Business intelligence (BI) mainly refers to computer-based techniques used in identifying, extracting, and analyzing business data, such as sales revenue by products and/or departments, or by associated costs and incomes.
BI technologies provide historical, current and predictive views of business operations. Common functions of business intelligence technologies are reporting, online analytical processing, analytics, data mining, process mining, complex event processing, business performance management, benchmarking, text mining and predictive analytics.
Business intelligence aims to support better business decision-making. Thus a BI system can be called a decision support system (DSS). Though the term business intelligence is sometimes used as a synonym for competitive intelligence, because they both support decision making, BI uses technologies, processes, and applications to analyze mostly internal, structured data and business processes while competitive intelligence gathers, analyzes and disseminates information with a topical focus on company competitors. Business intelligence understood broadly can include the subset of competitive intelligence.History
In a 1958 article, IBM researcher Hans Peter Luhn used the term business intelligence. He defined intelligence as: "the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal."
Business intelligence as it is understood today is said to have evolved from the decision support systems which began in the 1960s and developed throughout the mid-1980s. DSS originated in the computer-aided models created to assist with decision making and planning. From DSS, data warehouses, Executive Information Systems, OLAP and business intelligence came into focus beginning in the late 80s.
In 1989, Howard Dresner (later a Gartner Group analyst) proposed "business intelligence" as an umbrella term to describe "concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems." It was not until the late 1990s that this usage was widespread.Business intelligence and data warehousing
Often BI applications use data gathered from a data warehouse or a data mart. However, not all data warehouses are used for business intelligence, nor do all business intelligence applications require a data warehouse.
In order to distinguish between concepts of business intelligence and data warehouses, Forrester Research often defines business intelligence in one of two ways:
Using a broad definition: "Business Intelligence is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making." When using this definition, business intelligence also includes technologies such as data integration, data quality, data warehousing, master data management, text and content analytics, and many others that the market sometimes lumps into the Information Management segment. Therefore, Forrester refers to data preparation and data usage as two separate, but closely linked segments of the business intelligence architectural stack.
Forrester defines the latter, narrower business intelligence market as "referring to just the top layers of the BI architectural stack such as reporting, analytics and dashboards."Business intelligence and business analytics
Thomas Davenport has argued that business intelligence should be divided into querying, reporting, OLAP, an "alerts" tool, and business analytics. In this definition, business analytics is the subset of BI based on statistics, prediction, and optimization.Applications in an enterprise
Business intelligence can be applied to the following business purposes, in order to drive business value.
- Measurement – program that creates a hierarchy of performance metrics (see also Metrics Reference Model) and benchmarking that informs business leaders about progress towards business goals (business process management).
- Analytics – program that builds quantitative processes for a business to arrive at optimal decisions and to perform business knowledge discovery. Frequently involves: data mining, process mining, statistical analysis, predictive analytics, predictive modeling, business process modeling, complex event processing.
- Reporting/enterprise reporting – program that builds infrastructure for strategic reporting to serve the strategic management of a business, not operational reporting. Frequently involves data visualization, executive information system and OLAP.
- Collaboration/collaboration platform – program that gets different areas (both inside and outside the business) to work together through data sharing and electronic data interchange.
- Knowledge management – program to make the company data driven through strategies and practices to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences that are true business knowledge. Knowledge management leads to learning management and regulatory compliance/compliance.
In addition to above, business intelligence also can provide a pro-active approach, such as ALARM function to alert immediately to end-user. There are many types of alerts, for example if some business value exceeds the threshold value the color of that amount in the report will turn RED and the business analyst is alerted. Sometimes an alert mail will be sent to the user as well. This end to end process requires data governance, which should be handled by the expert.Prioritization of business intelligence projects
It is often difficult to provide a positive business case for business intelligence initiatives and often the projects will need to be prioritized through strategic initiatives. Here are some hints to increase the benefits for a BI project.
- As described by Kimball you must determine the tangible benefits such as eliminated cost of producing legacy reports.
- Enforce access to data for the entire organization. In this way even a small benefit, such as a few minutes saved, will make a difference when it is multiplied by the number of employees in the entire organization.
- As described by Ross, Weil & Roberson for Enterprise Architecture, consider letting the BI project be driven by other business initiatives with excellent business cases. To support this approach, the organization must have Enterprise Architects, which will be able to detect suitable business projects.
Before implementing a BI solution, it is worth taking different factors into consideration before proceeding. According to Kimball et al., these are the three critical areas that you need to assess within your organization before getting ready to do a BI project:
- The level of commitment and sponsorship of the project from senior management
- The level of business need for creating a BI implementation
- The amount and quality of business data available.
