Whether from a colleague or from marketing material extolling the virtues of a software platform that can help you understand your enterprise’s big data, you have most likely heard the term “Business Intelligence”. But do you really know what business intelligence (also referred to as “BI”) is? Let’s take a closer look.

What is business intelligence?

As with other industry buzzwords such as “big data” and “machine learning”, the term “business intelligence” can mean different things to different people. BI has been referred to as a set of methodologies for understanding data, an umbrella term that refers to applications, infrastructure, and tools which enable an analysis of information, and a set of concepts to improve business decisions. While all of these definitions hit the general area of the matter, we like to think of BI as the GPS of executive decision-making.

These days we use our GPS units so often that we almost forget they are there but stop and think for just a moment how truly amazing these devices are. Our world contains hundreds of millions of possible destinations and multiple routes to each. It contains traffic patterns that may become better or worse depending on the time of day, whether there is ongoing construction along the route, or whether there has been an accident along the route. Today’s GPS units can take all of this into consideration instantly and provide you with intelligent guidance to the nearest grocery store if you ask it to do so. We take it for granted, but today’s GPS and navigation technology would be very hard to do without in our modern world.

You can think of business intelligence as the GPS of the enterprise landscape, helping to guide executives and decision-makers to important destinations (conclusions) while taking into account important factors–sales data, customer sentiment, geographical performance, stocked materials, etc.–when calculating the route. Business Intelligence can take the form of a simple data warehouse that combines enterprise data from various resources into a single source of truth for executive reporting, or it can be a collection of data visualizations that help to highlight data trends that might not be noticed when presented in tabular form. 

No matter how it surfaces in your company, the GPS metaphor holds true: business intelligence tools are like a GPS, they help guide you to the desired destination while considering all of the factors that will influence your path along the way.

Why is business intelligence important?

We can also use the GPS analogy to illustrate why business intelligence is important to today’s enterprises. Picture what your hometown must have been like 100 years ago, before the time of GPS. If it existed at that time at all, your hometown probably didn’t have too many destinations to navigate or routes to take them there. GPS technology was a long way off at the time but that was okay because there wasn’t really necessary. If you needed to go to the general store to purchase necessities, there was probably only one place you’d visit located in the center of town. Easy. Likewise, businesses of that age didn’t have very much data to manage. They may have kept a ledger to keep track of customer accounts, but there wasn’t even a concept of tracking things like customer buying habits, supplier lead times, consumer sentiment, and so forth. It would take only a matter of minutes for the owner of the general store to look at his ledger, determine who is behind on paying their tab, and then make a sound decision about whether to extend those customers’ credit in the future.

Today things are different. If you ask your GPS to guide you to a dry cleaner you may be presented with a dozen different choices which may change from one day to the next depending on traffic. Navigating enterprise decision-making has become just as complex. Not only are enterprises swimming in an ocean of their own data, but they must also consider an ocean of external data and contributing factors such as seasonality, federal reserve rate changes, and a torrent of data beginning to pour in from the smart devices that comprise the Internet of Things. Without the guidance of a solid business intelligence program, executives and decision-makers are likely to get lost in the forest thanks to the trees. 

Ready to get started with business intelligence?

A solid business intelligence program is more than anyone tool, it is a combination of tools and integration points. There are a few great platforms out there, but you will need some help in choosing the ones that will work well for your enterprise and then tying them together in a meaningful way that offers the best possible guidance for your own particular environment. 

At Polyrific, we are experts in creating enterprise solutions that conform to the way you do business. If you’d like our help in helping you to design a successful business intelligence program, please contact us today!