What Is Business Intelligence?
by Robert McNicholas on June, 26 2017
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a pop quiz on this blog. Let’s have one now. Without resorting to a quick Google search, would you say that Business Intelligence is:
A) Common sense for businesses
B) Extremely rare, if it exists at all
C) Something to do with computers
D) Defined by Wikipedia as “the set of techniques and tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes”If you said D, I’m almost positive you cheated. But let’s cut through all the marketing-speak and find out what business intelligence means for SMBs like us.
Defining Business Intelligence
You’ve probably heard terms like data analytics, data mining, and actionable reporting thrown around the Internet in the last few years. (And to everyone with legal training out there, I have to say that yes, this use of ‘actionable’ annoys me too. I spent years thinking that actionable was something you get sued over. Now it’s something that moves you to action. Go figure.) Data mining is defined as searching through data—usually in very large amounts—to find a pattern, identify variables, or extract some other type of useful information. Data analytics has been explained as processing data with “the goal of discovering useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision-making.” (Wikipedia again.) Does this sound at all familiar? That’s because data mining and data analytics aren’t just related. They’re part of business intelligence, or BI. And, at its core, BI is all about making business better by means of data.
Does Business Intelligence Work for Small Business?
If you’re like me, the business intelligence you trust most for running your operation has its source in the human cortex—yours or that of others. Fair enough. For a long time, wading through all these mounds of data to get any kind of information worth using was the province of the Big Boys of business. Now, though, BI technologies are becoming increasingly available to smaller businesses via another popular buzzword: the Cloud. That’s right. That shadowy realm of data floating through the ethersphere has given us flexible programs that, in the past, would’ve required a degree in data science (or at least a darn good grasp of computers) to manage.
Today’s programs are often built around a user-friendly, no-programming-experience-needed dashboard interface. What you do need for BI to work is data. Your data. After all, why run analytics on someone else’s business? Software is available that you can use to mine and analyze your own data.
This can let you spot trends, manage more efficiently, and get all cost-effective on your budget. And there’s the rub: small businesses can use the technology behind business intelligence, but they need to have concrete information to feed it for it to work. The question is, do you have this information? If you do, then running it through BI programs can be an eye-opening experience. If you don’t have the data on hand, it might be time to think about collecting it.