Business Intelligence – 5 Ways To Use Business Intelligence Solutions to Grow Your Company

In today’s information age, many businesses are finding a real asset in their historical data. Business leaders are using business intelligence tools to scan their company’s historical data for patterns, relationships between actions and efforts, and measurable business results such as revenue and workflow efficiency.

Business intelligence refers to a body of analytics-intensive techniques that collect and analyze data to find meaningful patterns. These patterns can then be used to restructure business or make predictions about the future. Here are five things you can do with business intelligence solutions to grow your company.

1. Benchmark Your Business

In order to move forward toward any goal, you first need to know where you are. BI software can collect data from a number of sources, as you indicate. After compiling data from invoices, packing slips, online sales, and anywhere else you can possibly imagine, the software will begin to report trends on the data. You will be able to see things such as your rate of sales conversion, and the current effectiveness of your advertising.

2. Measure ROI of New Products, Suppliers, Employees, and Customers

A great benefit of using these tools is that they help you predict and compare the return on investment of business decisions. For example, suppose you run a query in your BI software regarding the cost and ROI of partnering with a particular supplier. This data can help you decide if you should remain with your current supplier, or tell them to hit the road. BI tools are a great way to compare ROI on different marketing mediums and advertising messages when used in this way.

3. Assess Risk & Identify Areas for Improvement

This software gives you the ability to mitigate risk. Some of the most useful information a BI software package can supply is the relative profitability of each business segment. This way should a supplier bankrupt, or a major customer take their business elsewhere, you can mitigate the associated risk. You can plan for losses like these given demand of your products or services.

For instance a business who manufactures environmental products for the government recently implemented a BI system. In light of new legislation, the company would have to shut down a specific product line. Using business intelligence, they were able to quantify an exact numerical impact that the change would have on the business, and respond accordingly.

4. Forecast The Future

The most popular use of business intelligence is in forecasting future phenomena, such as customer behavior, demand, and inventory levels. By monitoring your business and collecting data on these types of events, you can use regression to see what might be waiting for you in the future. This information is invaluable for helping you plan your next steps, or taking effective actions to reach your goals.

5. BI Spurs Businesses To Action

Business intelligence outlines the most effective actions you and your business partners can make moving forward. Now that you’ve identified the risk, determined the respective ROI of several courses of action, and forecasted trends for the future, you can implement a solution that integrates each factor. Without business intelligence, you were completely unaware of the state of most of these business aspects.

With business intelligence solution in place, you are no longer able sit by, blissfully unaware, while your business marches forward by simply making “best guess” decisions. Business intelligence provides you with solid, effective actions you can take to yield measurable results.

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Business Intelligence

As business intelligence moves into the computer age, corporate dashboards are becoming a necessity in business intelligence technology. Although business intelligence has used corporate dashboards for years, their popularity has increased greatly due to the change and advancement in the technology used. However, with the great amount of information available, there are some key design issues to consider if you want to use corporate dashboards for your business intelligence.

If you want to design an effective corporate dashboard for your business intelligence technology, you will need to decide on some design goals. You will need to think about the function and look of your corporate dashboard as it relates to the type of business intelligence you are trying to put together. Some corporate dashboards are flashy reports and others are more like strategic scorecards. Other corporate dashboards are used for business intelligence that is more tactical, using relevant and actionable data. Your corporate dashboard will need an efficient design that fits the business intelligence role.

There are two essentials to understanding how to build a corporate dashboard for business intelligence, metrics and key performance indicators. Metrics are direct numerical measures to represent certain types of business intelligence in the relationship of at least one dimension. For instance, you could take the metric of gross sales and show it by day or week in the financial quarter. The business intelligence can be shown in your corporate dashboard in both a dynamic and static way to use various types of analysis of the business intelligence.

You will also need to consider what key performance indicators the users of the corporate dashboard will be responsible for managing. A key performance indicator is the measure that tells the relative performance in relation to the target goal. Some key performance indicator gives you concrete business intelligence, while others will give you business intelligence in the abstract. Defining the key performance indicators is extremely important to the overall design, because it defines the foundation of the business intelligence that will be visualized in the corporate dashboard. Key performance indicators help show the business intelligence through alert icons, traffic lights, trend icons, progress bards, and gauges.

