Business Intelligence

business-intelligence-photoIn this article, I decided to take a look at Business Intelligence.  So much is written about the topic that it feels a little bit like saying I’m going to write about religion.  There are so many frameworks, concepts and belief systems, you have to ask yourself the question which one do I follow?  There are vendor based articles, white papers, academic writings, journals etc. all attempting to pitch or sell their version of the truth. I’m not sure if I’m agnostic or have chosen a path to follow at this point.

But let’s start out by looking at what Business Intelligence is:

“Business Intelligence is a term used by hardware and software vendors and information technology consultants to describe the infrastructure for warehousing, integrating, reporting, and analysing data that come from the business environment, including big data.” (Laudon & Laudon, 2014, p 492).

“So, stripped to its essentials, business intelligence and analytics are about integrating all the information streams produced by a firm into a single, coherent enterprise-wide set of data, and then, using modelling, statistical analysis tools (like normal distributions, correlation and regression analysis, Chi square analysis, forecasting, and cluster analysis), and data mining tools (pattern discovery and machine learning), to make sense out of all these data so managers can make better decisions and better plans, or at least know quickly when their firms are failing to meet planned targets.” (Laudon & Laudon, 2014, p 492).

So what does this mean?  We want to take some data, turn it into information, create some knowledge and make informed decisions and choices.

data to insight image

A more complex version of this can be seen in the below framework.  I find visualising the information a much stronger way of understanding a concept.


My earlier blogs have looked at the power of visualisation using Google Fusion table and R for statistical analysis and visualisation, I thought it might be useful to continue with this theme.  But before I go any further, I can’t talk about visualisations without mentioning my three favourites visualisation websites, , and

BI Tools for Analytics and Visualisation

BI Tools can bring so much to the business: (remember what we trying to do, take some data, do something interesting and make decisions) – the problem nowadays is the volume, variety and velocity of the data.  Enhanced reporting, speed and analytics can,

  • Drive sales, through better forecasting, sales team performance
  • Improve customer satisfaction through enhanced call centre capabilities
  • Optimised manufacturing processes driving operational efficiency
  • Marketing campaign effectiveness and competitive advantage
  • Financial analytics

The list is endless in terms of delivering business benefits.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant highlights a number of available tools and technologies for data analysis and visualisation.  Their report discusses a potentially growing gap between traditional vendor products such as SAS, Oracle and IBM and the growth of products such as Tableau and QLike.  Gartner reports that businesses are choosing products like Tableau and Qlike for their ease of use over other products which are potentially more fit for purpose.  So in this context, let’s take a look at a couple.

Gartner Magic quadrant for BI & Analytics Platforms



According to the Wall Street Journal, Tableau was born out of the simple idea that databases should generate pictures instead of a bunch of numbers.   A business intelligence software that helps people see and understand their data.  Tableau comes in a number of different flavours depending on the size of your organisation, Tableau Server, Tableau On-line and Tableau Public (To mention just a couple).  Industry experts agree that Tableau is head and shoulders above the competition for easy to implement and use data visualisation tools.

tableau dashboard


Birst’s website tagline of “The Best of Both Worlds – Enterprise BI with Blazing Fast Data Discovery” encompasses what Business Intelligence is all about.  Birst claim to offer “the only enterprise business intelligence platform that connects together the entire organization through a network of interwoven virtualized BI instances on-top a shared common analytical fabric. Birst enterprise BI delivers the speed, self-service, and agility front-line business workers demand, and the scale, security, and control to meet rigorous corporate data standards. Birst delivers all of this and much more with low TCO via public or private cloud configurations.”

Forrester (Leading research and advisory firm)  seem to largely agree with Birst in their claim – see Forrester Report.


Forrester Wave – Cloud BI platforms forrester wave image

It’s not my intention in this article to provide a list of pros and cons of different software and hardware solutions.  It is merely to briefly highlight a couple of options.  Choosing the right solution for your Business Intelligence needs really depends on the type of business you have, the size, nature, geographical dispersal and available budget.  Ultimately it will come down to your business needs, do you want significant predictive analytics, do you have large volumes of unstructured data, maybe you don’t really know.  Think about the data that you have currently, what are you likely to have in the future and what would you like to do with it.  There are endless resources available to help you consider what approach to take and how you can achieve Return on Investment.  I think these links to calculating ROI are interesting.




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