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Business Intelligence [BI] Tools

Business intelligence tools are software designed to integrate business intelligence [BI] into business processes using analysis, and at-a-glance presentation of performance data.

There are four key requisites of good business intelligence tools:

  1. the information delivered is reliable
  2. it is in a format that can readily be utilized by the user
  3. is delivered within the users current environment
  4. is provided fast enough to support decision making

While some business intelligence tools include ETL functionality, ETL tools are generally not considered business intelligence tools.

Like most technology, there is a continuum of business intelligence tools:

  • MS Excel - excel is a cheap, simple reporting tool capable of processing algorithms too complex for most reporting tools. For this reason, most OLAP and reporting tools have Excel Export functions to provide for tasks requiring more complex analysis
  • Reporting Tools - may be either commercial reporting tools or custom built. Most provide some flexibility enabling each user to create, schedule, and run their own reports. Business operations reporting and dashboard are the most common applications for a reporting tool. Many reporting tools are now web-based, such as Microsoft Reporting
  • OLAP - OLAP tools are a more advanced BI tool, used to look at data from multiple dimensions.
  • Data Mining - Data mining tools are generally only used by very specialized users. They are used to identify correlation among different factors.


BI Technology

BI technology includes:

  • a secure computer system which can specify different levels of user access to the data warehouse
  • sufficient data capacity
  • data management plan - updates, retention, standards
  • peformance QA - benchmarks and performance targets for the system.
  • analysis tools


BI Tools

Business intelligence software tools gather and analyze large quantities of unstructured data, such as production metrics, sales statistics, attendance reports, and customer attrition figures.

To date, BI vendors have typically developed Business intelligence systems to suit the demands of different sectors [e.g., retail companies, financial services companies, etc.]. This means that not all tools work harmoniously together.


Types of Business Intelligence Tools

There are many types of business intelligence tools, each one serving a particular function, and supporting decisions in particular roles in the organisation.

BI applications differ according to their intended use.

Analyze performance, projects, or internal operations, such as AQL - Associative Query Logic

  • Scorecarding
  • Business Activity Monitoring
  • Business Performance Measurement and Management Dashboards
  • Business Planning
  • Business Process Re-engineering
  • Competitive Analysis
  • User/End-user Query and Reporting
  • Enterprise Management systems
  • Executive Information Systems [EIS]
  • Supply Chain Management/Demand Chain Management
  • Finance and Budgeting
  • Data mining [DM], Data Farming, and Data warehouses
  • Decision Support Systems [DSS] and Forecasting
  • Document warehouses and Document Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Mapping, Information visualization, and Dashboarding;
  • Management Information Systems [MIS]
  • Geographic Information Systems [GIS]
  • Trend Analysis
  • Software as a service [SaaS] - an On Demand solution hosted for customers by a provider
  • Online analytical processing [OLAP] and multi-dimensional analysis - often called "Analytics" [based on the "hypercube" or "cube"]
  • Real time business intelligence
  • Statistics and Technical Data Analysis
  • Web Mining, Text mining
  • Systems Intelligence

Other BI applications are used to analyze or manage the "human" side of businesses, such as Customer Relationship Management [CRM] and Marketing tools and Human Resources applications. Web Personalization is also now being driven by BI tools.

For simplicity, these tools may be grouped into four main categories:

  1. Executive Dashboards
  2. OLAP Decision Support
  3. Data Mining Tools
  4. Business Performance Management [BPM]

Executive Dashboards

Executive Dashboards are known by many names, including:

  • Digital Dashboards
  • Business Intelligence Dashboards
  • Enterprise Dashboards
  • Scorecards

Regardless of the name, these reporting tools are visual summaries of business data to provide an 'at-a-glance' understanding of current business conditions. They incorporate a number of metrics and Key Performance Indicators [KPIs]. Executive dashboards have become a very popular BI tool that in the last few years. More on Executive Dashboards


Online Analytical Processing, commonly known as OLAP [including HOLAP, ROLAP and MOLAP] provide a decision support capability and executive information system to support interactive analysis of large amounts of data from many perspectives.

OLAP reporting software generates aggregated views of data to keep the management informed about the state of their business.

Data Mining

Data mining is the extraction of consumer information from a database using software that is capable of isolating and identifying previously unknown patterns or trends in large amounts of data. Data mining tools are therefore designed to store and analyze large volumes of data.

Different data mining techniques reveal different types of patterns. Some techniques are based on Statistical methods [particularly Business statistics] and very advanced means of analysing data use Neural Networks.

Business Performance Management [BPM]

BPM tools incorporate a degree of several of the above BI tools. They generally integrate to business processes to provide real time and delayed reporting of key business functions, such that when performance declines, alerts are raised, and intervention can be taken in a timely manner.

By reducing the number of BI tools in your organization you can save money, have more confidence in and control over business data, and provide business users with the information they need to do their jobs well.

Research Paper: IDC Report - "Worldwide Business Intelligence Tools 2006 Vendor Share" [Released July 2007]


NEXT: Uses For Business Intelligence Tools

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