In this article Michael Nesbit, Senior Bespoke Consultant and Specialist in Business Intelligence, looks into the many different elements of business intelligence and how you can improve your BI maturity to make even better decisions
Business intelligence is about providing information to the powers that be, allowing them to make informed decisions in a timely manner. There are many different elements to business intelligence and there are even more approaches you can take. In this article we’ll dive into a few of those and we’ll look at how you can improve your business intelligence maturity so that you can make even better decisions.
Firstly, business Intelligence is a term that is easily confused. Some people use the terms business intelligence and business analytics interchangeably. Some regard BI as one element of a wider range of data driven methodologies. Some don’t even call it BI, opting for management information instead. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to go with BI as an umbrella term for all of that.
As I’ve already mentioned BI is a broad area. Waterstons have people focused on BI, but that can mean anything from producing some operational reporting from your stock system, to developing a platform for ‘what if’ analysis of sales and margin figures. BI can cover many things, but most commonly we find that requirements fit into one of these four areas:
But how do you do all of that good stuff? Where do you start? And how do you mature your BI offering so that you can predict how many ice creams you’re going to need to stock in your store in Tadcaster in July? An important question, I’m sure we can all agree.
You need to start with the data from your line of business systems; the stores of data from which your BI systems will be built. You need to ensure the data in your systems is accurate and that you can get access to it in a timely fashion. If your data is inaccurate and outdated then your reports are going to be nonsense. It’s as simple as rubbish in – rubbish out and you’re going to need to tackle any data inaccuracies before you even think about making judgements on them. You can use reporting systems to highlight these issues, but you’re going to need to work to ensure the data is accurate.
With your information accurate and available, you can start to look at your operational reporting. This is where you can find out what is happening, or what has happened, usually on a daily or weekly basis. How many ice creams did we sell yesterday? How much money have we made this week? This kind of thing is usually pretty straight forward but is obviously extremely useful, if not critical, in the day-to-day running of your department or business.
With operational reporting under your belt, you now want to get more out of your data. You want to start producing views of your data that are a lot more meaningful and give key decision makers a snapshot of the business as a whole. You might want to look at a monthly or weekly comparison. How much did I make this month and how does that compare to last month? What is the average transaction value of sales in my stores? Who are the customers that spend the most and what products do I need to stock more of to meet demand? Typically, these questions are defined by your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
To answer these questions, you need to start thinking about stand-alone reporting systems. You don’t want to rely on the data coming out of a single system, you want to look at the bigger picture and to do this you need data from more than one system.
Traditionally, a data warehouse was the answer here and in many scenarios it really still is. A data warehouse is a central repository for all of your data, structured in such a way that getting the information out that you need is a doddle.