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What is business intelligence?

Other than being sometimes called an oxymoron, what is Business Intelligence, or BI as it is commonly known?

Quite simply, BI is about using information to drive better business decisions. It is trying to take the guess work out of the decision making process by providing the accurate, timely and relevant information so the decision maker is better informed in the decision making process.  It is not about technology, nor about a brand or company.  It is providing the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make better decisions.

Business Intelligence forms part of Performance Management as it provides the information upon which we can then determine the direction we want the organisation to take.  It then dovetails with Planning to measure the likely impact a course of action might have on the organisation.  It is

1. measuring what has happened,

2. so you can ask the question why did it happen

3. and then plan for what will happen,

4. so you can measure how you went against that plan, and so on…

That’s the easy part.  Where it gets somewhat more complex is determining:

• What metrics have the highest impact on the performance of your organisation?

• Which people or processes have the highest impact on achieving your objectives?

• What information do these people need to deliver the greatest impact?

Before implementation

These vital questions need to be answered and then alongside them we need to consider:

• How much weight do you put on financial versus non-financial measures?

• Do you need to do it for a department, a geographic location or an entire enterprise?

• Where are your customers (users) located?

• How will you know if you have a positive or negative outcome – should you be analysing against a plan or forecast, against last year or last month?

• Do you have absolute buy in from your most senior executives?

• Should you go for the big bang or get some quick wins first?

• How to overcome the Kalgoorlie Effect (“the what” we hear you say)?

• Should you extract data directly from an ERP system or stage it first?

Business Intelligence can then be broken down into:

• Reporting

• Analysis

• Dashboards

• Scorecards

Each of these elements provides different ways for you to use your data.


Reporting could be as simple as a Daily Sales report, or a Monthly Management pack consisting of departmental Profit and Loss reports, company Balance Sheet, Cash Flow, Detailed Sales, Human Resource Changes, Debtor movements, Stock analysis, Sales Rep performance etc.  Usually, reports will be somewhat static, will provide prompts and filters built into the report and be delivered either as HTML, PDF or out to Excel.


Analysis on the other hand usually provides the user with an ad-hoc work space.  Somewhere where they can go with a specific question and dive into the data, to slice and dice it until they find what they are looking for.  For example, you can see in a report that gross profit of a particular product have fallen.  The obvious question is why?  Using an analysis tool could allow you to investigate the GP of that product over time, to assess which customers may have stopped buying, or in which region performance has dipped, or where a rep might be almost giving it away.


Dashboards provide the high level view of your organisation, showing the key metrics and reports, usually in a highly graphical form so that the reader can quickly see where there are opportunities for change.  Dashboards will usually not be the same for all users, rather they will be customised for groups of users and then have the data filtered so the correct information is displayed for the relevant user.  Typical dashboards would include highly graphical information that quickly conveys the information required so the user can then investigate further those issues requiring attention.


Scorecards allow your organisation to all sing from the same song sheet.  Take the concepts of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Key Risk Indicators and of Balance Scorecards flushed through your company so that the CEO key metrics are aligned with the person packing goods in the warehouse and with the Sales Representative in the field and the Financial Controller managing the cash flow.  Everyone pulling in the same direction. Everyone working from a common set of agreed objectives.

We implement the following products COGNOS  for BI

  • IBM Cognos Framework Manager
  • IBM Cognos Report Studio
  • IBM Cognos Analysis Studio
  • IBM Cognos Metric Studio