Business intelligence, or BI, can seem like a process that involves a lot of time, effort and money. However, that’s not entirely true. In reality, BI is about applying strategy, analytics, data, and KPIs to your business processes so that they run more smoothly. So regardless of whether you’re dealing with Excel spreadsheets worth of data or a whole data lake and years of archived stuff, you can still benefit from some BI basics.
Today, we’re going to look at what BI is, how it helps businesses, and how you can get started today.
What is Business Intelligence?
We’ve talked before about making data-driven decisions. And for us, business intelligence is an extension and formalization of that behaviour. That is, to make effective business decisions, organizations need to use data. However, to do that, they need a plan to:
- Understand what data to access
- Understand what data to use
- Understand what success looks like (KPIs)
- Build reports to track progress.
Business intelligence is the methodology that brings these things to bear in a meaningful way. It’s the processes of how you analyze data and turn those insights into business action.
How BI can Help Businesses
So how can business intelligence help businesses? There are a few key ways.
First, BI gives you a methodology and framework to follow to let you be a data-driven company. This basically turns a nebulous concept into something much more concrete.
Second, BI can give you a way to hedge your decisions, reducing risk and leading to better, more methodological choices.
And finally, BI gives you the ability to create predictable, repeatable results. It gives you the ability to cause some (hopefully positive) outcome and then do that again and again because you know how you got there.
Four steps to getting started with BI
Now let’s get to the good stuff. Here’s what you need to do to get started with BI, and build a BI system that serves you.
1. Build the right data
BI is all about data. Not just any data, but the correct data. So you need first to understand what data you need to have access to in order to execute a BI strategy.
To get that data, you need to have a clear idea of what your organization is trying to achieve, in the form of high-level business objectives. Once you have that, you can extrapolate out KPIs and, in then, a list of the data that you need. You’ll also need external data sources so that you can benchmark your success/failure to a broader industry average
2. Find the data you need
Now that you have a good idea of what data you need, you have to go and get it. This means:
Identifying and accessing your primary data. This is data that’s generated by your customers using your product or service (e.g. an app feeding usage data).
Identifying and accessing your secondary sources. This is the stuff most people think about — the CRM, your CMS, marketing automation tools, sales/product data, project management data, etc...
Identifying and accessing your tertiary sources. This is the third party stuff that is purchased or acquired from outside your organization.
3. Build the right roadmap
You’re almost there. Now that you have an idea of what you need and the data itself, it’s time to build a roadmap.
A BI roadmap is when you lay out exactly what your BI will do, how the people who need it will use it, and any specific requirements you have. This work should be a natural extension of your data planning steps. Frequently, it’s a matter of merely marrying steps (1) and (2) by taking the high-level objective in (1) and building out a KPI framework from the data in two.
Naturally, 1, 2, and 3, all often overlap heavily in terms of time, and the order. However, generally, we find getting an idea of what needles you’re moving and where those needles are, lead to better road maps. But hey, it’s your show.
4. Build the right team
Finally, building your team. All this BI work doesn’t just happen. You need a dedicated team.
We recommend the following functions, although, for smaller projects, some /all of these will be filled by the same person:
A database pro. You need someone to manage your databases. This is only the case if the BI team has a DB to lead. If not (and it’s often the case BI pulls from data sources rather than managing their own) then you can probably give this a miss.
A BI developer. Speaking of integrations, you’re going to need a developer to build integrations to get all the data you need where it needs to go. Behind the data scientist, this is probably the most crucial role, because there’s too much work here to borrow resources from other internal teams (contrary to what the CFO might say).
A data scientist. Data scientists specialize in crawling through vast amounts of data and finding trends, correlations, and themes, and (ideally) weaving those into stories that everyone else can follow. If you’re working with larger data sets, a data scientist is mission-critical to the BI team.
A data visualization pro. Finally, a designer. You need someone to turn all those lovely, albeit dry, reports into cool tools and visualization that help tell the data story in a way that users can understand and follow. It’s also essential that your tool if you’re building one, is easy to use and easy to understand — two things a designer can help with.
Business intelligence doesn't have to only be for enterprise organizations. Anyone can take the methodology and apply it to their process, bringing rigour and data to an otherwise nebulous concept of “data-driven decision making.”
The core of the idea is simple: get the data you need, put it in a usable format, distribute it to your team, and then track performance against both historical data via KPIs and third-party benchmarks. By using BI, you can create better business outcomes that — critically — repeat again and again.
Moreover, with the right process in place, the right data, and the right team, you really can’t go wrong with BI.
Got more BI questions? We’ve for more than enough answers. Get in touch to learn more.