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Business intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) is the set of techniques and tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes.

Business intelligence


Business intelligence (BI) is the set of techniques and tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes. BI technologies are capable of handling large amounts of unstructured data to help identify, develop and otherwise create new strategic business opportunities. The goal of BI is to allow for the easy interpretation of these large volumes of data. Identifying new opportunities and implementing an effective strategy based on insights can provide businesses with a competitive market advantage and long-term stability.


BI technologies provide historical, current and predictive views of business operations. Common functions of business intelligence technologies are reporting, online analytical processing, analytics, data mining, process mining, complex event processing, business performance management, benchmarking, text mining, predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics.


1 Components


Business intelligence is made up of an increasing number of components including:


          Multidimensional aggregation and allocation


          De normalization, tagging and standardization


          Real time reporting with analytical alert


          A method of interfacing with unstructured data sources


          Group consolidation, budgeting and rolling forecasts


          Statistical inference and probabilistic simulation


          Key performance indicators optimization


          Version control and process management


          Open item management


2 Applications in an enterprise


Business intelligence can be applied to the following business purposes, in order to drive business value.


          Measurement – program that creates a hierarchy of performance metrics (see also Metrics Reference Model) and benchmarking that informs business leaders about progress towards business goals (business process management).


          Analytics – program that builds quantitative processes for a business to arrive at optimal decisions and to perform business knowledge discovery. Frequently involves: data mining, process mining, statistical analysis, predictive analytics, predictive modeling, business process modeling, data lineage, complex event processing and prescriptive analytics.


          Reporting/enterprise reporting – program that builds infrastructure for strategic reporting to serve the strategic management of a business, not operational reporting. Frequently involves data visualization, executive information system and OLAP.


          Collaboration/collaboration platform – program that gets different areas (both inside and outside the business) to work together through data sharing and electronic data interchange.


          Knowledge management – program to make the company data driven through strategies and practices to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences that are true business knowledge. Knowledge management leads to learning management and regulatory compliance.


In addition to the above, business intelligence can provide a pro-active approach, such as alert functionality that immediately notifies the end-user if certain conditions are met. For example, if some business metric exceeds a pre-defined threshold, the metric will be highlighted in standard reports, and the business analyst may be alerted via email or another monitoring service. This end-to-end process requires data governance, which should be handled by the expert.


3 Prioritization of projects


It can be difficult to provide a positive business case for business intelligence initiatives, and often the projects must be prioritized through strategic initiatives. BI projects can attain higher prioritization within the organization if managers consider the following:


As described by Kimball the BI manager must determine the tangible benefits such as eliminated cost of producing legacy reports.


Data access for the entire organization must be enforced. In this way even a small benefit, such as a few minutes saved, makes a difference when multiplied by the number of employees in the entire organization.


As described by Ross, Weil & Roberson for Enterprise Architecture, managers should also consider letting the BI project be driven by other business initiatives with excellent business cases. To support this approach, the organization must have enterprise architects who can identify suitable business projects.



Using a structured and quantitative methodology to create defensible prioritization in line with the actual needs of the organization, such as a weighted decision matrix.


4 Success factors of implementation


According to Kimball et al., there are three critical areas that organizations should assess before getting ready to do a BI project:


            The level of commitment and sponsorship of the project from senior management


            The level of business need for creating a BI implementation


            The amount and quality of business data available.


5 Business sponsorship


The commitment and sponsorship of senior management is according to Kimball et al., the most important criteria for assessment. This is because having strong management backing helps overcome shortcomings elsewhere in the project. However, as Kimball et al. state: ―even the most elegantly designed DW/BI system cannot overcome a lack of business [management] sponsorship‖.


It is important that personnel who participate in the project have a vision and an idea of the benefits and drawbacks of implementing a BI system. The best business sponsor should have organizational clout and should be well connected within the organization. It is ideal that the business sponsor is demanding but also able to be realistic and supportive if the implementation runs into delays or drawbacks. The management sponsor also needs to be able to assume accountability and to take responsibility for failures and setbacks on the project.


