Data is the lifeblood of any business. The information a company generates and accesses. Along with data analysis techniques used to support business decision-making processes. Is essential to the success of modern business. Let’s take a closer look at What is Business Intelligence and why it’s critical to the success of today’s companies.

What is Business Intelligence

What Is Business Intelligence

BI tools access data from internal and external sources and help users analyze the information. Reports, dashboards, charts, graphs, and other data visualizations tools are used to display the collected data. Business intelligence provides users with detailed information that answers the question, “What’s the current state of the business?”

A Brief History of Business Intelligence

What Is Business Intelligence

The term “business intelligence” dates back to the 1860s. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s when the more modern definition of the word took hold. Howard Dresner, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory services and widely considered the “godfather” of BI. Dresner created a general business intelligence definition. Which is “concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems.”

In the 1990s, the practice of business intelligence became more mainstream as vendors entered the field. Vendors created data warehouses, decision support systems, and executive information systems. All of which, are the critical components of BI today.

Business Intelligence and Analytics: What’s the Difference?

Business Intelligence and Analytics_ What’s the Difference

Business Intelligence

Today, business intelligence has evolved. From a business reporting tool or decision support system. Thanks, in part, to the rise of powerful and easy-to-use business analytics (BA) systems. It’s not surprising to see the terms business intelligence and business analytics used interchangeably. Both processes work in concert with each other. However, there are important differences between the two.

Business intelligence is a descriptive analytics. Leveraging past and current data to describe the state of the business as it exists today. It answers the questions of what happened, when, who, and how many.

Business Analytics

Business analytics, on the other hand, mines data to predict where your business is headed. Based on various future scenarios, and then prescribes actions to maximize beneficial outcomes.

BA answers more open-ended questions such as why did something happen or what could happen if you change a variable. Put these two together and you get the follow kind of an example. Looking at a report on last year’s business sales is BI. Getting a prediction about next year’s sales is BA.

How Does Business Intelligence Work?

How Does Business Intelligence Work

Now that you have a business intelligence definition let’s examine how BI works for an organization. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Are you familiar with the famous phrase? It sums up how people or society will continue to follow the wrong course of action. Because they haven’t critically examined what happened in the past.

Applying the same principle to business is how BI works. People can easily search for the data they need to identify trends and analyze the current state of the company. Making use of such data enables a company to make sound business decisions. BI might not tell business people what to do next, but it does inform them about what is and isn’t working.

For Example

A state health care authority can use BI tools to examine the number of unnecessary emergency room visits. By sharing data and using the information to devise ways to manage patients better, they can streamline their operations. Or, a retailer can use BI to identify purchasing and operational trends that can then be analyzed to bolster thin margins. Additionally, daily operations can be streamlined across all departments of a company by analyzing the data and taking action. If these companies didn’t use BI to examine the current state of their business. They would likely be doomed and repeat their failing courses of action.

The Evolution of Business Intelligence Solutions

The Evolution of Business Intelligence Solutions - Digital Entrepreneur Tools

In the early days of BI tools. IT professionals and data analysts were the primary users. Running analyses and producing reports for other business users in the enterprise. These kinds of in-house transactional reports are still in use today. However, due to being in a regulated industry, data governance is required. For example, the financial or healthcare industries are both regulated.

Thanks to cloud computing, BI platforms are evolving into agile, self-service BI. The self-serve BI solutions include data discovery tools. Plus dashboards that allow business executives and workers to use BI tools themselves and analyze data more quickly. The main difference between these two BI tools is how the company shares and stores its data.

Data Collected From Diverse Sources

In the first example, the data is retained in-house and managed by the IT department. The BI solutions sit “on top” of the data. For self-service BI, often the information is shared with the cloud-based provider of the platform. Sharing the data in the cloud allows for faster, albeit sometimes not as accurate, reporting, and analysis. The second difference is the number of data sources.

While the majority of corporate data sources include data produced from enterprise applications. There is an increased importance of newly generated cloud-based and social network data. Today’s self-service and cloud-based BI tools are retrieving and analyzing a growing volume of data from diverse sources.