The commitment and sponsorship of senior management is according to Kimball et al., the most important criteria for assessment. This is because having strong management with a business degree and related education, will help overcome shortcomings elsewhere in the project. But as Kimball et al. state: “even the most elegantly designed DW/BI system cannot overcome a lack of business sponsorship”. It is very important that the management personnel who participate in the project have a vision and an idea of the benefits and drawbacks of implementing a BI system. The best business sponsor should have organizational clout and should be well connected within the organization. It is ideal that the business sponsor is demanding but also able to be realistic and supportive if the implementation runs into delays or drawbacks. The management sponsor also needs to be able to assume accountability and to take responsibility for failures and setbacks on the project. It is imperative that there is support from multiple members of the management so the project will not fail if one person leaves the steering group. However, having many managers that work together on the project can also mean that the there are several different interests that attempt to pull the project in different directions. For instance if different departments want to put more emphasis on their usage of the implementation. This issue can be countered by an early and specific analysis of the different business areas that will benefit the most from the implementation. All stakeholders in project should participate in this analysis in order for them to feel ownership of the project and to find common ground between them. Another management problem that should be encountered before start of implementation is if the Business sponsor is overly aggressive. If the management individual gets carried away by the possibilities of using BI and starts wanting the DW or BI implementation to include several different sets of data that were not included in the original planning phase. However, since extra implementations of extra data will most likely add many months to the original plan, it is probably a good idea to make sure that the person from management is aware of his actions.Implementation should be driven by clear business needs
Because of the close relationship with senior management, another critical thing that needs to be assessed before the project is implemented is whether or not there actually is a business need and whether there is a clear business benefit by doing the implementation. The needs and benefits of the implementation are sometimes driven by competition and the need to gain an advantage in the market. Another reason for a business-driven approach to implementation of BI is the acquisition of other organizations that enlarge the original organization it can sometimes be beneficial to implement DW or BI in order to create more oversight.The amount and quality of the available data
This ought to be the most important factor, since without good data – it does not really matter how good your management sponsorship or your business-driven motivation is. If you do not have the data, or the data does not have sufficient quality, any BI implementation will fail. Before implementation it is a very good idea to do data profiling; this analysis will be able to describe the “content, consistency and structure ” of the data. This should be done as early as possible in the process and if the analysis shows that your data is lacking, it is a good idea to put the project on the shelf temporarily while the IT department figures out how to do proper data collection.User aspect
Some considerations must be made in order to successfully integrate the usage of business intelligence systems in a company. Ultimately the BI system must be accepted and utilized by the users in order for it to add value to the organization. If the usability of the system is poor, the users may become frustrated and spend a considerable amount of time figuring out how to use the system or may not be able to really use the system. If the system does not add value to the users´ mission, they will simply not use it.
In order to increase the user acceptance of a BI system, it may be advisable to consult the business users at an early stage of the DW/BI lifecycle, for example at the requirements gathering phase. This can provide an insight into the business process and what the users need from the BI system. There are several methods for gathering this information, such as questionnaires and interview sessions.
When gathering the requirements from the business users, the local IT department should also be consulted in order to determine to which degree it is possible to fulfill the business's needs based on the available data.
Taking on a user-centered approach throughout the design and development stage may further increase the chance of rapid user adoption of the BI system.
Besides focusing on the user experience offered by the BI applications, it may also possibly motivate the users to utilize the system by adding an element of competition. Kimball suggests implementing a function on the business intelligence portal website where reports on system usage can be found. By doing so, managers can see how well their departments are doing and compare themselves to others and this may spur them to encourage their staff to utilize the BI system even more.
In a 2007 article, H. J. Watson gives an example of how the competitive element can act as an incentive. Watson describes how a large call centre has implemented performance dashboards for all the call agents and that monthly incentive bonuses have been tied up to the performance metrics. Furthermore the agents can see how their own performance compares to the other team members. The implementation of this type of performance measurement and competition significantly improved the performance of the agents.
Other elements which may increase the success of BI can be by involving senior management in order to make BI a part of the organizational culture and also by providing the users with the necessary tools, training and support. By offering user training, more people may actually use the BI application.
Providing user support is necessary in order to maintain the BI system and assist users who run into problems. User support can be incorporated in many ways, for example by creating a website. The website should contain great content and tools for finding the necessary information. Furthermore, helpdesk support can be used. The helpdesk can be manned by e.g. power users or the DW/BI project team.Marketplace
There are a number of business intelligence vendors, often categorized into the remaining independent "pure-play" vendors and the consolidated "megavendors" which have entered the market through a recent trend of acquisitions in the BI industry.
