By Andreea Andrei, Marketing and Business Administration Executive at The Cloud Computing and SaaS Awards

This article is part of an A to Z series by Cloud and SaaS Awards, continuing with B for Business Intelligence (BI)

Business Intelligence (BI) refers to the use of strategies and tools that transform information into knowledge, with the aim of improving the decision-making process in a company. In the midst of the digital age, making well-informed decisions is one of the main differentiating factors of companies.

Within the world of BI, there are multiple possible solutions. As each company has its own processes, a completely valid solution for some companies may not be for others. An example can be given through the automotive sector. While for one company the perfect solution can be a city car, for another it can be a 4×4, a minivan or a truck, etc. There will even be one that will need a whole fleet of vehicles. This is why in this article we will go over all possible solutions Business Intelligence has to offer.

Business Intelligence solutions and tools

Within the BI solutions, there are different options. By relying on rapidly developing technologies, these solutions can cover new aspects and improve others. So those that were covered first will give way to others that will emerge over time.

In any case, the most common solutions (all together or just some of them) are those based on the creation of both predefined and customized reports, together with their automated distribution (reporting or corporate reporting).

Some solutions would be:

  • The forecast of results
  • Query tools for advanced users, including access to multidimensional cubes (OLAP)
  • Dashboards (scorecards)
  • Special data warehouses (datamarts).

In fact, BI solutions are in a process of transformation. They range from systems used for corporate data measurement and reporting to systems that support analytics, predictions, and data discovery capabilities. In this way we can see that Business Intelligence relies heavily on Big Data through its data analysis and data development.

Why are BI solutions required and how do they help us?

Years ago, the company focus was on having management programs that improve the day-to-day tasks. These programs are basically called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). Keep in mind that there are very diverse and with many functionalities. They allow us to control aspects, such as delivery notes, orders, invoices, customers, products, manufacturing, accounting, sales, and even payroll.

There are also other programs, such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management), to control sales activities. With the use of all these computing solutions, a lot of data that used to be wasted but can be stored and used again. In fact, ERPs or CRMs usually have a series of predefined reports to provide us with information about certain functionalities (sales reports, for example).

In any case, they are not usually completely thorough and they are assembled according to the data they recognize and own. If we use a different computer program in our company, it will only be valid for our data, so it will not be possible to have a joint vision. In addition, the structure in which they are formatted is not optimal for their exploitation. That is where Business Intelligence solutions come in, to solve all these shortcoming and limitations.

Business Intelligence services – a differentiator for companies

To see how these technologies are used, we will give the example of companies where all the functionalities and processes of BI are required.  Let’s imagine a business that has different software programs in use: an ERP, a program specially developed to control its production systems, a CRM, etc.

Although it is not always necessary to cross-reference data from one system to all the others, it must be done to some extent. This implies that it has to be done externally. For example, in spreadsheets, advanced users collect data from different systems and cross-reference it.

It can be considered an error-prone system, apart from being expensive (always needs available staff), and slow (the staff has to prepare the type of information required in each case).

BI solutions allow you to prepare it in advance: there are different types of solutions (for example those based on metadata), but the best known are those of special data warehouses.

BI solutions allow these data to be available, having previously processed them to correct and/or rule out errors (errors, such as dates from other centuries, misspelled geographical areas, etc., are common). In addition to storing them with the previous groupings that are required (geographical, by type of business, and others), any report, dashboard, etc. will be much more efficient.

Examples of Business Intelligence companies from previous Cloud and SaaS Awards winners

Software and services are integral to functional BI, but they are useless without the people that power them.

Insights on BI personnel from our BI and Analytics expert, judge Chris Southall

BI applications need to fully understand the needs of the modern business, and the complex issues around historical account systems, but also the new accounting systems delivered by legacy providers. Addressing business needs and delivering of a comprehensive accounting product that stands out from the rest is expected. Really impressive dashboarding and a powerful dashboard builder tool should be provided as standard.

There are 3 key factors which I look for when interviewing candidates for business intelligence analyst or developer roles. These are: problem solving, technical skills and people skills.

Usually, people will put emphasis and weight towards computer science qualifications, business acumen, and industry knowledge, which, in specialized cases, I do agree with. However, the vast majority of business intelligence jobs will be working on the federated business intelligence departments, on a vast variety of data and business intelligence solutions, for multi-faceted international organization, or, indeed, there is a consultant working for countless clients in completely different market sectors and geographic regions. And so, most definitely in industry knowledge, I do not consider this to be a major factor. Similarly, with business acumen you will generally work either as a consultant or for an individual company with MVP, so having business acumen is of little importance.

Computer science qualifications is a tricky one; historically I deemed them to be more important, but over the last five years, I’ve considered them to be less so, due to a rapidly changing suite of BI products and technologies. The analysts and developers will be utilising their day-to-day roles in a completely different place now than 15 years ago. Thus, even if you’ve got somebody in their early 30s with a 15-year-old degree, it’s almost certainly outdated. So, in my view, a great business intelligence analyst and developer can, in the majority of cases, be business and data agnostic.

So, what is the great importance of problem solving and technical skills? I think those two go hand in hand, equally weighted as the highest priorities. Some of the best in business intelligence analysts and developers that I know had zero technical skills at the point of hiring them, but they demonstrated such great levels for problem solving that I knew they could learn the technical skillset and apply the problem solving in synergy. Technical skills can be easily learned via textbooks and online courses, and can be easily assessed via a quick look at academic qualifications. Can this person technically learn something? Tick yes, they can, as they did so on multiple subject areas at college and university.  

What cannot be so easily learned or, even perhaps, not possibly learned at all is problem solving. The analytical problem-solving mindset is one that I think, during your formative years, you either developed or did not develop, so it’s much much harder to try and teach. This is the reason why I focus on this area during the interview process. I try and deep dive into problem solving experiences from the past and also fictitious scenarios that may arise in the future. Of course, I do not do this in standalone to any technical knowledge. Some technical knowledge and experience is great because they can use their problem solving skills on real life products which are already used within your business or have a transferable skill set, but, for me, the problem solving does take precedence.

Finally are the people skills, they may be weighted slightly less than problem solving and technical skills for me because, again, like the technical skills, you can train people in this area and I rely on age and experience when looking to assess people skills. But, nevertheless, it is still a key area, as business intelligence analysts and developers will spend large amounts of time talking with their direct line managers, business analysts and the business itself directly and so, people skills are key in effectively communicating through these vital business processes and interactions.

The future of Business Intelligence

The evolution in Business Intelligence will require a substantial advance in network structures. The future of BI will determine the expansion of the Internet infrastructure to adapt it to large amounts of data and allow the seamless flow of information. Such changes are already taking place with advances in the cloud.

This article is just an introduction to the world of business intelligence. BI offers real-time sales tracking capabilities, allows users to discover insights into customer behavior, forecast profits, and more.

Various industries such as retail, insurance, and oil have embraced BI, and more are  joining every year. BI platforms adapt to new technologies and the innovation of their users. This is why we offer a BI category of awards in our SaaS Awards and Cloud Awards programs, where innovative data insights through Business Intelligence software and tools are recognized.