Business Intelligence: Back to Basics

I’ve been working in the world of business intelligence (BI) and data for several years now. Like most people with expertise in a particular subject, I can be guilty of slipping into using jargon. It’s easy to forget not everyone knows or cares about my particular discipline!

I’ve recently given a series of webinars for the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership. In these sessions I tried to help people from small and growing businesses to understand the fundamentals of BI and data in business.

These sessions brought home the fact that most people just want to understand the basics of what BI is; they want to know how it can help them and their business. They aren’t excited by the technology that makes it happen like I am, it’s a means to an end for them. The exciting bit is how it can make their life easier or their business more successful!

What is Business Intelligence?

Part of the challenge for people understanding what BI is comes from the fact it’s an umbrella term. Business Intelligence covers a range of tools and techniques with a common goal that are all designed to turn data into useful answers and insights to help people make the right decisions.

An example of Business Intelligence

If you’ve ever looked at your bank statement to see what money you have left for the month before you buy something, you’ve used data to inform your decisions. BI is the same concept on a larger scale. A business looking at its cash flow before it invests in a major project isn’t any different. You’re still using the data you have to hand to help inform your decisions. This makes it more likely you’ll make the right decision than if you rely just on gut instinct. Sounds simple enough and it isn’t a new idea, but the difficulties come in the execution.

Why Business Intelligence is important

The business world gets more complex all the time, and even small businesses are weighed down with huge amounts of data. Businesses often end up with whole teams spending all their time pulling data together from lots of systems and spreadsheets. This can take a long time and means leaders don’t get the answers they need when they need them.

This is where BI has changed in recent years. The key goal of BI professionals is no longer just to get you the answers you need to run your business, it’s about getting them to you when you need them with the least effort possible.

At this point, the BI expert in me wants to tell you about all the exciting technology that can make this happen! Technology like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, data lakes and warehouses. But most people don’t need to know or care. These are tools that people like me use to get the job done, a means to an end – not the end itself.

Using Business Intelligence in your business

All most people need to know is there are ways to automate most BI production. It is possible to get the insights you need in your hands when you need them. You shouldn’t need a team of people permanently dedicated to wrangling spreadsheets!

Forget the jargon and stop getting hung up on the technology – that’s what us BI professionals are here to help with. In a world where businesses are awash with data, focus on asking the right questions that will help your business get value from your data.

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