in better decision-making.

Open-source BI tools and scalable Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions have democratized access to BI technologies. While self-service tools have reduced the dependency on data science expertise, having a robust understanding of these platforms is beneficial in maximizing their potential. Educational programs can bridge this knowledge gap, helping leaders to leverage BI tools effectively for strategic advantage.
To foster a deeper understanding and effective utilization of BI tools, engaging in educational programs is advisable. IMD offers digital transformation curricula that delve into BI among other digital technologies. Programs such as IMD’s Digital Excellence Diploma or the Leading Digital Business Transformation program provide comprehensive insights into BI, equipping leaders with the knowledge to harness BI for strategic decision-making and long-term business success. These programs not only cover the technical aspects of BI but also its strategic implications, aiding leaders in integrating BI into their future business strategies seamlessly.