Supporting analytics are also important to designing your corporate dashboard as it relates to your business intelligence. You will need to pick out the information that a user will need to see in order to tell the condition of the key performance indicator. Supporting analytics offer context and diagnostic information to know why a key performance indicator is showing specific information. These supporting analytics, as they relate to business intelligence, come more in the form of traditional charts, graphs, and tables.

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Beginners’ Guide to Business Intelligence Tools

What is Business Intelligence and what is the utility of BI Tools?

Business Intelligence (BI) is defined as any real-time, current or past information that helps various business professionals including managers analyze current/past activities to help in predicting future course of the company’s business. Business Intelligence is thus a stream of data and hence it requires sorting as well as analysis before it is suitable for use in a company’s decision-making process. Such sorting and analysis of relevant data is usually carried out by software solutions, to ensure superior speed and accuracy of the data collection and analysis procedure. Any and all software solutions aiding the process of generating Business Intelligence for an enterprise are termed as Business Intelligence Tools. So BI data can help an enterprise rapidly adjust to changing business environment, while BI tools ensure that the changing business environment is rapidly as well as correctly identified and reported to facilitate a streamlined decision-making process. In case of historic data, BI tools usually sort and analyze data, which was previously stored in the enterprise database.

Commonly Used Business Intelligence Tools

BI tools are commonly classified into the following categories:

• Local Information Systems
• Business Performance Management
• Process Mining
• Dashboards
• Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)
• Data Warehousing
• Data Mining
• Reporting and Querying Software
• Spreadsheets

Most of these Business Intelligence technology and tools apart from spreadsheets are available as part of software suitable for a specific industry, standalone solutions, ERP system components or as a BI software suite. These solutions are often developed by a custom development company in response to requirements specified by a client or detected after a thorough analysis of the company’s business model. A few open-source business intelligence tools are also available, however most enterprises prefer to use proprietary business intelligence technology to ensure adequate protection of critical data. The type of business intelligence architecture implemented by an organization varies on the industry, market conditions as well as specific market requirements. Some of the commonly available BI tool categories are described here:

Local Information Systems

The term Local Information System (LIS) originated from its use in the public sector of the UK; other terms used synonymously with LIS in different parts of the world include – Data Observatory and Community information systems. In the global business intelligence technology market, LIS applications are usually limited to providing support for geographic reporting of enterprise operations. The functions supported by LIS tools often overlap with some of the features of Geographic Information Systems and Knowledge Management tools. Unique functions of LIS include providing a region-specific database accessible by citizens, policy makers, managers as well as data experts. LIS statistics are usually compiled with respect to a small area such as the National Neighborhood Statistics projects in the UK. Currently operating Local Information Systems include the DarlingtonLIS, UK; Newcastle Council; New Zealand Ministry of Health and Fife Council, UK.

Business Performance Management

Business Performance Management (BPM) refers to a set of management as well as analytical processes designed to facilitate improvement of a company’s processes in accordance with the preset goals of the organization. Such tools are capable of handling large amounts of data and help managers in determining fruitful interventions designed to improve the functioning of specific business processes. Currently available tools for BPM are based on the balanced scorecard framework and queries supported by BPM tools include metric-related queries, customer/stakeholder queries, goal-alignment queries, cost/risk queries as well as much more.

Process Mining

Process Mining is commonly defined as a process management technique which allows decision-makers to analyze business processes on the basis of available event logs. These event logs are automatically generated by the enterprise event system and the aim of Process Mining is to facilitate improvement of overall performance by providing tools and techniques designed to identify social, organizational, control and process structures by using the event logs. The technique is preferred if other conventional techniques fail of provide adequate insight into an enterprise process. Process Mining features in certain contemporary management techniques such as Business Process Intelligence, Business Operations Management and Business Activity Monitoring. Current Process Mining techniques are classified into the following categories: extension, conformation analysis and discovery.

Dashboards

Dashboards are defined as an easily read, real-time interface, which provides a snapshot of the current status of key business processes as a chart or graph. Dashboards are one of the most prolific and widely used tools for supporting informed and instantaneous decision making. Dashboards are capable of displaying a wide variety of user-defined key performance indicators significant for different departments of an organization. A production dashboard can display the total number of units produced, the average rate of production per hours, number of produced units which failed inspection during a one month period and so on. The key benefit of a dashboard is its capability to be customized to show only the relevant data, which results in significant time savings during the process of decision making. Currently available dashboards are commonly classified into three categories- desktop widgets, web-based applications as well as standalone solutions, which feature spark lines, bullet graphs, pie charts and/or bar charts to represent the data. Dashboards are also capable of being integrated into mobile business intelligence solutions to ensure seamless connectivity irrespective of the user’s location.

