Ten Benefits of Business Intelligence Software

Friday Nov 19th 2010 by Drew Robb
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Business intelligence software benefits companies in many ways, 10 of which are detailed here.

Over the last decade, many companies have invested in business intelligence (BI) software to help them gain a better understanding of key business and sales metrics, and to predict future performance.

The sector continues to grow as companies are eager to make the most of limited resources with a business intelligence solution that can help them be more efficient, spot areas ripe for cost savings and identify new business opportunities.

Business Intelligence Benefits

Here are 10 ways business intelligence software can help your business:

1. Actionable Intelligence: A big reason BI is gaining so much ground is its ability to provide actionable intelligence.

"It is increasingly important to give business users tools that can provide simple and easy access to both the data in their legacy databases and the mountains of new data from geolocation coordinates, click-streams, apps and devices, server logs and so on via Hadoop," said Scott Gnau, CTO of Hortonworks. "These modern applications are key to uncovering actionable intelligence which ultimately drives business transformation."

2. Information Integration: Data tends to be spread around, trapped in various silos. The latest wave of BI tools is attempting to remove the barriers between those silos so that a holistic picture is formed based on multiple data sources. This provides much more accurate forecasts.

"Companies need to think in terms of data layers that are always connected; from the database, to the lake, data mart or warehouse, right up to the edge of the network," said Gnau.

Hortonworks Connected Data Platforms, for example, integrates Hadoop with BI tools so that business analysts can access the billions or trillions of objects of data in Hadoop directly from their favorite business intelligence applications without requiring data movement.

3. Sales Personalization: The contribution that business intelligence makes to the overall success of an enterprise cannot be overstated in today's digital economy, said Robin Schumacher, vice president of Products, DataStax.

"The personalized and targeted online experience a business delivers to its customers is one of the reasons -- along with cost savings -- online retailers average four-and-a-half times the sales per employee versus traditional brick-and-mortar companies that don't possess a strong digital presence," said Schumacher.

4. Speedy Answers: Traditional BI platforms have come a long way over the past decade. In the past, they used to glean intelligence from a relatively small subset of data overseen by specialists who were the only ones who could access and interpret the information. The business would ask a question and the specialist would get back to them a few days later with a response.

But the business intelligence and analytics used today is not the legacy BI of GUIs, RDBMS data warehouses and human analyst involvement. Instead, it is often machine-initiated and involves combining online transactional interactions with analytics and search operations at lightning-fast machine speeds.

"This is the type of BI sometimes referred to as hybrid transaction analytical processing (HTAP) or translytics," said Schumacher. "It enables businesses to effectively customize their customer's online experience with each interaction, which positively influences the buying process and enables them to win over their competition who isn't using modern BI methods."

5. Real-Time Decision Making: In the old days, data warehouses were used to aggregate data from different lines of business and departments. Business intelligence tools provided a unified view of operations for managers in order to identify opportunities for growth and efficiencies.  But this type of approach is losing ground to systems that make executive decisions in real time on the basis of current data.

"Rather than static analysis of past operations, modern Big Data platforms bring analytical capabilities to operational data in order to make decisions as business happens," said Crystal Valentine, vice president of Technology Strategy at MapR. "It is the desire to push past traditional intelligence and reporting capabilities that has driven the decline of legacy data warehousing technologies that we are seeing in the market. At the end of the day, insights are great but the ability to act on those insights in real time brings greater business value."

6. Everyman Analysis: As consumers, we now consume orders of magnitude more information compared to previous generations. The rise of the search engine and the smartphone made the world's information accessible to anyone on a 24/7 basis. New business intelligence technologies are positioned to bring similar changes to the business world.

"Historically, companies would spend many months trying to answer even a simple question that could easily be answered by the company's own data as getting, preparing and analyzing data were complex and manual processes," said Tomer Shiran, founder and CEO of Dremio. "In the next few years we'll see a major transformation in the world of data analytics, which will enable any business user or analyst to answer any question at any time."

7. Data Visualization: It's all very well to compile lists of important data points or use spreadsheets to organize and make sense of data. But executives, salespeople and business users demand instant insight, and that is being provided more and more by visualization tools. Increasingly, these offer a wide range of ways to view information.

"Also, as more data sources emerge, additional ways to visualize data are appearing," said Andy

McCartney, director of Product Marketing, Information Builders. "We have a large selection of visual formats and chart types, from deep ESRI integration to matrix charts to graphic variables to a comprehensive HTML5 chart library to custom D3 charts."

8. Self-Service Business Intelligence: Self service is a major benefit of modern BI and data visualization tools, said David Abramson, director of Product Management at Logi Analytics. Users have been able to leverage self-service visualization tools to create basic charts and graphs for some time, he said. However, this has proven to be inadequate for users who want to dig deeper into the data.

According to Abramson, advanced self-service capabilities enable users to create visualizations that are much more complex (e.g. trends, forecasting and complex calculations), diverse (e.g. geo-spatial visualizations, funnels and heatmaps) and interactive (e.g. support for real-time streaming data, custom filtering and user-defined drill down layers).

9. Mobile BI and Enhanced Information Access: It has become the norm in the consumer space to be able access the information you need, when you need it, regardless of time or place. For some time, therefore, business users have demanded the same functionality for enterprise apps. And BI has been quick to come to the party.

"The right data at the right moment can help clinch a deal, make an extra sale, serve a customer better and retain business that would otherwise have been lost," said Martha Bennett, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Whether it's liberating existing dashboards from the desktop, or re-architecting entire workflows around mobilizing key business data, many organizations are reaping the benefits of mobile BI."

10. Customized Apps with Built-In BI: Off-the-shelf BI and analytics tools don’t fit every use case, said Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester Research. Consequently, he has observed more users building customized applications with embedded BI and data visualization components. This is important as it takes design of visualization tools, in particular, out of the hands of BI specialists and allows those utilizing those tools to decide how they want to consume information.

These implementations include custom-coded BI apps, customized applications based on off-the-shelf BI platforms, and BI components embedded in operational and transactional applications.

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