Business Intelligence – What is it?

To some it is an oxmoron, like in Engineering we joke about a Civil Engineer (there is no such thing as a civil Engineer – ie refined – we are all uncouth).  I remember meeting with someone on the business side of an organization and as we were talking about a specific problem she was having and I said you should talk to Paul, he is the Director of Business Intelligence – she looked at me with a blank stare and said huh? 

She is not alone in working to understand what Business Intelligence (BI) is and how it directly adds value to the business.  In the Think Big Data Warehouse conference Claudia Imhoff, Co-Founder and President of Intelligent Solutions gave a great Keynote address titled Business Intelligence Not Intuition will Enhance Your Company’s Competitive Edge.  It was described as:
Drowning in data but starved for information? You are not alone.  Most executives today state that their number one problem is a lack of intelligence about where their company is going.  The need for BI is greater today that ever.  So what exactly is BI?

I really enjoyed the session and took some notes and will leverage these notes as a discussion on what BI is.

Business Intelligence is an environment not a technology that consists of the following characteristics:

  • Reliable
  • Consistent
  • Believable
  • Understandable
  • Easily manipulated
  • Flexible

that is used to yield an overall understanding of:

  • where we have been – historical intelligence
  • where we are now – real/time or active intelligence
  • where will it be in the future – predictive intelligence

I think there needs to be a major mind shift as there has been in the
business strategy to this being an approach to viewing your business.
As we have been talking about IT strategy and how it should be
approached in some other posts we talked about it being about the
support of the business and a live activity.

The calling it an environment is well suited to this sort of approach
to understanding your business.  By calling it an environment we are
allowing for the thinking about the pieces that male up our environment:

  • approach
  • culture
  • people
  • process
  • technology
  • constraints
  • among many others.

If we approach it as an environent, then we should be able to drive
great value and change based upon what we can learn about ourselves,
maybe even do an environmental study and health check.

One of the things people will need to define for themselves (and I
would do this as guiding principles) is what this environment means to
them and their business.  In most cases BI does two things:

  • Monitors the Financial and Operational health of the organization
  • Regulates the operation of the organization

But this needs to be interactive.  To know and not do is to not know.
So you need to link the BI into actionable activities otherwise the BI
has no value.

  1. Stephen Reply

    It is funny that you talk about people comparing you to others when you aren’t sure what the numbers mean.
    I remember back in the dot com days when having an emergency meeting with the founders about a failure of a project (late and overbudget) and he said we are better than most as the average is that 50% of IT projects fail.
    I was dumbfounded that the status-quo was a fair measuring stick.

  2. Jim Reply

    When you have to explain a joke is like a missed metaphor. OK, MIP have you ever met a civil engineer? Most of them are not civil.
    On the business intelligence front, I am fascinated by the potential. I am on the finance committee of my golf club and presented with a lot of data. I find it hard to tease out the trends and intelligence that the numbers should be telling me. Frustrating. Our auditors come in and tell us that we are doing well in comparison with other club like us. My intuition tells me that is not helpful. We just may not be going down the tube as fast.
    I recall when we ran Gellman Hayward much of the financials did not tell us what I wanted to know soon enough. We then developed other reports that helped alot. Graphs were really good ways of seeing the trends. However not before we got into financial difficulty because a financial screwup which we should have seen but did not demand of ourselves to understand the numbers. Up to that time I had figured if we look after the business the other stuff would look after itself. Wrong. We need to understand what the data means in the context of Stephen’s three questions, where have we been, where are we now and where are we going. Tough questions but I would guess the answers are there.

  3. Stephen Reply

    Thanks for catching that mip. The reference (now fixed in the original blog) was to the fact that there is no such thing as a civil Engineer (in this case I am talking about a refined southern grace civil).
    It was always a joke in Engineering school and the Engineers I hung out with were far from civil. We worked hard and played hard and some of us played really hard.
    The point I was trying to make though was the word play on Business Intelligence and the fact that someone on the business side thought that having someone in IT who was the Director of this role seemed like an oxy-moron.

  4. mip Reply

    Good post – but I don’t get the joke about Civil Engineering at all? What does W have to do with Engineering?

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