What Is Business Intelligence and What Can It Do For My Company?

Updated: May 12, 2010

More CIOs than ever are turning to business intelligence (BI) to make sense of all this data, according to recent surveys by research firm Gartner and CIO magazine. With BI, CIOs can pinpoint the data that will drive better business decisions and get it in the hands of the employees who can take action with it. BI is evolving to become more predictive, giving CIOs greater insight into how the business is performing now and in the future. When done right, it can help organizations discover their strengths (and capitalize on them) and ferret out their weaknesses. It can even help organizations define new business opportunities.

"BI platforms enable users to build applications that help organizations learn, understand, and optimize their business," says Gartner in its 2010 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms report.

BI generally includes a variety of applications that gather, store, analyze, and provide access to a company's raw data. The related functions they perform include forecasting, data visualization, data mining and more. Armed with these tools, organizations can use their data to guide their strategic decisions about products to sell, contracts to negotiate, customer service to improve, and markets to enter. BI can also help organizations identify internal business processes that can be made more efficient and less costly.

BI Capabilities

A BI platform should deliver 13 capabilities that support integration, information delivery, and analysis, according to Gartner. The research firm expects to see a greater demand for tools that go beyond information delivery to "enable easier and more intuitive analysis to discover new insights." These key features are:

  • Shared BI infrastructure
  • Metadata management
  • Development tools
  • Collaboration
  • Reporting
  • Dashboards
  • Ad hoc query
  • Microsoft Office integration
  • Search-based BI
  • Online analytical processing (OLAP)
  • Interactive visualization
  • Predictive modeling and data mining
  • Scorecards

Deployment Options

BI platforms have traditionally been installed on-premises, but like with other enterprise applications, alternative deployments are emerging as the BI market matures. Software as a Service (SaaS) and open source BI may make sense especially for smaller organizations that need a lower-cost option.

According to research published in March by Aberdeen Group, open source BI gives organizations a chance to explore the software and see if their internal IT staff has the skills necessary to take on a BI project, without making a capital investment. Aberdeen's Open Source Business Intelligence report says that "open source also promotes a more iterative and incremental approach," noting that this lets IT departments work at a pace that best suits the company.

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