The Facets of Business Intelligence Software

How these enterprise applications make your business life easier.

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 02, 2012

The Facets of Business Intelligence Software

In today’s fast-paced, digital business world, companies are faced with sorting, analyzing, and processing more data—and more types of data—than ever before. Business intelligence software is designed to automate data management as much as possible, compiling information across your organization and creating in-depth reports, which are then presented to the appropriate end users.
In other words, business intelligence software enables you to bring the right information to the right people at the right time, in a format they can understand.

What does business intelligence software do?
To succeed in today’s competitive marketplace, a company needs to be able to think on its feet. This means using your enterprise data—information about your people, resources, performance, finances, customers, and other organization-centric data—in a meaningful way, allowing you to work more efficiently, correct problems quickly, and take advantage of more opportunities.
However, with all this information spread out across separate business applications and complex data architectures, it becomes a challenge to pull together the right data at the right time. That's where business intelligence (BI) software comes in, allowing you to gather key information from various applications, databases, and systems. You can then produce intelligent, timely reports of the essential operations and activities that impact your business.

Common features of business intelligence software
Because the ultimate goal of BI software is to distill complex information from a variety of sources into accessible packets, most applications share key features that facilitate ease of understanding:

  • Ad hoc reporting: BI software will typically allow end users to build and run reports themselves, through a user-friendly interface that avoids direct reliance on the underlying data, which may be too technically complex. This helps ensure that users have instant access to information that's essential to their job performance, while reducing the burden on IT staff and resources.
  • Flexible output formats: Often, information is required in various formats for different areas of your company. Most BI software provides flexibility in this area, allowing for report output in multiple formats, such as Word documents, spreadsheets, and HTML.
  • Financial reporting: As compliance becomes more essential to businesses, more BI software applications are building in financial functionality and reporting tools. Common financial features include profit and loss statements, balance sheet templates, foreign currency conversion, and the ability to process financially oriented data.
  • Dynamic scheduling and delivery: This feature allows for further automation of BI software, enabling users to schedule pre-determined times and refresh points for report generation. These reports can also be automatically sent via email or mobile to designated personnel.

Applications and tools: How BI software crosses industries

When it comes to business intelligence, different types of companies have different needs. For example, the areas of concern for a grocery store vary widely from the requirements of a software development company.
There are many different applications and tools within the framework of BI software, giving companies the ability to purchase and tailor software packages with the functionality they need for their unique situations.
Some of the applications within the BI software realm include:

  • Basic business intelligence: This is often a simple software suite that generates a collection of reports for operational purposes, which can be customized to suit specified perimeters.
  • Corporate performance management: This type of application optimizes the business process through the definition of key result indicators (KRIs) and key performance indicators (KPIs), enabling a broader operational perspective.
  • Marketing intelligence: Offering both big-picture and detailed views of the effects of marketing on specified areas of the company, this tool allows for measurement and analysis of brand awareness, market growth, and the impact of marketing campaigns.
  • Customer analytics/customer relationship management (CRM): Customers are an essential facet of any business. BI customer-focused applications offer a fully rounded view of customer data, which can be analyzed and applied to many different situations.
  • Business activity monitoring (BAM): Often used as a preventative application, BAM reports daily operations in real-time or near real-time fashion. This permits a company to spot deviations from standard business processes, pinpointing potential problem areas before they become serious issues.

What to look for when investing in BI software

With the proliferation of different types of business intelligence software, it's important to fully understand your company’s needs and how you expect to use BI software in your operations. Consider these factors before purchasing software:

  • Scalability: Does the software have the ability to adapt and grow with your expanding business?
  • Data access: Universal formats are becoming increasingly important in the business world. Will the BI software permit unlimited data access and interaction with your vendors and customers?
  • Predictive analysis: Will the software help you with advanced planning and forecasting for business trends and patterns? This feature is important in predicting future company direction.Visualization: Is it sufficient for your company to have a basic level of visualization that presents data in graphs and charts? Some BI software limits visualization—you may require more advanced visualization, such as histograms, matrices, maps, or scatter plots.

In today's fast-paced, competitive business world, BI software is becoming increasingly essential. Whatever the requirements of your organization, there is business intelligence software that will make your working life easier and more profitable.

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