Some companies adopting BI software decide to pick and choose from different product offerings (best-of-breed) rather than purchase one comprehensive integrated solution (full-service).Industry-specific
Specific considerations for business intelligence systems have to be taken in some sectors such as governmental banking regulations. The information collected by banking institutions and analyzed with BI software must be protected from some groups or individuals, while being fully available to other groups or individuals. Therefore BI solutions must be sensitive to those needs and be flexible enough to adapt to new regulations and changes to existing laws.Semi-structured or unstructured data
Businesses create a huge amount of valuable information in the form of e-mails, memos, notes from call-centers, news, user groups, chats, reports, web-pages, presentations, image-files, video-files, and marketing material and news. According to Merrill Lynch, more than 85% of all business information exists in these forms. These information types are called either semi-structured or unstructured data. However, organizations often only use these documents once.
The management of semi-structured data is recognized as a major unsolved problem in the information technology industry. According to projections from Gartner (2003), white collar workers will spend anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of their time searching, finding and assessing unstructured data. BI uses both structured and unstructured data, but the former is easy to search, and the latter contains a large quantity of the information needed for analysis and decision making. Because of the difficulty of properly searching, finding and assessing unstructured or semi-structured data, organizations may not draw upon these vast reservoirs of information, which could influence a particular decision, task or project. This can ultimately lead to poorly-informed decision making.
Therefore, when designing a business intelligence/DW-solution, the specific problems associated with semi-structured and unstructured data must be accommodated for as well as those for the structured data.Unstructured data vs. semi-structured data
Unstructured and semi-structured data have different meanings depending on their context. In the context of relational database systems, it refers to data that cannot be stored in columns and rows. It must be stored in a BLOB (binary large object), a catch-all data type available in most relational database management systems.
But many of these data types, like e-mails, word processing text files, PPTs, image-files, and video-files conform to a standard that offers the possibility of metadata. Metadata can include information such as author and time of creation, and this can be stored in a relational database. Therefore it may be more accurate to talk about this as semi-structured documents or data, but no specific consensus seems to have been reached.Problems with semi-structured or unstructured data
There are several challenges to developing BI with semi-structured data. According to Inmon & Nesavich, some of those are:
- Physically accessing unstructured textual data – unstructured data is stored in a huge variety of formats.
- Terminology – Among researchers and analysts, there is a need to develop a standardized terminology.
- Volume of data – As stated earlier, up to 85% of all data exists as semi-structured data. Couple that with the need for word-to-word and semantic analysis.
- Searchability of unstructured textual data – A simple search on some data, e.g. apple, results in links where there is a reference to that precise search term. (Inmon & Nesavich, 2008) gives an example: “a search is made on the term felony. In a simple search, the term felony is used, and everywhere there is a reference to felony, a hit to an unstructured document is made. But a simple search is crude. It does not find references to crime, arson, murder, embezzlement, vehicular homicide, and such, even though these crimes are types of felonies.”
To solve problems with searchability and assessment of data, it is necessary to know something about the content. This can be done by adding context through the use of metadata. Many systems already capture some metadata (e.g. filename, author, size, etc.), but more useful would be metadata about the actual content – e.g. summaries, topics, people or companies mentioned. Two technologies designed for generating metadata about content are automatic categorization and information extraction.Future
A 2009 Gartner paper predicted these developments in the business intelligence market:
- Because of lack of information, processes, and tools, through 2012, more than 35 percent of the top 5,000 global companies will regularly fail to make insightful decisions about significant changes in their business and markets.
- By 2012, business units will control at least 40 percent of the total budget for business intelligence.
- By 2012, one-third of analytic applications applied to business processes will be delivered through coarse-grained application mashups.
A 2009 Information Management special report predicted the top BI trends: "green computing, social networking, data visualization, mobile BI, predictive analytics, composite applications, cloud computing and multitouch."
Other business intelligence trends include the following:
- Third party SOA-BI products increasingly address ETL issues of volume and throughput.
- Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) are ubiquitous.
- Companies embrace in-memory processing, 64-bit processing, and pre-packaged analytic BI applications.
- Operational applications have callable BI components, with improvements in response time, scaling, and concurrency.
- Near or real time BI analytics is a baseline expectation.
- Open source BI software replaces vendor offerings.
Other lines of research include the combined study of business intelligence and uncertain data. In this context, the data used is not assumed to be precise, accurate and complete. Instead, data is considered uncertain and therefore this uncertainty is propagated to the results produced by BI.
According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, there has been increasing interest in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business intelligence over the past years, with twice as many organizations using this deployment approach as one year ago – 15% in 2009 compared to 7% in 2008.
An article by InfoWorld’s Chris Kanaracus points out similar growth data from research firm IDC, which predicts the SaaS BI market will grow 22 percent each year through 2013 thanks to increased product sophistication, strained IT budgets, and other factors.
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