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)

OLAP tools are designed to help users interactively analyze multidimensional data from multiple perspectives. OLAP as a business intelligence method includes various aspects of data mining and rational reporting. The term Online Analytical Processing is a derivative of OLTP (Online Transaction Processing), which is used in reference to traditional databases. Key analytical operations performed by these tools are- consolidation, drill-down and slice ‘n’ dice. The consolidation process refers to the aggregation of data to enable its analysis on multiple dimensions. The drill-down technique enables users to navigate through large quantities on data to sort out the relevant data. The slice ‘n’ dice technique allows users to remove (slice) a particular data set to allow closer inspection (dicing) of the selected data set. Databases with OLAP support utilize a multidimensional data model for supporting rapid execution of both ad-hoc as well as complex analytical queries.

Abhishek is currently working with eXtendCode Software Systems India, an offshore software development [http://www.extendcode.com/] company based at Gurgaon in India, which provides software solutions such as Web Enabled Solutions, Mobile Solutions etc. He has worked in the field for over 2 years and authored many articles related to the IT and software industries.

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Beginners’ Guide to Business Intelligence Solutions

Current Condition of the Business Intelligence Tools Market

The sustained interest in Business Intelligence applications has driven large corporations, offshore software development centers as well as custom software development companies to focus on developing a wide range of Business Intelligence Tools suitable for each and every industry. The use of Business Intelligence tools in key industries from aerospace to iron and steel has also increased in recent years due to the uncertainty in global markets. Currently available tools including the Microsoft Business Intelligence software include numerous paid, freeware as well as open source and proprietary software, which are often customized by a custom software developer to suit the requirements of a specific client. Some of the additional categories of Business Intelligence Tools are discussed here and these constitute only a few of the business intelligence reporting tools commonly utilized by the enterprise.

Data Mining

Data mining combines key elements of statistics and computer science with the objective of identifying patterns in large data sets. Currently implemented data mining methodology includes various elements of database systems, statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver actionable intelligence to managers, decision makers and data analysts in an enterprise. Apart from the analysis of the available raw data, additional operations performed by data mining process include online updating, visualization, discovered structure post-processing, complexity considerations, metrics to determine interest as well as data management. Data mining is distinct from information processing or large-scale data analysis as the process is based on “discovery” i.e. the detection of something new. As data mining deals with large data sets, various automated and semi-automated solutions are available to carry out the task. Data mining applications developed by any software development company focuses on performing the following tasks- anomaly detection, association rule learning, clustering, classification, regression as well as summarization. Current business applications include data mining in applications related to customer relationship management, determination of successful employee characteristics using HR department data, identification of customer purchase pattern by the marketing department as well as much more. Leading companies engaged in providing data mining tools for use in business intelligence reporting include Extra-Data Technologies, Clarabridge, Versium Analytics, emanio and Polygraph Media.

Data Warehousing

Data Warehousing in simple terms refers to any database utilized for reporting as well as analyzing enterprise data. The data in an enterprise is usually obtained from all over the organization including the HR, Marketing, Sales, Customer Support, Warehouse, administration departments. In some cases, the raw data may undergo a small degree of pre-processing prior to being used for reporting in a Data Warehouse. A traditional data warehouse (a warehouse operating on the extract-transform-load mechanism), houses the key functions by using separate staging, integration and access layers. The staging area stores all the raw data obtained from various enterprise-wide sources. In the integration layer the raw data stored in the staging area is integrated to transform it into a form suitable for analysis and stored in the data warehouse database. The data stored in the data warehouse database is arranged in hierarchical groups, which are accessible by the user through the access layer. Each data warehouse is often subdivided into data marts, which store subsets of the data integrated in the warehouse. The key objective of a data warehouse is thus to store data in a format suitable for analysis by the user using various techniques including OLAP and data mining.

