Business Intelligence, Helping Data Driven Decision Making


In today’s world, many companies use software like ERP, HRM, CRM, Tally, Salesforce, Web services etc. There are different kind of databases too -- right from MySQL, Oracle, DB2, Ingres, Postgres, MongoDB and the list goes on. Data is being generated at a pace like never before, data which includes personal financial data, sales data, business data, accounting data and so on. Though there are different software, databases etc we still don’t have the right kind of insights. We have data but we don’t have information. We often wish to have a centralized place where we can login and get a top level view of what is happening. A place that can have all information collated from as many places as possible. For any business to turn profitable, the managers & the work force is highly reliant on decisions -- which inturn are dependent on the kind of information available. This is where Business Intelligence comes into picture.

Business Intelligence (BI) refers to technologies, applications and practices for the collection, integration, analysis, and presentation of business information. The purpose of BI is to support better decision-making in business. A proper BI system helps you with the right information, at the right time, in the right format.

BI systems provide historical, current and predictive views of business operations, most often using data that has been gathered into a data warehouse or a data mart and occasionally working from operational data. Software elements that make up the BI system support reporting, interactive “slice-and-dice”, pivot-table analyses, visualization and statistical data mining.

A single BI could help all the departments

  1. Marketing dept :- Helps them grow the topline. Helps in analyzing campaign returns, promotional yields and fine tune spending to get better ROI, tracking social media marketing.
  2. Sales :- Finding best path and best practices, customer acquisition cost and length, process improvement, year-on-year turnover and sales analysis.
  3. Inventory :- Monitoring and adjusting inventory levels.
  4. Human Resource :- Track and manage things like employee turnover, attrition rate, managing recruitment process etc.

Correct usage of BI has shown excellent results across all sectors -- be it healthcare, eCommerce, NGO, Goverment organisations, media companies, etc.

- On an average, ROI is $10.66 for every $1 spent on business analytics.

- Moneyball movie guided by BI, nominated for best picture

- FEBREZE marketing campaign aided by BI, generated annual sales of over $1 billion

- Correct usage of BI can help in reducing operational expenditure by upto 50%

- Financial Times used high end BI functionality to see a growth of 20%

- US govt uses BI to determine where should they put police personnel for the best results

Main Elements of BI

Though there are many parameters on which a BI tool has to be tested before selection, the below mentioned are an absolutely must.

- Interactivity :- The different report and dashboard should have high level of interactivity. Lets say, if a person is seeing the total sales report, report should be interactive so that he can further drill down to see region wise sales, product wise sales, time period wise sales etc. Basically a report and dashboard should provide drill down and drill through capabilities.

- Data Visualization :- Its very important to have a data visualized in correct format. For ex, month-on-month sales would be best represented in the form of line graph, component wise contribution in form of pie chart, etc. Hence, if data is not represented in correct format, it will not provide any insight. Any BI tool should have really good data charting engines intergrated with it.

- Connection to databases :- As explained earlier, BI tool should be able to fetch information by connecting to different databases and web services, so that the right information is visible to the stakeholders irrespective of the source from where it is being fetched. This can be implemented by the right ETL tools which have to be present in the BI tool.

- Mobile BI :- With more and more workforce becoming mobile and always on the move, its really important that they have the right information on their mobile and tablet devices. Hence, the reports dashboards, mashups etc being rendered should also be mobile compatible.

- Ad-hoc Reporting :- Often what a business user wants is different from what an IT person gives. Hence, this elongates the development cycle. This is where adhoc reporting is useful. It helps the end user to themselves drag-drop and configure their own set of reports dashboards, visualization and analysis.

- Application Integration :- A BI tool should be easily integrated with your existing application/portal/software irrespective of whether its developed in PHP, Java, Ruby, C or any other platform.

- Predictive Analytics :- By using high end algorithms and historical data, predictions can be made like propensity of a customer giving repeat purchase, machine failure, sales expected, revenue expected, region wise sales etc. This can help a company to be proactive.

Apart from the list above there are some other factors like speed, in-memory analytics, cloud BI, security to name a few.

A company might not understand the importance of BI, but its essential for their growth and decision making. According to a survey, if a decision is made relying on data rather than pure intuition, the chances of succeeding are 79% higher. BI gives companies a more structured way to look at data while providing deep interpretations. It aids decision making via real-time, interactive access to and analysis of important corporate information. BI tools bridge the gaps between information silos in an organization. Company which is not driven by metrics might argue about where the problem lies, whereas a company with BI will have all the information and insight in place, and people can look at the data and work towards improving business processes.

Author Credit : Nikhilesh Tiwari, Founder of an Open Source Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence Company (Helical IT Solutions Private Limited)