Business intelligence (BI) is a collection of strategies and technologies that enable companies to make informed business decisions. It encompasses data visualization software, dashboard tools, enterprise-level reporting, infrastructure and best practices to turn raw information into useful and understandable insights. BI tools help organizations collect, store, analyze, and present data from internal and external sources. These insights are then used to improve business processes and strategies, boost revenue, and increase profit.
While it may sound like a buzzword, business intelligence is hardly a new technology. In fact, its roots stretch back to the 1860s. However, the modern term dates from 1989, when consultant Howard Dresner coined it as an umbrella phrase for the methods and architectures of analytics systems to support decision-making.
A key function of business intelligence is to spot and highlight patterns and trends in a given market that could impact current or future business strategy. This can be done by gathering and analyzing data from internal sources, as well as using public information or field reports.
The data can be presented in the form of charts and graphs to help users identify issues and opportunities. It is also possible to mash up data from different sources and combine it for deeper analysis and more complete insights. For example, an airline might use BI to monitor flight capacity and occupancy rates for its airports, while a hotel might combine booking and guest feedback to improve customer service.
Traditionally, the responsibility for collecting, storing, and analyzing business data has fallen to IT teams. The IT department would extract, clean and structure the data before putting it into a database where business users can access and query it. This is called data preparation and can be a very time-consuming process. BI solutions automate this and streamline the whole process.
In addition, BI platforms enable users to create their own data and dashboards. This self-service functionality is becoming increasingly important as BI adoption expands to include users across all departments. However, it is important that BI users are equipped with the skills and knowledge to extract value from the data they are using. This is why many BI vendors are now taking a proactive approach to improving data literacy with initiatives such as the Qlik-led Data Literacy Project.
Businesses rely on business intelligence to support functions as diverse as hiring efforts, compliance issues, production and marketing. As a result, the demand for BI professionals is high.
To be successful in this field, it is important to have a background in business or IT, as well as a good understanding of data visualization, SQL and programming skills. Additional qualifications include an analytical mindset and strong problem-solving abilities. With the growth of the BI space, a wide range of career paths are now available. This includes the roles of business analysts, software developers and project managers. This is a great career choice for people who want to use their skills and passion to bring valuable insight into the way companies operate.