The earliest data warehouses used by an organization were offline operational data warehouses. In these warehouses, the data was updated periodically (fortnightly, weekly or monthly) from operational systems and stored in a report-oriented format. In the next stage of data warehouse evolution, offline data warehouses came into existence. In offline data warehouses, the data was updated regularly from operational systems and the structure of the stored data was designed to aid the reporting process. The offline data warehouses later evolved into Online Integrated Data Warehouses, which updates the data in the warehouse in real-time by recording every transaction performed on the source data. Further evolution of data warehouses has resulted in the creation of the integrated data warehouse, which compiles the data obtained from the various departments of the enterprise to provide users with real-time access to actionable intelligence from all over the organization. Leading data warehousing solutions companies include Accenture, IBM, Igate and Infobright.

Decision Engineering

Decision Engineering is defined as a framework, which unifies various leading practices in the field of enterprise decision-making to improve the overall decision-making procedure by providing a structured approach. The decision engineering process is designed to overcome problems resulting from a “complexity ceiling” of the decision-making process. This “complexity ceiling” usually results from a mismatch between the complexity of a particular situation and the sophistication of the decision-making procedure being implemented. Decision engineering acts as a framework for providing advanced analytic techniques to a non-enterprise user while simultaneously integrating machine learning and inductive reasoning techniques to streamline the organizational decision-making procedure. The use of Decision Engineering as a business intelligence tool by enterprises is still in its infancy and further development would be required before decision engineering develops into a viable business intelligence reporting tool.

Reporting and Querying Software

Reporting and querying software are designed to provide users with access to the data stored on enterprise databases subsequent to submission of user-queries. Such tools are designed to provide a logical format to the available data sets to support enterprise-wide data accessibility as well as speed-up the organizational decision-support process. Currently, various open source business intelligence tools as well as commercial business intelligence reporting software are developed by software development companies all over the world. Some of the leading reporting and querying tools are mPower, Zoho Reports, Cognos BI, GNU Enterprise and JasperReports. Many offshore software development companies in India also provide customized versions of reporting and querying software to streamline the overall enterprise-wide decision making process.

Spreadsheets

A spreadsheet is defined as an interactive computer program, which allows the analysis of available information by use of a tabular format, which originated from the use of paper-based accounting spreadsheets. On a spreadsheet, users can modify the values in each cell of the spreadsheet and are now used widely by the financial sector as a replacement of paper-based accounting methods. The digital spreadsheets allow users to automatically calculate values after making modifications to the available data as and when necessary. Apart from the standard arithmetic calculation support, currently available spreadsheets also features support for a wide range of statistical and financial operations built into this commonly used business intelligence tool. Spreadsheets are probably the most widely used and easily available among a wide range of proprietary and open source business intelligence tools. The first spreadsheet introduced for a micro computer was Visicalc, which was overtaken by Lotus 1-2-3 at a later date. Currently Microsoft Excel, available as part of the Microsoft Office Package, is the leading spreadsheet solution utilized by enterprises all over the world.

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Business Intelligence, The Key To Company Success

Business Intelligence (BI) is the ability to transform data into information and information into knowledge, so as to optimize the business decision-making process. A set of strategies and tools focused on knowledge creation and management through the analysis of existing data from an organization or business.

From the point of view of information technology, we can say that BI is a set of methodologies, applications and technologies that allow a business to the group and transform the data obtained from structured information systems to do analysis and information generation and improving the process decision-making of the business. It covers both current understanding of the functioning of the business as well as an anticipation of future events, in order to provide a body of knowledge to support business decisions.

Referring to business intelligence, we can differentiate the concepts of data, information and knowledge. Data is something that is vague, for example, the number 10, while the information is more accurate, such as April sales were 10. Finally, knowledge is obtained by analyzing the information.

Data are the minimum semantic unit and are the primary elements of information. These alone are irrelevant to the decision-making process. A phone number or a name of a person are examples of data.

The data can come from external or internal company sources, can be objective or subjective, qualitative or quantitative.

Moreover, the information can be defined as a set of processed data, which are relevant and have a purpose and context. The information is useful for decision-making, as it allows reducing uncertainty. The data is transformed into information to add value.

The information is capable of changing the way the receiver perceives something, impacting on their value judgments and behaviors.

