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On the hunt for Business Intelligence

The first thing to ask ourselves on our search for Business Intelligence (BI) is: “What is ‘Business Intelligence’?” How can we hope to find it if we don’t know what we’re looking for?!

We know there are organisations such as Microsoft that have developed products that are platforms for delivering Business Intelligence and there are people who have built careers focused on Business Intelligence. Okay, so that means we’ve worked out that Business Intelligence must be big, really big and there is a market for it (given that Microsoft has built products to support it), but that still doesn’t tell us what BI is.

Let’s take a look closer to home and think about BI in our current work situation. Many of us work for organisations that operate successful businesses and these organisations have hired a bunch of intelligent people. So can we say “Business Intelligence” is running a business with intelligent management and staff? A successful business sounds like we’re on the right track and, although having intelligent staff is certainly important, do we really think that this is BI?

Maybe we should look at it from another angle and ask ourselves: What is ‘Intelligence’? In many cases, we can think of intelligence as information, information about information or knowledge that we gain from information.

We’ve theorised about what Business Intelligence is, but what does Wikipedia have to say? The Wikipedia definition of BI refers to “…technologies, applications and practices for the collection, integration, analysis and presentation of business information…” and “…the concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems.” And out of interest, Microsoft’s definition of Business Intelligence is “…the application of knowledge derived from analysing an organisation’s data to effect a more positive outcome.”

Now that we know what BI is, does that mean our search is over?  A definition of Business Intelligence certainly helps, but how do we know which technologies, applications and practices will improve our business decision making and effect more positive outcomes? Maybe that’s where the people that specialise in Business Intelligence come in!

To find BI in our organisation we need to understand what data and information we already hold and where that information is held. We also need to be aware of our organisation’s vision, mission statement, strategic objectives, strategic plans, operational plans and business objectives.

Many organisations have data and information stored in a variety of systems that best fit with business functions. For example, many organisations have Human Resource systems, Finance systems, Client Relationship Management systems, Knowledge Management systems, Records Management systems, Line of Business (LOB) applications, back end databases, intranets, websites…

So we’ve discovered that we have “truckloads” of data and information – that’s good to know, but how do we make better use of it to help understand how we can use it to improve on our decision making practices?

Maybe that’s where technology and applications can help. Some of the BI tools available through Microsoft include:

So can we pick and choose which BI tools we want to use? The answer is yes. We can use one or any number of BI tools to deliver different facets of BI. New technologies and applications will continue to emerge along with more streamlined practices. Most of us will agree that there will continue to be changes within our businesses and changes in what is important to us from a decision making and outcomes perspective.

So when it comes down to it, our hunt for Business Intelligence is really more of an ongoing quest. We can adopt and tune technologies, applications and practices, and continue to monitor and analyse information to generate effective Business Intelligence that meets our current and future goals.

Posted by: Bernardine Slagter, Developer Consultant | 30 June 2008

Tags: SharePoint, Business Intelligence, Data Mining, PerformancePoint, Reporting Services

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