Written by Alice Payne
Posted on 07/01/2015

Best practice for harnessing business intelligence

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Data is now available in unprecedented amounts – from Big Data to Smart Analytics, business intelligence (BI) can provide invaluable insight. But how best to gather and use it?


What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence is a somewhat vague term and it can be difficult to extricate a precise definition. However, this is because it is linked to an approach, rather than a specific activity. It’s the umbrella term to describe the tools and processes used for gathering large volumes of data for analysis, in order to support business decisions with detailed insight.

What types of data are gathered?

The data gathered is specific to a company’s needs. It can range from niche areas, such as web and e-commerce analytics, to customer profiling and supply chain monitoring. But it also includes wider business analysis, such as market research, market segmentation, statistical analysis or measuring and predicting sales and financial activity. Regardless of whether business intelligence is being used for specific areas of a business or to analyse overall business activity, the goal remains the same – to optimise processes and performance. 

Business intelligence and company structure

While BI software is a crucial component in capitalising on data and transforming it into improved company performance, it’s fair to say that business intelligence no longer falls just within the remit of IT. It’s now a key area of business development strategy, providing business leaders with the figures to understand where their company is performing well, what can be improved and where they can capitalise on market opportunities. It should be integral to business strategy, stretching across the fabric of a company rather than being pegged to a specific function, such as IT.

The future of business intelligence 

New phenomena like Big Data and the Internet of Things are creating seismic shifts in the way we gather knowledge. Big Data is the term for huge data sets that, when analysed, can reveal trends and patterns – particularly relating to human behaviour. Our transition to a computer-based world is providing vast stores of information. And, as electronic devices become more central to our existence, this too unleashes swathes of previously unharnessed information. This resource has led to the term the Internet of Things – which is the phenomenon that anything with an IP address and the capacity to transfer data over a network can provide useful intelligence. 

For example, medical devices, car sensors, machinery, jet engines, smartphones – just to name a few – can all provide harnessable data. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that there will be over 26 billion connected devices by 2020. That’s a vast quantity of information. But information alone is not effective, it has to be interpreted intelligently to add value.

Business intelligence best practice

So what’s the best approach to get the most out of business intelligence? Dr Amy Gershkoff, Director of Customer Analytics & Insights at eBay, outlined her seven core principles when designing business intelligence tools:

  1. Leverage data from multiple sources and departments
  2. Reorganise data around key business questions
  3. Simplify the data to display only the most relevant metrics
  4. Visualise the data to make trends easy to see
  5. Benchmark results against key performance indicators
  6. Enable users from across the organization to draw insights from the data
  7. Create a platform that facilitates integrated measurement”

Business intelligence creates the best results when technology doesn’t dictate strategy. With so many software tools available, it’s worth honing in on what information is crucial to your needs and then building from there. Technology should align to strategic goals, not the other way around.


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