Information = Data + Context (value added) + Utility (reduce uncertainty)

Knowledge can be defined as a mixture of experience, values, information and know-how, that form a framework to incorporate new experiences. The knowledge derived from the information and information from data. In order that information becomes knowledge is necessary to perform actions such as:

· Comparison with other elements.

· Prediction of consequences.

· Searching for connections.

· Talk with other carriers of information.

By gaining knowledge of the business once the information is captured from all areas in the business, you can set strategies and define what are the strengths and weaknesses of the business.

Business Intelligence is the broader concept of the use of intelligence in organizations. This has emerged from the contributions of the various areas of information such as market intelligence, competitive intelligence and business intelligence.

Market Intelligence corresponds to the strategic management discipline within companies that allow a more deeply know of the market and the company’s performance within it, through a constant flow of information.

Competitive Intelligence is defined as the process of collecting and analyzing information on the activities of competitors, so as to support the achievement of the goals of the business. Through a continuous flow of information, allows a business to know what the competitors are doing in the commercial, financial, and organizational aspects.

Finally, Business Intelligence refers to the set of tools to extract business experience. A set of systems to delineate dynamic customer base, such as sales trends, niche value, customer churn, profitability segments.

Intelligence tools are based on the use of information systems that bring together data from production processes, information relating to the business and economic data.

Using the techniques to extract, transform and load (ETL), data extracts from different sources, are purified and prepared for a load them into a data repository.

This toolkit has the following features:

• Access to information. The data are the primary source of this process. Systems have to ensure user access to data regardless of the source of these.

• Support the decision making process. Beyond the presentation of information, users need access to analysis tools, and select the data that interest them.

• Orientation to the end user. Independent expertise of users, these systems, must provide facilities that allow users to use these tools.

Business intelligence acts as a strategic factor for a business to build competitive advantage, by providing privileged information to respond to business problems: entering new markets, product promotions or offers, eliminating islands of information, control finances, cost optimization, production planning, customer profiling analysis, profitability of a particular product.

The main business intelligence products that exist in the market are:

• Balanced Scorecards (BSC) are tools to establish and monitor the objectives of the business and its different areas or units.

• Systems Decision Support (DSS) corresponds to interactive information systems that help companies make decisions, using data and models to solve unstructured or semi-structured decision. Supports decision making by generating a systematic evaluation of different alternatives or scenarios for decision.

• Executive Information Systems (EIS), are systems that provide top executives easy access to internal and external information that is relevant to their critical success factors. The Executive Information Systems support the decision making process of senior executives of an organization, presenting relevant information and using visual aids and easy to interpret, in order to keep them informed.

In reference to the origin of the data, existing components are: Datamart and Datawarehouse.

A Datamart is a departmental database, especially in storing the data that is specific to the business area. It is characterized by having an optimal data structure, to analyze information from all perspectives that affect the department.

Moreover, a data warehouse is a corporate database, characterized by integrating and debug information from one or more sources in order to allow analysis from many perspectives.

On the other hand, a Business Intelligence solution establishes a cycle from the following activities:

• Observe: what happens?

• Understand: Why is it?

• Predict: what will happen?

• Collaborate: what actions you should take the team?

• Decide: which way forward?

Why is it so important Business Intelligence?

For a business to be successful, it is very important the ability to make accurate and quick business decisions. Traditional information systems tend to be inflexible structures, making it difficult to adapt to the data capture processes of the business, and rapid generation of information for decision-making.

To overcome the limitations of these systems, business intelligence relies on a set of tools that facilitate the processes of extraction, purification, analysis and storage of data, with appropriate speed in order to support the decision making process of the business.

We cannot say that BI products are better than traditional applications, but they are developed for a different purpose, and therefore are more efficient for the decision-making process.

Business Intelligence solutions enable companies to:

• Process requirements quickly, intelligently and efficiently.

• Respond quickly and efficiently to changing conditions affecting the company.

• Establish information as the main asset of the business.

• Transform business data in intuitive graphical reports that can be analyzed quickly and easily.

Intelligence is the Key to Success. The Business Intelligence systems are now available to everyone. The well-designed BI applications can offer employees the ability to make better business decisions quickly, understand the various “information assets” in their business and how they interact.

We conclude that the key to thriving in a competitive marketplace is staying ahead of the competition. Making sound business decisions based on accurate and current information takes more than intuition. A Business Intelligence system thus becomes a determining factor for the success of the business.

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