Business intelligence is an increasingly popular approach to making data-driven decisions. Here, we unpack what it means and how it works.

Guide to BI

What is business intelligence?

Modern Business Intelligence (BI) is a term that refers to the collection, organisation and analysis of a business’s data to present insights that can drive better decision-making and optimise performance.


Why is business intelligence important?

Business intelligence is important because it allows users to bring multiple data sources together and gain a 360-degree view of their business.

Gone are the days when data was limited to spreadsheets and physical databases. In the modern business world, we generate an unimaginable amount of data regarding customers, performance, marketing, sales, finances… the list goes on.

All this data is siloed, meaning it’s contained in separate sources and often goes unused. Without a 360 view, it’s hard for managers to see the bigger picture when it comes to how their business is performing.


How does business intelligence work?

Business intelligence brings together all your separate data sources, presenting them in a visual, easy-to-digest format – a ‘single source of truth’.

Analyses are presented in the form of clear reports or dashboards that contain information on your business KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

You can choose your KPIs based on what is important for your business, such as turnover, profit, customer satisfaction, employee turnover. The possibilities are endless!


Example business intelligence dashboard
An example of a Power BI dashboard, mocked up with fictitious data


What problems can BI solve, and how can it help an organisation?

Tracking and benchmarking the KPIs of your business gives you a great insight into overall performance. Plus, data is live and available in real time.

It’s not just about reports, though – BI allows users to view trends and insights as they happen.

This is a huge shift from the traditional end-of-month ordeal, wherein managers could be spending a day or two collating and manipulating data to present to their board or team.

Not only does this save valuable time, but it also provides full transparency of your operations, empowering managers with the ability to respond to performance niggles or operation inefficiencies as they occur.


How can business intelligence support decision making?

The ability to view insights and spot internal trends in real time allows businesses to act quickly and improve inefficiencies before the opportunity has passed and the data becomes irrelevant. This eliminates the guesswork and intuition so often involved in business decisions.

The ‘single source of truth’ method means that, rather than coming from several different sources, data from different areas of the business can all be measured as one against the same metrics.

So, business intelligence can be adopted throughout an organisation, with all departments basing their decisions on the same data. From experienced data analysts to those with no technical background, all employees can benefit from self-service business intelligence analytics.


What tools and systems are available? Which is best?

There are countless BI solutions out there, but Microsoft Power BI is widely regarded as one of the best.

The Power BI service enables users to quickly visualise and analyse data, in a way that is easy to understand. Based in the cloud, it can connect users to data kept both in the cloud and on premise, allowing for a 360-degree view of the business.

Power BI tools allow multiple people in an organisation to work together on the same data, collaborate on reports and share insights.


Examples of business intelligence in use

Business intelligence is not a one size fits all solution and can be used by businesses of all sizes and sectors. As well as enabling you to monitor performance, business intelligence allows you to translate data with greater speed and efficiency, so you can turn insights into strategic actions. Here are some examples of businesses around the world that have made use of an effective business intelligence strategy:

  • Since the pandemic struck, Power BI has been used by Govia Thameslink Railway to pull together essential service information such as ticketing and HR data. Leadership, planners and managers can access self-service analysis and reporting anytime, anywhere in order to revise train timetables, prioritise key workers’ routes to hospitals and health centres, and provide support around shift times.
  • US basketball team Miami Heat has made savings of over $1M using insights from Power BI to gain a 360-degree view of customers, operations and fan engagement. Employees receive information to their mobiles regarding how many people are in the building, customers’ spending habits and which entrances they are using, enabling them to improve flow and reassign resources instantly. They also use BI to integrate information about online retail and social media engagement – by segmenting and retargeting customers using stored fan profiles, they have grown the business by a factor of 10 and achieved a 20-times ROI on social media.
  • Metro Bank has continued to expand following the introduction of Power BI throughout the business. It’s used to track call times, customer demographics and shift scheduling within their call centre; transaction types and volumes from online customers; and peak activity times within branches. Now, Metro Bank managers across the country can better serve their customers and understand what’s happening in all areas of the business.


Want to learn more about business intelligence and Power BI?

Air IT is a Microsoft Gold Partner with a dedicated, expert BI team. If you’d like to learn more about BI, you can download our free webinar presented by Darren Turner, Head of BI. We’ll be talking you through the benefits of business intelligence, how to make it work for your business, and how to devise your own Power BI plan. Click the link below to download and view at your leisure!

What is business intelligence

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