In its essence Business Intelligence (BI) is the function within organizations that helps it make data-driven decisions for both its tactical and strategic needs. In practice, Business Intelligence would refer to a bunch of technology applications and practices for collecting, transforming, analyzing and presenting data that makes business decision-makers make sound business decisions.
Today there are a plethora of BI tools in the market that are used to find data from various database sources and then analyze them to present information in the form of dashboards, charts, graphs etc that enables business folks to understate the state of their business historically, currently and what it could be in the future
Evolution of BI
Way back in 1970, Edgar Codd, a British computer scientist, while working for IBM, published a paper titled “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. This led to the next phase of relational databases where larger volumes of data could be stored and transformed. This was then called Decision Support Systems (DSS) that paved the way for the modern-day practice that we know as Business Intelligence
However, modern-day BI is much advanced with players such as Microsoft, SAP and IBM dominating the market. According to Gartner by 2022, the modern BI market will exceed $6.25 billion, with numerous jobs being created across many industries
What Business Functions Use BI
Practically all business functions need business intelligence for effective decision making but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on 3 main areas of a business
Finance: Finance managers need BI reports all the time, be it in the area of expense management, financial planning, working capital, cash flow management, knowing where the company stands with respect to finance is critical for successful decision making in any business
Sales and Marketing: A sales or marketing director working for any mid to large business needs to look at various types of reports daily. These reports can be around customer demographics, store locations, product sales per SKU etc. BI is also used for analyzing past sales and forecast future sales. In marketing, BI would widely be used to understand consumer sentiment, in market research, website visitor analysis and a whole host of other service areas.
Supply Chain Management: BI in Supply Chain Management finds its application in many ways, primary among those include, delivery timelines as against standard best practices, inventory details, costs incurred with transportation, vendor performance, on-time delivery, breakages in the supply chain, etc. Maintaining effective supply chains is critical for businesses as that could be the difference between making profits or losses for the entire business and therefore making data-driven decisions and fixing broken supply chains are of utmost importance.
So what does a BI analyst do? Here is an actual job description of a BI developer from a company called Bond Brand Loyalty based out of Mississauga, Canada
A typical day in this role might include:
● Working collaboratively with product owners, data engineers and users to develop a deep understanding of stakeholder requirements and business objectives
● Leading the design and development of consumer-facing reporting and analytics solutions, including data modelling and data visualization
● Supporting the prioritization and management of solution backlogs to achieve maximum business value
● Establishing effective and efficient feedback cycles with internal stakeholders, users and clients to validate solutions
● Proactively identifying data/reporting quality issues and working with peers to resolve them quickly
● Developing an in-depth understanding of business processes and data flows to build scalable solutions
● Implementing and encouraging consistent and high-quality design practices across the organization
If one observes closely there are a few skills that stand out – in terms of technical skills, one needs to know a data visualization tool such as Power BI, a data modelling tool such as SSIS and a database tool such as SQL. In terms of soft skills, one should have good communication and interpersonal skills along with the ability to work in a team
Business Intelligence is a skill for the future. A lot of skills that are required can be picked up by people who may not have a Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) background. In North America, there are a lot of jobs in this space and this could be a wonderful skill to
have if one is looking to change their career and move into a higher-paying role.