Business Intelligence: The Ultimate Guide

Your decisions determine your organizational future, but despite your leadership talent, these choices don’t exist in a vacuum. Business intelligence (BI) is the foundational theme that lets you write the larger success story.

What is business intelligence?

BI encompasses the tools, technologies, infrastructures, and practices your organization uses to transform data into actionable insights.

The modern business landscape is more competitive than ever. If you want to succeed, you need exact, timely information. In short, harnessing the power of BI leaves you better equipped to make informed decisions, identify opportunities, and remain competitive.

Want to stay ahead of the curve? Strap in and keep reading: We’ll cover everything from the latest BI-powered leadership trends, tools, and best practices to game-changing tips and resources for data analysts and front-line adopters.

Understanding the Business Intelligence Process

Business intelligence is vital to staying competitive. As more companies use technology for everything from improving customer journeys to streamlining their forays into new markets, leaders are getting better and more informed.

If you’d rather not fall behind, cultivating your understanding of what goes into BI is the first step. There are many ways to slice this complex topic, but we’ve decided to keep it simple. There are four key processes you need to master:

  1. Data Collection and Management
  2. Data Warehousing and Integration
  3. Data Analysis and Visualization
  4. Reporting and Decision Making

Side Note: Although we’ve listed these steps in the most logical order, it’s important to remember that they commonly happen simultaneously across an organization.

1. Data Collection and Management

Data collection and management typically come first — and the name should clue you in on what’s involved. This crucial aspect of BI entails gathering vast amounts of data from different sources. It also involves managing that information in an orderly way.

So where do you get your data? You can (and should) use any relevant source of your choosing, including sales stats, customer feedback and profiles, financial reports, industry studies, public datasets, and more.

You also need to fight hard to ensure data quality: The information that powers your decisions must be exact, relevant, and up-to-date. In other words, you need data management features — like quality software, integration tools, and warehousing systems — to help you sift through the garbage.

2. Data Warehousing and Integration

After collecting data, you face the billion-dollar question: What do you do with it all?

Fortunately, the answer is pretty straightforward. You want the information to be usable, so you should integrate it into a data warehouse — a centralized repository that puts the facts and figures at your fingertips for easy access and analysis. In most cases, data warehousing means combining multiple data sources into a single, structured database, complete with querying tools that let you explore relationships.

3. Data Analysis and Visualization

The next big task is data analysis and visualization. In other words, you want to take all that organized information and refine it even more, distilling it down to the most impactful message.

Why is analysis so vital? It helps to consider the purpose — by revealing trends, uncovering patterns, and making accurate predictions, you can meaningfully hone your focus in a vast sea of information. This simple step goes a long way toward getting buy-in and communicating with stakeholders.

Side Note: It’s important to bring up a small but noteworthy distinction. Business analytics isn’t quite the same as BI or data analysis, even though they often overlap. With business analytics, you’re typically focused on statistical measures and prediction — you know, the fun stuff that takes rigorous math and serious data science. While having a broad BI plan is a good start, implementing strong business analytics frameworks completes the picture.

4. Reporting and Decision-Making

This is the last step in the process — and it usually
gets the most attention: Following your analysis, you need to act on what
you’ve learned.

Reporting is essential to understanding your performance, choosing where to focus your improvement efforts, and ensuring your decisions reflect reality. The more clearly you can express the key takeaways, the easier it’ll be to make wise moves.


Advantages of Implementing a Business Intelligence Solution

By now you’re probably wondering: Why go to all that effort? Here are a few of the things you can achieve:

  • Empowering better decision-making: Organizations that implement BI solutions gain unparalleled access to on-demand data insights. This improves their decision-making power at all levels, resulting in superior outcomes and heightened success rates.
  • Increasing efficiency and productivity: BI solutions streamline processes you already depend on — like collecting and analyzing data. These productivity upgrades liberate vital resources you can allocate to other strategic initiatives.
  • Delivering competitive advantages backed by data-driven insights: BI grants you a competitive advantage by letting you build strategies around data-driven insights. By shifting to more rigorous decision-making processes, you can improve customer experiences, capture increased market share, and refine critical processes to reduce waste.
  • Enhancing real-time data access and analysis: With BI, you get data in real-time — the system does the work for you, minimizing the lag between observed changes and your reactions. It’s much easier to remain competitive when you stay on your toes.

These are just a few of the benefits you’ll enjoy with a strong BI solution in place. Companies have successfully used these tools to achieve everything from boosting employee satisfaction to facilitating easier data sharing among departments — the sky’s the limit.

What Makes an Effective Business Intelligence Solution?

BI tools vary widely — and so do the ways enterprises use them. As a rule, however, any solution you implement should achieve a universal goal: It needs to let you efficiently collect, store, and analyze data, not to mention present it to decision-makers. Here are four must-have components to look for:

Data Warehouse

Your organizational data warehouse stores all the data in a central place. It should let you integrate data streams from different sources and systems, including other databases, business apps, digital retail storefronts, supply chain systems, payment gateways, etc.

Your warehouse also needs to be verifiable. In other words, you must be able to monitor its performance and conduct regular correctness audits.

Data Integration

Data integration features let you take diverse data and group it together in a unified view. It overcomes the disparate formats, distinct database table fields, and other variable elements you’ll typically encounter when working with information from different sources. Data integration ensures consistency and correctness, making it easier to spot errors and outliers that might indicate problems.