Support from multiple members of the management ensures the project does not fail if one person leaves the steering group. However, having many managers work together on the project can also mean that there are several different interests that attempt to pull the project in different directions, such as if different departments want to put more emphasis on their usage. This issue can be countered by an early and specific analysis of the business areas that benefit the most from the implementation. All stakeholders in project should participate in this analysis in order for them to feel ownership of the project and to find common ground.


Another management problem that should be encountered before start of implementation is if the business sponsor is overly aggressive. If the management individual gets carried away by the possibilities of using BI and starts wanting the DW or BI implementation to include several different sets of data that were not included in the original planning phase. However, since extra implementations of extra data may add many months to the original plan, it's wise to make sure the person from management is aware of their actions.


6 Business needs


Because of the close relationship with senior management, another critical thing that must be assessed before the project begins is whether or not there is a business need and whether there is a clear business benefit by doing the implementation. The needs and benefits of the implementation are sometimes driven by competition and the need to gain an advantage in the market. Another reason for a business-driven approach to implementation of BI is the acquisition of other organizations that enlarge the original organization it can sometimes be beneficial to implement DW or BI in order to create more oversight.


Companies that implement BI are often large, multinational organizations with diverse subsidiaries. A well-designed BI solution provides a consolidated view of key business data not available anywhere else in the organization, giving management visibility and control over measures that otherwise would not exist.


7 Amount and quality of available data


Without proper data, or with too little quality data, any BI implementation fails; it does not matter how good the management sponsorship or business-driven motivation is. Before implementation it is a good idea to do data profiling. This analysis identifies the ―content, consistency and structure ―of the data. This should be done as early as possible in the process and if the analysis shows that data is lacking, put the project on hold temporarily while the IT department figures out how to properly collect data.


When planning for business data and business intelligence requirements, it is always advisable to consider specific scenarios that apply to a particular organization, and then select the business intelligence features best suited for the scenario.


Often, scenarios revolve around distinct business processes, each built on one or more data sources. These sources are used by features that present that data as information to knowledge workers, who subsequently act on that information. The business needs of the organization for each business process adopted correspond to the essential steps of business intelligence. These essential steps of business intelligence include but are not limited to:


Go through business data sources in order to collect needed data


Convert business data to information and present appropriately


Query and analyze data


Act on the collected data


The quality aspect in business intelligence should cover all the process from the source data to the final reporting. At each step, the quality gates are different:


            1.  Source Data:


              Data Standardization: make data comparable


              Master Data Management: unique referential


              Operational Data Store (ODS):


              Data Cleansing: detect & correct inaccurate data


            o Data Profiling: check inappropriate value, null/empty


            3.  Data warehouse:


              o  Completeness: check that all expected data are loaded

              Referential integrity: unique and existing referential over all sources


              Consistency between sources: check consolidated data vs. sources




              Uniqueness of indicators: only one share dictionary of indicators


              Formula accuracy: local reporting formula should be avoided or checked


BI Portals


            A Business Intelligence portal (BI portal) is the primary access interface for Data Warehouse (DW) and Business Intelligence (BI) applications. The BI portal is the user's first impression of the DW/BI system. It is typically a browser application, from which the user has access to all the individual services of the DW/BI system, reports and other analytical functionality. The BI portal must be implemented in such a way that it is easy for the users of the DW/BI application to call on the functionality of the application.


            The BI portal's main functionality is to provide a navigation system of the DW/BI application. This means that the portal has to be implemented in a way that the user has access to all the functions of the DW/BI application.


            The most common way to design the portal is to custom fit it to the business processes of the organization for which the DW/BI application is designed, in that way the portal can best fit the needs and requirements of its users.


            The BI portal needs to be easy to use and understand, and if possible have a look and feel similar to other applications or web content of the organization the DW/BI application is designed for (consistency).


            The following is a list of desirable features for web portals in general and BI portals in particular:




            User should easily find what they need in the BI tool.


                 Content Rich


            The portal is not just a report printing tool; it should contain more functionality such as advice, help, support information and documentation.




            The portal should be designed so it is easily understandable and not over complex as to confuse the users




            The portal should be updated regularly.





            The portal should be implemented in a way that makes it easy for the user to use its functionality and encourage them to use the portal. Scalability and customization give the user the means to fit the portal to each user.


                 Value Oriented


            It is important that the user has the feeling that the DW/BI application is a valuable resource that is worth working on.



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