What is Business Intelligence?

A short description of the Business Intelligence (BI) Cycle and discussion of three characteristics that can drive BI Cycle productivity.

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Business Intelligence (BI) is gathering, managing and analyzing data that is vital for the survival of business in this current hyper-competitive environment (Thomas, 2001 & Vuori, 2006). A BI practitioner is to help decision makers from being overwhelmed with a huge wealth of data. Thus they act as a filter because decision makers will ignore any information that is not useful or meaningful (Vuori, 2006).

The BI Cycle is a continuous cycle, which could be easily reduced to planning the information you want to collect, ethically collect reliable information, analyzing the data to form intelligence, and disseminating the intelligence in an understandable way (Thomas, 2001). It can be expanded into six steps, per Vuori (2006):

  1. Defining information needs
  2. Information gathering
  3. Information processing
  4. Analysis
  5. Dissemination
  6. Utilization and Feedback

A good BI system would make use of a knowledge database and a communication system (Thomas, 2001). With this system and cycle and the correct data, we can have information on our competitors, new technology, public policy, customer sentiment, market forces, supply chain information, etc. Having this information at the disposal of the decision maker will allow for data-driven decisions, to increase their company’s competitive advantage.

Three BI cycle characteristics that drive productivity

  1. Identifying Needs versus Wants in the first phase: Are we defining “Information that is wanted but that is not really needed”, “Information that lacks and that is recognized to be needed” or “Information that is needed but not known to be needed, wanted nor asked for” (Vuori, 2006)? The last two are extremely important. The second one satisfies the end-user of the BI; the other can identify huge revelations. In the last case, if a company only looks at the most active or their biggest competitor they may lose sight of the smaller competitor gaining traction. Getting the right information that is needed is key to not wasting time and increase productivity.
    • Influences the BI practitioner organization
    • Influences the Decision Makers (from first line managers to executive level)
    • Departments in which the data/information is collected from
  2. Protecting their Intellectual Capital: When companies have high turnover rates, or when sensitive/proprietary information is transported on drives or in the minds of the employees, or when senior personnel accidentally give out information in conferences/symposiums (Thomas, 2001), we run the risk of becoming vulnerable as a company. Another example is the supply chain if one company uses a key supplier and their competitor uses that same key supplier to produce a similar product mix. Then what guarantees are being used to ensure that information is being transported between the two companies through the supplier? Information leaks can lead to a loss of a competitive advantage. Protecting the intellectual capital will allow companies not to have to constantly create new products and focus on improving their current product mix.
    • All employees
    • Supply chain (horizontally and vertically)
    • Production lines
    • Human Resources/Legal
    • Management
  3. Dissemination of the correct analysis: This will allow managers to make data-driven decisions that should help protect the business, enter a new market space, etc. If the practitioners of BI, could give the decision maker the information they need based on their analysis and nothing more, we would be saving time, reducing decision fatigue, and time wasted on producing the analytics. Thus, constant communication must occur between the practitioner and decision makers to avoid non-value added work. Feedback cycles, help make future work/endeavors to become more productive over time.
    • Influences the BI practitioner organization
    • Influences the Decision Makers (from first line managers to executive level)
    • Communications departments

An example of an innovative use of BI, is DeKalb County, GA. The CIO, has leveraged BI and analytics, to set up smart policing initiatives (where police are being used more effectively and efficiently to prevent crimes and lowering crime rates), enhance public safety (develop and maintain green neighborhoods), promote jobs and economic development (Matelski, 2015). The CIO has taken data from multiple systems and followed the cycle above to ask the right questions, to identify the needs for particular data, its collection, processing, and analysis to its dissemination to the key decision makers (via intuitive dashboards and key performance indicators).

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