If I asked you “What is Business Intelligence” (or BI for short), what’s the first thing that pops into your head? It depends, you might say. That’s true. After all, it depends on what job you’re performing. What job are you performing? What information do you need to do your job? Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to that information anytime, whenever and wherever you are?
If you’re a business owner or executive, Business Intelligence may get you thinking of that Dashboard report or Excel spreadsheet that you constantly check to ensure the status of your Business or Company. Not just the current state of affairs now, but also into the future.
If you Manage projects or Business processes, BI may get you thinking about all those reports you use to manage schedule, budgets, reports, etc. Or worse, the dreaded Forecast.
If you’re a Finance person or Business Analyst, you probably turn out these reports daily. Getting frequent requests for more and more information. Data that may or may not be getting collected, changing your process frequently to suit the needs of the business and or enterprise.
Well, truth be told, BI is in fact what people need to do their jobs efficiently and accurately. BI could take on many forms. In today’s day and age, this usually means using some type of software to collect data, analyze it, and display it in a simple, organized fashion. Typically business users and managers default to using Excel which is excellent. Its simple, powerful, and let’s you play (or analyze) with the data in many possible ways.
In this blog post, I want to expand the idea that BI is more than just the software you’re using, its a constant reflection on yourselves. The big picture of your Companies and Businesses that keep you accountable, honest, and moving forward. Business Owners, Directors, Executives, Engineers, Techs, or Admin people… everyone needs to take a look within and figure out fundamentally… who or what am I? where am I headed? is that the right direction? This insight is the reason BI helps guide business decisions. Once equipped with the knowledge of who, what and where you are, you can move on to bigger and better things… The next big thing… or just plain getting darn good at what you do. Or as Jim Collins titled his best selling book, Going from Good to Great.
BI also has to represent a single form of the truth that is mission-critical to the business. Collins said it in his book: two of the key factors in businesses that went from Good to Great is that 1) they established a culture where the hard facts are openly discussed (in comes Dashboards and KPIs) and 2) information is turned into information that cannot be ignored. #2 cannot be done without people who understand the business. Understand the vision for a company and what is required to not just meet targets and goals, but to help motivate their teams to accomplish more and bring all they’ve got to the table to exceed expectations.
Lastly, what BI is not. BI is not any particular software platform, computer hardware, or particular consulting firm. The tools you use make no difference in the BI solutions your company needs. What makes for a good BI solution is simple, elegant, and efficient access to data. Stephen Few, a master at Information presentation and design, has a great blog post in which he mentions the opinion of a respected senior executive when asked “What is Business Intelligence”, his answer: Big Software, Hardly Intelligent. How sad, right? That means that consultants like me everywhere in the business of developing BI solutions for companies and businesses need to start reflecting, looking upon themselves, and establishing that their solutions are bigger than the platforms they support. No difference if its Microsoft, Sun, Apple, or whoever. The point is simple, elegant, and scalable.
And that’s all I have to say about that…