Business Intelligence Trends

Business Intelligence Trends

In the early days of cloud computing. IT departments were hesitant to move business processes and, more importantly, their data into the cloud. And rightfully so. However, now that the majority of security concerns have addressed and cloud computing is more ubiquitous, deploying self-service BI tools are major corporate initiatives.

70.1% of respondents to a Deloitte, EMA, and Informatica State of Cloud Analytics Report. Stated the cloud is already an essential part of their analytics strategy. Software vendors are responding to this demand by re-engineering existing solutions to include flexible backends. Enabling them to connect to a range of data sources. Or entirely new platforms are emerging from new providers to meet the diverse range of requirements from business users. For their efforts, vendors and providers are expected to generate 18.3 billion dollars in global revenue in 2017, according to Gartner Inc.

BI Market is Expected to Grow to $22.8 Billion

By the end of 2020, the BI market as a whole is expected to grow to $22.8 billion. The development of mobile BI tools is another significant trend to watch. Currently, the mobile BI segment accounts for approximately 20% of the global BI market, according to the Global Business Intelligence Market 2016-2020 report. Compiled by global technology research and advisory company Technavio. The growth of smartphone adoption will likely emerge as a key growth driver.

Additionally, in a survey of data analytics users conducted by Clutch. A B2B research firm, 70% consider a mobile application crucial to their use of BI software. Finally, the last trend for you to watch is the emergence of the previously mentioned self-service BI tools. In the November 2016 “Self-Service BI Market – Global Forecast to 2021” report. Research and Markets, a market research store, forecast the global self-service BI market would double to $7.31 billion by 2021.

Self-service BI Tools

The most likely reason for this growth. Is that self-service BI tools are viewed by some as an evolutionary step from traditional BI techniques. Self-service BI tools allow business users to access data and insights in a more real-time manner without having to rely on IT. Allowing businesses to better capitalize on opportunities and quickly react to problems.

Choosing the Right BI Tool

Choosing the Right BI Tool

Finding the right business intelligence tool isn’t an easy process. BI tools utilize data inputs and outputs in different ways and feature unique workflows and user interfaces. To make matters worse, the sheer number of vendors will likely hamper the selection process. Given the various price points and feature sets. You should prioritize your analytics needs before you start your search.

Are you looking for a more traditional BI tool that focuses on your company’s core data sets? Perhaps you are looking for a BI tool to understand your company’s various marketing campaigns better? Or are you looking to shift your BI into the cloud and add in social media data? Perhaps you need your staff to access BI via their mobile devices.

Your BI Needs

After you have prioritized your BI needs, you can narrow your list of possible solutions. These solutions are based on visualization tools, workflows, customization, ease of use, and training and support options.

What is Business Intelligence Conclusion

Business intelligence has come a long way since the days of mainframe-based analytical systems and executive information systems. In today’s world, there’s still much hype around big data and advanced analytics, so business intelligence is still as relevant as ever. However, it is evolving. Organizations will always need to know the past and current states of their business.

If a company doesn’t have an accurate picture of what’s going on at the moment, it won’t matter if they have an advanced analytics system to forecast the future. Business intelligence and analytics are not mutually exclusive.

Both business intelligence and business analytics need to be a packaged deal. Remember: You can’t grow if you don’t know. Business intelligence keeps you in the know. Business analytics help you grow.

Click on the next link to find out why your ‘data-driven’ strategy isn’t working.


  1. D.J. Power (10 March 2007). “A Brief History of Decision Support Systems, version 4.0”. DSSResources.COM. Retrieved 10 July 2008. (Link:
  2. The State of Cloud Analytics 2016, by Deloitte, EMA, and Informatica State (Link:
  3. Gartner Says Worldwide Business Intelligence and Analytics Market to Reach $18.3 Billion in 2017 (Link:
  4. Global Business Intelligence Market 2016-2020, Technavio (Link:
  5. Business Intelligence Survey 2017: Mobility and Access, Clutch (Link:
  6. Self-Service BI Market by Type (Software, Services), Application (Sales & Marketing Management, Customer Engagement & Analysis, Predictive Asset Maintenance), Business Function, Deployment Model, Vertical, & Region – Global Forecast to 2021(Link:

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