Unless you’re a regular subscriber to CIO magazine, you probably haven’t even heard of business intelligence. Over this past weekend, I was out with some friends who I haven’t seen for a while and it came up in casual conversation. Even though these guys were executives in large Toronto companies, they really had no idea of what it was or what it could do. The best/most intelligent response was

– Isn’t it just pivot tables?

It was then that I realized that even though I casually throw around the term BI, most people really don’t know and I should write a short article on the subject.

In an average company there are 4 kinds of reports

  • Management Reports
  • Operational Reports
  • Audit Reports/Control Reports
  • Analytic (BI) Reports

Most executives are familiar with management reports, mostly financial statements that re received once per month or once per quarter. Operational reports are reports that help you get by day to day.

In a distribution company it would be a report that would tell you what to buy. Audit reports are for managers to follow up on staff, to make sure they are doing their job. Analytic reports or business intelligence is really the next step; they allow managers or analysts to ask the following questions

  • Why
  • What if
  • When

But business intelligence goes beyond just the analytic capability. From the articles out on the web, there are components.

  • Information Delivery Method
  • Level of Detail
  • Phases

Information Delivery
In the past, we had limited forms of delivery. A report was limited to either a chart, cross-tab or tabular formats. Today users can have information delivered in a variety of ways – knitted together snapshot charts, interactive dashboards, key performance indicators, automatically delivered through subscription services, excel for ad-hoc queries, on tablets or more traditional 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper. The type of information delivery goes hand in hand with who the consumer of the information is.

Level of Detail

As information from your business system becomes more reliable, you’ll find that executives will want to see only the highest level, charts or summary level information and exceptions. A series of Key performance indicators reports would allow executives to see at a glance what’s happening in a department, which is good from a day to day perspective. Then every week they would get a more detailed print out of what happened per department, then perhaps monthly statements emailed out once per month.

A manager on the other hand, might want the ability to analyze the information and come up with new strategies on how to make or save money for the company. They would more likely use the interactive

The ability to get data out of your ERP system in the way you need to use it is the most import aspect of business intelligence. Typically these are inquiry based reports or queries and they need to be fast and sometimes even mobile. You might have simple inventory query tools on a tablet or smart phone for users out in the warehouse for instance.


4 Phases

  • Descriptive
  • Diagnostic
  • Predictive
  • Prescriptive analytics

There are 4 phases to full deployment or utilization of business intelligence. The first which is called ‘Descriptive’ is really just a post mortem analysis of what happened in the past. The next stage ‘Diagnostic’ tries to analyze why something occurred (in the past). The next stage, ‘Predictive’ tries to forecast what will happen in the future. The last phase ‘ Prescriptive’ tries to predict not only what will happen in the future, but why, when and how best to optimize the situation….wow!

I’ve included a article from the Gartner reports on business intelligence that goes into more detail on the above.

Traditional management reporting has evolved to become business intelligence. New technology from Microsoft allows everyone in your company to get access to the ERP’s information in ways and formats that work for them. If you’re interested in seeing what business intelligence can do for your company, please attend one of our regular webinars on the subject.

Mike Fontaine
Dec 02 2013