Data Visualizations and Dashboards

Dashboards that support quick visualizations and customization are essential. These tools translate raw data into something you can intuitively understand, so they’re directly connected to how useful your information is.

Good dashboards let you explore or share trends, patterns, and insights on the spot — as well as interact with underlying integrations and warehouses. You can even witness events evolving in real-time, boosting your situational awareness.

Reporting and Analytics Tools

This is a big one. Your BI solution should include native features that let you generate reports, conduct detailed analyses, and share your findings with others. If you can’t communicate to stakeholders, it’s hard to get people on board with your well-informed ideas — let alone mine deep into your data to extract hidden gems of insight!

Business Intelligence Best Practices

When switching to a BI solution — or trying to improve your current strategy, consider the following best practices:

Define Your Business Intelligence Goals & Objectives

Don’t wait to decide your reasons for using BI. Before anything else, ask yourself what you hope to achieve.

Is there specific data you’ll need to make informed decisions, and what KPIs will you use to keep yourself on the right path? Answering these questions early lets you choose a solution that serves your organizational needs while minimizing growing pains.

Make an Informed Choice

Unfortunately, the popularity of BI can actually make things harder here: It’s tough to choose which solution is best for you.

The good news is that thoroughly researching the alternatives usually does the trick — a fitting habit considering that making better-informed decisions is the whole point!

As Evalueserve EVP of Data Analytics Swapnil Srivastava puts it: “Business leaders should exercise due diligence before investing in any new organizational technology, emphasize the importance of that technology, tie it to their KPIs and organizational north star, and clearly communicate the expectations and desired outcome — such as better decision making, enhanced results – revenue, improvement in certain metrics, etc.”

Kick things off by evaluating your specific needs and budget. Then, take the time to research your options as thoroughly as possible.

We know it’s hard, but try to ignore the flashy bells and whistles. Instead, focus on the must-have factors we previously listed, like data integration, visualization capabilities, and reporting tools. Never be too shy to request a demo.

Secure and Manage Your Data

In today’s digital landscape, leaving your data unprotected is a surefire recipe for failure: If the hackers don’t spell the end of your organization, bad PR will.

Before implementing a BI solution, do your homework. As a leader or data scientist, you should fully understand what proper security measures entail. At a bare minimum, you need a firm handle on topics like encryption, secure storage, threat assessment, and restricted access.

Be certain you can tackle these jobs before storing your own (or anyone else’s!) information, and consider an ongoing management plan to ensure the accuracy and integrity of your data over time. If you want to maintain regulatory compliance, you should also audit your systems frequently.

Equip Your Teams for Success

Transitioning to BI solutions isn’t always easy. Remember: These systems are meant to make your life easier — do your part by giving your teams the right tools and training.

Not only should your staff learn how to use the BI solution, but also, you need to train them on why it matters. By clearly communicating what the goal is, you’ll keep everyone on the same page. Having data scientists and evangelists on your corporate roster goes a long way.

Partner With a BI Data Consulting Firm

Working with a dedicated BI provider is the best way to make your rollout as smooth as possible. In addition to helping you choose a solution tailored to your needs, BI solutions providers, like Evalueserve, can offer ongoing support, training, and maintenance so that your BI system keeps up with your enterprise growth and aspirations.

Every BI solution deployment is a unique journey. Finding a partner that’s seen the voyage unfold helps you avoid pitfalls and common mistakes along the way.

Partnering with a BI Modernization Firm Can Solve Your Business Intelligence Challenges

Business intelligence leaves you better equipped to survive in a rapidly evolving landscape. Implementing a solution isn’t all clear skies, though. If you fly solo, you might just crash and burn.

What are the downsides of going it alone? For starters, you’ll be fighting a never-ending battle to maintain data privacy. You’ll be plagued by budget constraints and data inaccuracies. Your team will spend long nights integrating your BI tools with your existing systems and processes.

Why put your organization through so much pain? Choosing the right BI partner is the smartest way to leap these hurdles and move forward without missing a step. Evalueserve can help you:

  • Leverage domain-specific artificial intelligence to automate specialized BI tasks relevant to your field — like complying with HIPAA for a pharmaceutical company or mining investment data for a FinTech firm — instead of wasting time and money on generalized approaches,
  • Implement analytics-powered decision-making processes that help you sort through the noise and identify appropriate BI strategies earlier, reducing your dependence on trial and error, and
  • Understand which types of analytics strategies will deliver the greatest value to your enterprise — such as diagnosing problems, interpreting past or current events, forecasting possible futures, and determining the next best course of action.

Could Evalueserve help you master BI? The proof is in the pudding: Countless leaders have used AI-backed BI and business analytics tools to achieve new successes — and industry players have taken notice:

We're very pleased that Forrester has recognized our domain-specific AI and data analytics solutions. Fortune 1000 companies around the globe trust our ability to identify the correct use cases and turn data into actionable insights that help them make decisions, strengthen processes, and deliver ROI."

Business intelligence is no longer a nice-to-have: It’s a vital element of your future success story. To discover how better business analytics tools, more comprehensive BI systems, and smarter AI integrations can improve your outlook, contact an Evalueserve expert.

Cody Viars-Whisinnand
Cody Whisinnand

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